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Pondering the lunar surface. - 77%

hells_unicorn, February 3rd, 2011

Few people can testify to the nature of the moon’s surface from firsthand experience, and even those elite can only testify to what it looks like, as all other senses are constrained to a sealed suit with an artificial recreation of Earth’s atmosphere. Nevertheless, it is a good guess that “Lunar Strain”, the first and somewhat unique offering of the then newly formed Gothenburg pioneer act In Flames, offers a few clues on this matter. Those who prognosticate at mysterious landscapes, inconsistencies in the surface based on random bombardments of meteoroids, and a dry air (metaphorically speaking) and aura are most likely on the right track with the literal nature of our planet’s lone satellite, and definitely so in the case of this album.

In terms of most non-In Flames fans who otherwise like melodeath or at least might entertain liking some of it, this is a very safe album in that it lacks the 2 biggest liabilities that turn most off to even the older era of the band. For all of the hypnotic repetition and largely redundant ideas that tend to populate most of their albums, here these Swedes might be accused of overcompensating had this been released after “Whoracle”, but being that this is a debut, the more likely reasoning for the constant wandering from differing metal sub-genres at work here could be chalked up to the curiosity of a green band, coupled with the musical eclecticism that began pervading the coinciding black metal scene next door in Norway, which seems to have had a subtle influence on this album. Likewise, the more obvious plus on here is that the lackluster semi-barker Anders Fridén is mercifully absent.

But for all the good things going on here, the album’s strengths also become liabilities and keep what is largely a decent album from becoming outstanding. Although many often put out that the early Gothenburg bands tended to use riff sets and melodic ideas largely based on power metal, the overall songwriting style still tends to resemble the older death metal style. What this entails is a host of jarring changeups between not only riffs, but beats and tempos, resulting in a series of songs that seem to wander aimlessly from one section to the next, when in actuality are simply mimicking the general way that death metal compensates for limited melodic content with changes in overall rhythmic feel. Add to the mix a host of acoustic sections, some folksy, others neo-classical, and it becomes a little hard to follow everything that’s going on.

It’s almost astounding how many different ideas were compressed into a mere 36 minutes of music on here, and it begs the question of how much better this album would be if it had been organized a little more evenly. “Behind Space” underscores how all of these differing elements can be jammed into a sub-5 minute song, resulting in something that sounds epic yet seems way too short, to speak nothing for the violent shifts in feel from a series of blasting tremolo riffs and thrash ideas to a minute plus acoustic outro that has an almost proto-Suidakra feel to it. The album gets a little more consistent when the song lengths are shorter, but even “Dreamspace” is frontloaded with a charming classical violin intro that abruptly shifts to a blustering metallic smash section with melodic riffs ablaze in a way that makes “Fight Fire With Fire” seem measured and smooth by comparison. It’s not quite all a semi-jumbled fit of madness, as the slow moving “Everlost Pts. 1 & 2” generally maintains a somber, slow feel, but the majority of the album seems just a little too ambitious for its own good.

If one wants to actually invest money in one of In Flames’ earlier offerings, it’s somewhat of a tossup between this one for having a fairly exciting if somewhat overdone construction with an extremely dry production, or “The Jester Race” for a more consistent approach with an inferior vocalist. There was a point when this band was at least respectable, and clearly an early contributor to what became a massively popular sub-set of the death metal paradigm. It is probably one of the more unsafe yet safe albums out there for anyone looking for a gateway into music with harsh vocals, and will likely hold appeal to fans of more popular acts like Children Of Bodom, and also some of the Viking oriented bands that started cropping up soon after it.

Never gets old - 93%

PhillCantu93, January 19th, 2011

From the throat-grabbing riff at the beginning of "Behind Space" to the last few seconds of "Clad in Shadows", this album is very easily my favorite of the In Flames discography (second only to The Jester Race). The heavily-distorted guitar harmonies and Mikael Stanne's raspy screams and shrieks, when combined with the raw production, gives this album a very thrash metal-esque sound, almost venturing into black metal considering the various folk music intermissions.

So, what exactly is to be had with Lunar Strain? Everything you love about In Flames, but in an earlier version, with more raw production combined with a noticeably heavier instrumental section. Those who found post-1994 In Flames to be too "poppy" and/or "melodic" for their tastes might fall in love with this album, simply because it draws roots from more extreme styles in metal. Jesper Stromblad handles guitar, keyboard, and drum duties here, and (with Glenn Ljungstrom along side him) wrote most of the music on this album. Carl Naslund also provides guitar contributions, with Johann Larsson on bass. The one member that particularly made this album memorable to me was Mikael Stanne, of the so-beloved Dark Tranquillity. Being the brilliant lyricist he is, he wrote all of his own lyrics on this album, and made them sound damn good with this sharp, ear-piercing screams and shrieks that could be described as an amped-up alteration of David Vincent on Morbid Angel's Altars of Madness album.

The music itself, as stated above, is a thrashy, heavy, and melodic combination of Iron Maiden, Bathory, and even a bit Kreator in some sections. Being this is of course a Gothenburg melodeath band, the emphasis is obviously on the melodic aspect, but the "thrashier" sections are not uncommon (see "Behind Space", "Starforsaken", and especially "Upon An Oaken Throne" for extreme examples of this). This combined with the raw production make the overall sound much heavier and aggressive than later releases by In Flames. The entire album could be thought of as a thrash/heavy-metal version of the band known for such highly praised works as "Pinball Map" and "Embody the Invisible".

Overall, I highly recommend this for any fan of A) melodic death metal, 2) In Flames, or D) old-school metal with harsh vocals. This corner stone for an entire genre should not be missed by anyone who can appreciate extreme metal.

Lunar Migraine - 47%

OzzyApu, September 3rd, 2010

To my ears this album isn’t a colossal failure, yet I’m not convinced to walk toward the dividing line and onto the opposite spectrum, either. The band wrote some songs, put whatever resources and skills they had at the time together, and released Lunar Strain, a sort of crossbreed of genuine melodic death and a slightly earlier form of that Gothenburg sound that would be prevalent throughout the middle to later stages of the ‘90s. I guess the problem I have with it is that it’s way too dull, and that’s a fault constructed by the parts themselves rather than the sum. Basically, if you half-ass your way through the process, you’re going to get a half-ass result.

At the core (and likely with the intention behind Lunar Strain) lies a heart of gold. It doesn’t shine too well, but knowing its cause is true is a piece of the battle won. The In Flames which existed then is much different than the entity labeled In Flames today, but that’s a given with experience, exposure, and time. This unit found on this album isn’t the best line-up for the job, but they play the proper version of crippled melodic death. The atmosphere is despondent and sinister but not evoked in an intimidating manner, leaving a rather interpretive, dry dust to bask the listener. The production forming the base isn’t remorselessly rigid, either, but more like dough pressed in by the weight of the sustaining energy. The band plays with whatever they can muster, but each budge forward becomes an exhausted grip, especially since most of the riffs are flimsy and dull. Very few riff attacks like those on the more Sodom / thrash-inspired “Starforsaken,” “Upon An Oaken Throne,” and “Clad In Shadows” have that sanity-broken vigor to ram listeners.

With three guitarists partaking in lead and rhythm guitar roles, there isn’t a lot to show for it in quantity. Yes, there exist Maiden-leaning harmonies and to some ears dual rhythms and a lead, but none of this erupts with pleasure. The guitars are aided by the brittle, rawer production (compared to the more creased albums later on) to gain a jagged, rusty tone that sounds badass on the thrash songs but thin and feeble on the melodic death ones. The riffs on these tracks are stable but neurotic to begin with, but the frail tone garnered by them turns the songs into limp tracks. Tossing in (rather loud) silly acoustics, string instruments, and amateur female vocals creates a bathtub of Gothenburg backwash and sloppy idealism. The only one going against this is Stanne as he retains his husky, caffeinated exhales; only ghouls and a whole 2-liter of 7 Up can produce these raspy growls-bordering-screams. Doesn’t fit the best with the razor guitar tone, but I’ll take whatever decent thing I can get at this point.

Leave it to the bass guitar on here to sound nothing more than hiccups of booms like some drunkard following the rhythm. This isn’t an uncommon move for a lot of bands, but it’s another needless waste for an album that technically wasn’t capable of anything else, anyway; audibility is one thing it has, but legitimate backing power is something it doesn’t. Drumming does its job right with hopping double bass and lots of crashing openers after silences, but the consistent pacing is the keeper. Take the wispy snare and cymbals and just keep hitting them a so number of seconds in four innocuously different patterns randomly for the whole album and you’ve pretty much nailed Strömblad’s execution; nothing stellar about them at all.

Half-and-half guitars, a numb bass, checklist-drumming, faux-romanticism, overall dire riffs, and uncomplicated songs create insincere music. Once more the core behind all these ideas is not the offender, but the players misguiding the message; this isn’t nearly as horrible as the false interpretation of later In Flames, but it has created another waste album. Right after this the band would gather their beer cups for a couple of real offerings before steering in this zone once more before heading off into the realm of the erroneous. By In Flames’ standards Lunar Strain is pretty good, but that’s the border people need to do away with to see what’s really in front of them.

A Gothenburg classic - 91%

linkavitch, February 21st, 2009

Let’s face it; everyone who browses this site or listens to metal should know who In Flames are. And I know a lot of you out there well….hate them. Then again, a lot of you out there (like me) love them. We all have our own opinion when it comes to this band, or any sort of metal for that matter. Anyways, this is one of my favorite albums from one of my favorite Gothenburg bands.

Looking back on this album and comparing it to their latest album A Sense of Purpose or to their other early Gothenburg work like The Jester Race you wouldn’t think that this is the same band. One of the major differences is the vocals by Dark Tranquillity front man Mikael Stanne. He was only a one time vocalist for the band but he did a great job on the vocals for the Lunar Strain album. As much as I enjoy Anders vocals (seriously I don’t mind him) on The Jester Race and what not, I still believe that Mikael did a better job for the vocals on all of In Flames work. The more harsh vocals with the more evil sound and the small trace of black metal fit in with the dark tone of the guitars and helps improve to the atmosphere of the album.

The song selection is not what you would expect from In Flames in this one. They have the astronomy lyrical songs like early In Flames did, but they also have a few of these acoustic folk style songs mixed in with some violin sounding instrumental pieces like “Hargalaten”. There are a lot of acoustic breaks in about half the songs on the album, from the opening track “Behind Space” where it’s at the last minute or so, halfway through “In Flames” or the whole song like “Everlost (Part II)”. These moments bring a lot more variety to the table, even though they don’t fit completely with the guitar tone or the vocals on the album, they are a nice addition to the album and bring out the album from being a more linear style Gothenburg album.

The guitars are a lot lower toned and darker sounding compared to other In Flames work. The melodies are there, just in a darker sound. They are lighter in the instrumental song “Dreamscape”; they feel much lighter and happier I guess you could say. The bass is audible for the most part, it mostly follows the rhythm guitar though so that’s kind of a bummer, and although it follows the rhythm guitar it has its own part in “Dreamscape” which I fought was quite cool.

This is one of In Flames Best albums, and one of the best albums that came out for Gothenburg music for quite some time. My biggest problem other than the folk elements that don’t feel in place at times is the fact that the album is kind of short. The entire album is only 36 minutes, which I find to be kind of short. Most people out there won’t mind these few flaws because they will be appalled at the fact that it is Gothenburg music in the first place. To me Gothenburg music isn’t about slamming your head against the wall or five minute guitar solos or having a song with over 300 riffs, its about the atmosphere, emotion, and melodies given off by the guitars. Fans of Gothenburg music will know what I’m talking about, and they all know why they also love this album so much. This is a Gothenburg classic.

Great but has some issues - 87%

bloodthirstysystem, November 6th, 2008

The overproduced garbage that plagues later In Flames releases is entirely absent here. This album is what melodic death metal can be if done correctly. Overall it is a great album, although it is admittedly inconsistent; sometimes it feels like a demo in that there are incomplete and bizarre songs that don't fit.

With "Behind Space," instantly the album draws the listener into a storm of melodic metal riffs, great demonic vocals, and great headbanging passages. The album continues throughout with a similar sound. There is a melodic base of classic heavy metal mixed with death metal riffing. On top of this base, the drums and bass are fairly simple but great for the music.

The vocals on this album, done by Mikael Stanne from Dark Tranquillity, are better than any other In Flames album by far. They are harsh and evil-sounding, and make sure that everyone knows that it is still extreme metal, despite the melodic elements.

The problems I have with this album lies in the middle. "Everlost Pt. 1" is slow, and although it has some great riffs, sort of kills the momentum the cosmos-themed first four tracks have. "Everlost Pt. 2" is an acoustic song with fairly annoying clean female singing over it. I'm not really sure what it's doing on the album because the melodies and guitar parts have nothing in relation to Part 1, and its folk sound kills the epic mood of the first half of the album.

"Hargalaten" is an instrumental track based on a violin melody that follows the Everlosts, and it feels like it's thrown in the middle of the album for the hell of it. It's not a bad track, but overall it doesn't flow with the rest of the album.

The ending tracks of the album are all great in their own ways (especially the mid-tempo riff on "In Flames" which is amazing) but can't fully save this album from its problems. Still, the semi-raw quality and melodic sensibility through evil atmosphere throughout this album makes it one of the best "Gothenburg" releases.

Some amazing songs mixed with some dumb ones - 79%

music_shadowsfall, July 26th, 2004

The debut of In Flames, one of the better Gothenburg bands, is one of those albums that could have ruled completely, as their next album, The Jester Race would, if they had decided to stick with their main ideas; melodic Iron Maiden-esque metal, growled vocals, and some folk influence here and there. Although they always at least somewhat pull this off in all their tracks where they try to pull this off, the album is weakened by two idiotic songs, and the lack of good songwriting in some of their other songs.

The two idiotic songs are The Everlost Part II and Hargalaten. I mean, Everlost Part II is nice for one or two listens and all, but it really doesn't fit with the rest of the album, and offers nothing. The solo at the end is pretty crappy, and the person singing has a pretty annoying voice. Then there's Hargalaten, a fiddle track. Once again, its a nice little track for a listen or two, but it really is nothing. Why was it included? Stupid stuff.

The songwriting could also use a bit of work at times. Everlost Part I starts off amazingly as an excellent low tempo song kept together by the vocals; after around the 2:20 seconds, however, the vocals fit less and less with the song, creating a mess. Starforsaken gets into a nice solo at the end that goes nowhere. Dreamscape is a pretty boring instrumental.

One advantage this has over other In Flames' albums is that Mikael Stanne's vocals completely destroy Anders'. He sounds quite good, and doesn't resort to dumb things like singing clean vocals when you can't sing clean vocals like Anders would shortly be doing. The drums and bass don't do much; the bass is pretty inaudible, and the drums are just there, not doing anything special. But as drums and bass are not the main point of this band, that can be forgiven.

The main point of this band are the melodic riffs, and man, do they rule. Behind Space is a classic, thanks to Stanne's vocals and Jesper's great riff and solo work. The folkish ending is actually quite nice, and is what makes this the best version of the song (all other versions don't have it.) Lunar Strain is a good straightforward song, with more melodic riffwork. Upon an Oaken Throne is a more fast paced song, with some superb riffage and soloing.

The true masterpiece of the album, however, is the title track. Holy shit, does this track rule. It is an epic Gothenburg song, and nearly the best song In Flames ever made. The solo isn't anything special, but the riffs are incredible, as well as the way the whole song is crafted. The part that begins right after the two minute mark completely owns me.

This is an album worth owning if you're a fan of Gothenburg. Its not the best thing the genre put out (that goes to Skydancer and Jester Race) but it does have some great songs. Just skip the filler to get to them.

Lunar Strain - 88%

PowerMetalGuardian, August 21st, 2003

So Reroute to Remain may not be an enjoyable In Flames album, but this one is. Like all bands their beginning shows their roots, their influences, their desire to show heavy metal. And so Lunar Strain is one of the best In Flames albums. It has all the elements of good death metal. Growling vocals, harmonized licks, thumping bass slaps, powerful drumming, and awsome fast and mostly palm muted guitar riffs.

The one thing I don't like about this album is the singer Mikael Stanne. Very different from In Flames next coming albums. The singing is more growly and unprepared, then the In Flames relaxed, yet harsh tones, that come on the future albums. It's not all bad, but sometimes it sounds really bad, like on the song Lunar Strain when the vocals are all muffled. The second thing I didn't like about this album was some of the production. Transition between songs are very poor. You go from a high quality song, to a muffled tone that always isn't enjoyable to the ears.

The guitar riffs are probably the highlight of this album. With awsome harmonized parts and awsome riffs that sound like real nice licks. Reminds me a lot of Death the way the guitar riffs are all over the place, but with great performance. Best way to see how great the guitar work would be on the instrumental Dreamscape. The stop and go of the instruments is perfect. This isn't some band that jumped into the studio and left within a month.

All the songs are very killer, with great riffing and awsome effect like the gong sound in the beginning of Dreamscape and the perfect ambient sounds that open up this album on Behind Space. They even host a female singer on Everlost Part 2 who is really good. The acroustic riff is also a very nice melodic tone to the album. Did I mention there are fiddles! Yep beginning of Hargalaten they give the song an awsome feeling of greatness, a great way to mix up an album. In Flames, the next song is the highlight of this album, with everything shinning out perfectly. Everything comes out on this album. I don't care much for this In Flames singer, and the production may be a little sloppy, but besides that it is a very great album that all metal heads should own!