Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In Flames - Subterranean EP (1994)

The In Flames of 1994 was a very different entity than what the band has become today, but it's interesting to listen back and realize just how much their core, melodic values have remained the same. In fact, now that Jesper Strömblad has departed, there is not a single original member left in the band from those formative days before the band took off in a skyward direction with The Jester Race, perhaps the finest melodic death metal album I've ever heard. But the seeds for success were being sown as early as the debut Lunar Strain, and certain on this 5-track EP, its follow-up.

You won't be hearing Anders Fridén's emotional snarling or any use of electronics and excess multi-tracking to modernize or debilitate the compositions here. This was strictly melodic death metal in the same vein as Dark Tranquillity, though In Flames had the early jump on that band in terms of production values. Subterranean sounded quite excellent for its day, from the bloodied vocals of Henke Forss (who generally dabbled in far more extreme bands like Dawn and Niden Div. 187). Strömblad and Glenn Ljungström were as evenly matched here as they would be on The Jester Race, and the drums are split between Daniel Erlandsson (Arch Enemy, Eucharist, and others) and Anders Jivarp (Dark Tranquillity), with Johan Larsson on bass, who would go on to Hammerfall for a short time.

"Stand Ablaze" is an excellent pick to open the EP, for the searing dual melodies are nearly the equal of anything on the following album, and there are plenty of the band cycles from the melancholic intro of pianos and sampled conversational voices to a smorgasboard of showy riffing that pretty much sets the standard for the entire genre, surpassing the band's previous effort Lunar Strain. It's carnal, emotional and showing all the love for traditional metal guitars, like an Iron Maiden jacked up in proficiency. "Ever Dying" continues right where the first track leaves off, with a more downtrodden, somber aggression cast through a mid-paced storm of charging, rampant guitars, and a nice, shifting melodic thrash breakdown after 2:00 which is the apex of the entire song. "Subterranean" is absolutely glorious, in particular where the guitars erupt after 1:30 into a wall of stark, festive majesty. "Timeless" is a catchy acoustic instrumental which nearly rivals "The Jester's Dance" from the following album, and "Biosphere" closes the effort with a folksy surge and some precision riffing that borders on frenzied, technical thrash.

If you have somehow never versed yourself in this band's charms, or perhaps you're just hated the band due to some of their more modern efforts (Come Clarity, Reroute to Remain, etc), you should first direct yourself towards The Jester Race. But Subterranean would come directly after that, for it has much the same impact, with the one exception being the vocals. Some would argue that Forss was a better fit than Fridén, and I can't debunk the theory entirely, though I really enjoyed the latter's work on a few of the band's albums before the turn of the century. Crucial material here for any fan of 90s melodic death metal, and as it is generally sold in a package with Lunar Strain, you get more bang for less lightening of the wallet.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (remembering how it used to be)

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