“I don’t wanna do ‘Whoracle’ or ‘Jester Race’ part 2”—Anders Fridén on In Flames’ evolving sound
Eighteen years since the release of their genre-pioneering sophomore LP, The Jester Race, In Flames are melodic death-metal legends, co-founders of the famous Gothenburg Sound and a band who’ve managed to stay relevant despite polarizing shifts in their sound. Sept. 5 (Sept. 9 in the U.S.), the band will release their 11th studio album, Siren Charms, and, once again, there’s been a noticeable change in their sound. We caught up with vocalist Anders Fridén to talk about the band’s ever-changing sonics, the tense relationship with their fans and (of course) the new album. You’ll soon learn that Fridén is not one to shy away from speaking his mind.
We’ve had 20 years of In Flames music.
It’s insane, right? We’ve been having a really good ride and enjoying every bit of it. But at the same time, if you would’ve told me when I did my first album with In Flames—The Jester Race—that I’d do another 10 albums, I’d be like, “Yeah, right.”
Do you ever think of some weird alternate reality where you ended up singing for Dark Tranquillity and Mikael Stanne ended up with In Flames?
[Laughs.] We did it back in the day! Before I joined the band, around ’95, In Flames were basically just a side project with lots of different members. Mikael was still in Dark Tranquillity when he did the Lunar Strain album. When I joined the band, we became a full band and started to tour. I have no idea what would’ve happened if I stayed [in Dark Tranquillity] and Mikael stayed in this band. [Laughs.]
You’ve written about some heavy topics and some deep topics in the past. Where was your head at going into the writing process for Siren Charms?
We had half of the time of our last recording session. We did Sounds Of A Playground Fading in three months, and we did Sirens in six weeks. The first two weeks, we had to put together the songs, because we had parts written but not the main idea. I watched a lot of documentaries about people in poor situations [who had] a lot of drug-related problems. It’s interesting how we, as people, end up in situations that are either not good for us or we knew would be a downward spiral. We wanna try it out, because, “I won’t be affected!”
So I was putting myself under a lot of pressure just to see what would happen to me as a songwriter. It was exhaustingly stressful but it was a great emotional ride, because all of that ended up on the album—all those feelings. I don’t compare myself to the great singers in the world. For us, it’s more important to capture a feeling. That’s what the producer, the vocal coach and I always do. We’re like, “Okay, that’s a great take. It could be a little bit better in a harmony or a pitch, but then it would lose its feeling.” It was really, really tough work. I got absorbed by the whole thing.
You said you were watching a lot of drug documentaries. Was substance abuse a topic in your writing?
Not really. It’s not about drugs. It’s just about the psychological side of what happens to people in these situations. I just used that as an inspiration. It’s not talking about drugs per se. It can be related to whatever dark, mysterious or unknown things in life you get attracted to. If you don’t learn from those things, you won’t grow as a person. But if you do learn from those things, most of the time, you end up in a better place. I think we all should not dwell too much in the past. We should embrace the future, learn from the past and move forward. You can see that now in the world, going on in the Middle East and places like that. It’s just crazy how we don’t learn from all the things that we’ve done to each other for such a long time.
Compared to Sounds Of A Playground Fading, where are you guys at direction-wise with this new album?
We don’t sit at a round table and say, “We should do this. We should do that.” It just happens. We just wanna make a good album, basically. When I get the music, I just fly with it and do my thing. It’s like I get an 80-pecent complete painting and I use my brush and my colors. Björn [Gelotte, lead guitarist] and I never talk like, “Now we should do this song. Now we should do that song.” It’s just, “Does this feel good?” We don’t really look into what other bands do and what other people say we should do.
I think we are the worst band for A&R people. It must be scary. [Laughs.] My record company asked me before, “Do you have any songs?” And I was like, “Yeah, we got songs. Don’t worry.” Obviously, we didn’t. We don’t let anyone into the studio apart from producers. Friends come and go, but they don’t have any say. We don’t have a record company saying, “Do this! You need this type of song!” We always stay close to our own hearts and try to incorporate what we’re known for, which is melody and aggression. We blend that all kinds of ways.
Speaking of the label, you were with Century Media for one record, and now you’re with Sony. What made you guys decide to jump to a major label at this point in your career?
Well, we didn’t have a label when we went into recording. I’ve known the Sony people for a while, and the German office came to the studio while we were recording. They listened to the record, and they said the right things. Hopefully, it’s a good match. We will probably know if you and I talk in another three years. [Laughs.] Right now, it seems really good. I want my music to be out there. I am very, very proud of what we’ve done, and I want everyone to listen to it—at least once. Hopefully, Sony can reach out to more people. I wanna continue to do this for a long time, and, right now, Sony feels like the right home for In Flames.
In Flames fans are special. You’ve got the old guys who are like, “I only listen to The Jester Race and nothing after that!” And then you’ve got the younger old guys who are like, “Nothing after Clayman!”
They say that to their friends, but then they go home and listen to us. [Laughs.] That’s how it is. You cannot convince people. If they like it and they’re open minded, they love what we do. But I would agree with you: We have very, very passionate fans. But that’s something that makes me really proud. It means that we move them. Again, I’m grateful that people have been there for a long time. But it’s interesting: Every time we release something, you have people on one side saying, “I hate you! This sucks!” And then you have some people that say, “We love you!” Or “Fuck you guys for saying that they suck!” [Laughs.] It’s just out of my hands. As soon as I record something and give it away to the record company, it’s out of my hands.
Are you guys ever conscious of those older fans? Do you ever maybe make a song on the album for those fans or toss one in as a throwback?
I don’t think I can. There are too many of them, so I cannot please everyone. It’s just impossible. But it’s interesting what you said, because every time we release a new album, our “worst album we’ve ever done” gets moved up one album. With Whoracle, people complained because it wasn’t Jester Race. When we released Colony, people complained because it wasn’t Whoracle.
It’s funny, because now those albums are considered legendary.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Even with Reroute To Remain or Come Clarity or Soundtrack. Those are great albums. But when we released Reroute, [people said] it was our worst album ever. Sometimes when I read those things, I’ll be like, “What the… No! You totally misunderstand.” But at the same time, I can’t give into that. It’s part of the game, and everybody has their say. But I cannot write exactly for you. That is just impossible, because there are too many people with their own wishes. But I’m very proud of our history. It took us to where we are today. I would never say we’ve done anything that I want to get away from.
Do you think the fact that In Flames change with every album is part of your legacy? You guys have stayed true to yourself, and every album is so polarizing and different. It keeps things fresh.
I wanna challenge our listeners a little bit. They shouldn’t know exactly what they’re gonna get. They’re definitely gonna get In Flames in some sort of way, but I don’t wanna do Whoracle or Jester Race part 2. We’re not a big planning type of band. It’s metal, it’s rock ’n’ roll; let’s do whatever. When I got into the metal scene and first heard of punk rock and metal, for me it was like, “Whoa! There are no rules! You can do whatever you want.” Then, when I started playing in bands, all of these rules were told to me. What? Can I not do what I want? I have to be this person to be part of this scene. I cannot look this way? To me, you can do whatever you want. I can promise you one thing: We will never do a country album.
Sounds Of A Playground Fading was the first album without Jesper [Strömblad, founding guitarist]. He was such a big part of the In Flames sound, guitar-wise. How have you overcome that?
I think [Jesper’s departure] was bigger for people outside than it was for the band. I think Jesper, mentally, had already been out of the band for a few years before he left. He was actually not touring for almost a year-and-a-half before we made the decision and he exited the band. On a friendship level, it’s hard. I miss the guy, but at the same time, it just didn’t work. People should know: Both Björn and I have done 10 out of 11 In Flames albums. We know how an In Flames album should be done. Musically, it didn’t change as much as people think.
From the first songs I’ve heard from Siren Charms, it seems like you’re changing it up vocally again. There’s definitely less screaming. What are you trying to do vocally this time around?
I just had to do what I did this time. Live, I still like to scream. You get an energy from your fans. But standing in front of that mic, I just didn’t feel like doing it the same way. Some songs I do, but most of the songs are in a different vocal style. It’s also a conscious decision. It happens because the songs need that sound. It doesn’t mean I won’t scream. I still love the screaming. I’ll probably do it on another album. I might be a little bit angrier in another two years.
You’ve got those fans who still wanna hear “Episode 666” Anders.
Yeah, yeah. I loved that song, and sometimes we’ll hear people screaming for it. But then you look out, and there are only three dudes in the left corner like, “We love it!” And the rest of the people are like, “What is this?” [Laughs.] It’s funny. You hear all this talk about, “Go back to the old days. Do this! Do that!” It’s like, sure, but where are you? [Laughs.] I love those three dudes, though. They made us. Don’t get me wrong.
You have such a massive catalog. Where do you think Siren Charms will fit in the In Flames legacy?
It’s hard to say. It is one step. The future will tell. It was a very tough album to make. Who knows? Hopefully, it goes down well, because I think it has really, really great music if you open your ears and allow yourself to listen to it with an open mind. You can find something for you there. The songs are meant to be played live. It’s gonna be great to finally go on the road and start playing them, because that’s where we really feel at home.
Do you feel like you get enough credit from younger death-metal bands? In Flames, At The Gates and Dark Tranquillity obviously played such a big part in shaping how modern death-metal sounds today.
I don’t know. I don’t really think about that. It was great to be part of that scene, because we were a bunch of dudes who had no idea what we were doing. There was death-metal, German thrash, new-wave, British heavy-metal, and we sort of mashed it all into something. All of a sudden, when we started talking to the press, they referred to it as “the Gothenburg Sound.” We were like, “Yeah… We’re from Gothenburg. Okay.” [Laughs.] I mean, it’s great when I hear these things about In Flames. But it doesn’t make me feel anything different, right now, at least. Maybe it will when I look back at my career, further down the line. Because I don’t walk around on the street today like, “Yeah, man! Gothenburg!” [Laughs.] But I’m proud of what we’ve done and what we’ve created.
Do you still feel like In Flames are a death-metal band? Or do genres not really matter to you?
The genre doesn’t matter to me, but I don’t think people consider us death-metal. I probably don’t consider my band being death-metal. We are a metal band, but we don’t sing about those topics, and we don’t have those structures. Björn comes from a very classical school. He got very influenced by his dad’s record collection, and that was Dio, Rainbow and Deep Purple—those types of bands. Then, obviously, we got influenced by death-metal when we got a little bit older. But, no, I don’t think In Flames are [death-metal] right now. But I love the genre. It’s been part of our sound. But I’m not gonna be the man on the mountain and defend what I’ve done and my decisions musically, because it’s fucking rock ’n’ roll in the end.
Is there one particular song on Sirens Charms that you are really excited for fans to hear?
I think “Paralyzed” is a really good mix of where we came from and how we sound these days. It’s got a groovy verse and a really arena-type of chorus that you can sing along to.
How many albums do you have left in you?
[Laughs.] Who knows. We’ll see after this album. I don’t dare to say a number today, because we’ve reached far beyond what I ever thought I would do or where I would be. Hopefully at least one more. Right now, I feel like I wanna do one more. But we’re gonna tour on this album for another two or three years. So let’s see how exhausted I am at that point. Then we can talk about those albums and how good Sony was to us. [Laughs.]
And then we can talk about how fans are mad you don’t sound like Siren Charms anymore.
[Laughs.] I’m up for the talk. alt