It’s been 27 years since Swedish metal band In Flames formed out of the ashes of death-metal troupe Ceremonial Oath, the brainchild of ex-guitarist Jesper Strömblad. In the years that have passed since then, the group has put out twelve studio albums and one EP. Meanwhile, bandmembers have come and gone, or, in the case of Björn Gelottem, switched from drums to lead guitar.
This is no flash-in-the-pan story, a far cry from an overnight success. In Flames is the very definition of the hardworking rock band, determination flowing abundantly, “Never say die” tattooed onto its collective soul. The band doesn’t have the larger appeal to cross over to a mainstream audience. Its longevity will see it tagged with a “cult hero” status, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The band will just keep plugging away, opening for the likes of Avenged Sevenfold and Disturbed in Europe, and getting billed halfway through the day at festivals throughout the world. In other words, In Flames has carved out a steady career, complete with a hard-core fan base that isn't likely to go away in a hurry. Superstardom, on the other hand, can be fleeting.
In Flames released its twelfth album, Battles, in November, though it was recorded much earlier in the year. Gelottem knows that the band now has up to three years of solid touring ahead of it.
“The world is a big place, even though it seems really small at times,” Gelottem says. “We’re very fortunate that we can travel the world as we do and play in front of people who are interested in what we do and enjoy our music. Touring cycles tend to be two or three years, and then we spend a little bit of time off before starting to write, and then that process is fairly quick, the writing process.”
The gap between the recording and release of Battles was unusually large, Gelottem says, because drummer Daniel Svensson quit, and Joe Rickard eventually came in to replace him. As is so often the case, timing is everything.
“We just figured there was no way we’d have time to get it out before the summer,” Gelottem says. “Doing all those festivals without new music wouldn’t feel right, because we’ve done them for a couple of years in a row. We just decided to take the summer off, the first summer we’ve had off in many, many years, and that was really nice and refreshing. Frustrating not to have the music out, but it was good. We recharged our batteries. We had a lot of time to regroup and do what we needed to do.”
Rickard’s inclusion in the band is actually the first change to the In Flames lineup since 1998, and Gelottem is keen to point out that the group is very stable nowadays after the switcheroo nature of the early years.
“In Flames has alway been, as a unit, much stronger than any single member,” Gelottem says. “We’ve been able to switch and exchange members, and that didn’t really affect our sound, so it’s fairly stable and the way it should be. It’s really good to have Joe in the band. He’s a very passionate drummer and really good at what he does. He’s a little bit younger than the rest of us, so he brings a little bit of energy back into it. He loves his instrument, plays it well, and works good together with the rest of us. If nobody would have known that we changed drummers, then nobody would have noticed. That’s a good sign of how he sounds and how good he is.”
In Flames is one of the big names to come out of the Swedish “Gothenburg sound,” a metal style defined by the combination of heavy use of melody alongside the necessary aggression. This contrasts with the “Stockholm sound,” made famous by bands like Entombed, which relies far more on intense aggression — a more traditional death-metal sound. But in recent years, Sweden has produced wonderful bands across the hard-rock spectrum, including garage-rock and punk groups like the Hives, Backyard Babies and the Helicopters.
“In all honesty, I really can’t say why,” Gelottem says regarding the vibrancy of Swedish rock. “When I grew up, we had a lot of youth centers, and most of them had rehearsal spaces with instruments. You could try out drums, you could try guitars and bass and stuff, even though you couldn’t afford it or have it in your apartment. There was this availability. I think that helped. But I also think that metal fans and metal bands stick together, in a ‘positive competition’ sort of way.”
Sweden has also been in the news recently because, much as in the U.S., politicians have been playing on the people’s fears regarding immigration. Gelottem puts a lot of that down to the ruling right-wing Sweden Democrats party.
“They don’t really have any clue about what they’re talking about besides fearmongering, the spreading of false facts about immigration,” he says. “Actually, we’re a really well-off country, and we can afford a lot of immigrants without a problem. We have been taking more immigrants in the past than what we’re doing right now. So this is all wrong, the figures and facts. It’s an interesting and scary time.”
In Flames plays the Summit Music Hall on Wednesday, December 7. The band always enjoys coming here; in fact, in the past the musicians have made efforts to catch an Avalanche game, such is the popularity of hockey in Sweden.
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“The set will be a little bit of old and new,” Gelottem says. “We have a new album out, but we also have twelve studio albums out. The set list is not getting easier to put together. It’ll be fun, though.”
As we cross over into 2017, In Flames’ mega-tour will roll on relentlessly, the band picking up as many shows as it humanly can.
“We love touring,” Gelottem says. “Sometimes I get the feeling that you do a studio record in order to get the tour. We have a bunch of small shows in mainland Europe — more intimate, in order for us to do something different. We’re playing churches and cultural centers. That’s going to be really exciting. We’ll come over here again to do festivals, then Europe to do all the festivals over there. We’ll just have a great time.”
In Flames plays with Hellyeah!, From Ashes to New, and Source at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, December 7, at Summit Music Hall, 303-487-0111.