IN FLAMES – Underneath Their Skin
Gothenburg, Sweden-based melodic death metal group In Flames began writing sessions for November 2016 full-length studio album Battles – their 12th, overall – at the home of guitarist Björn Gelotte, authoring riffs as well as melodies. Vocalist Anders Fridén and Gelotte subsequently convened in Los Angeles, California at the invitation of producer Howard Benson, continuing said sessions.
“In Flames’ songs always start with aiming for a good melody, and when we had a bunch of ideas, we decided to work with Howard Benson,” Anders remembers. “He said ‘Why don’t you come out to California and continue to write here, and then record at my studio?,’ so we went there for two-and-a-half weeks prior to the recording. Me and Björn went to a big house, built up a little studio, and just wrote, wrote, and wrote. When it came to the end of the two-and-a-half weeks, we continued to write. It went pretty smoothly, and we had a phenomenal time. We did demos for all of the songs together with Howard.
“Recording when you already know what’s going to happen actually makes it easier, because in the past, we’ve been recording guitars and all of the music I should say in one corner, and vocals and vocal arrangements in the other corner. We’d meet up during the mix, and everybody didn’t really know exactly what was going to happen. This time, we knew exactly what was going to happen, so therefore the experience was more enjoyable I should think. In total, we recorded 15 tracks. We have one track in the drawer, which is recorded. We’ll see what happens with that song, if it ends up anywhere. I feel we could have continued to write and record if we had more time, because it just felt that good.”
In selecting a producer for Battles, Howard Benson wasn’t solely considered. “We talked to a bunch of producers before this album, like seven or eight – people we looked up to and admired,” the singer reveals. “We ended up working with Howard, because he’s the right producer for us. He didn’t want to change us; he just wanted to help us create, and be as good as we could possibly be at that point. Looking back, it was the right decision. Him and his whole team did a great job. The whole recording went very smooth – it didn’t take too long for us to get our ideas down to tape. Yeah, it was good.”
Howard Benson’s suggestion to pen and cut material in Los Angeles didn’t have a great impact on the resultant effort, per se. “I think it doesn’t matter where you’re recording and writing,” Anders reasons. “Siren Charms (September 2014) was recorded in late November in Berlin and it was cold and raining, and that didn’t have much of an effect on the album. Now, we’ve recorded in sunny California where we had like 25 degrees celcius heat, and every place you could dream of had good beer and barbeque. Of course, that has an effect on the whole process, but I don’t think it makes the band something completely different. It’s still up to the band to create the sound, although I’m quite convinced that a place and time has an effect on an album.”
The sound In Flames has resultantly created in the form of Battles will inevitably be critiqued against past outings, although the frontman refuses to be drawn in on such debates. “It’s up to other people to do that,” he argues. “I just record and create – I don’t like to put songs or albums next to each other. I think it’s a great album. It was enjoyable to record, and I think it represents where In Flames are very well. That’s the thing I’ve felt every time we’ve recorded an album, though, from the early days up until now, and I think it holds really well next to the other albums. It doesn’t sound exactly the same as the previous one, or the ones before that. It’s exactly how we wanted it to be. We don’t want to be the same again and again, but we want to have that signature In Flames sound. I think whether you like what we do or not, you can still hear that it’s an In Flames song. It’s in the music and the voice, and everything.”
‘Where In Flames are’ happens to be familiar territory. “Musically, I think it’s the same,” Anders judges. “Björn still calls Rainbow, Deep Purple and Dio his biggest inspirations, I would say. I don’t know if people would understand that if they listen to the album (laughs). Battles is about our inner struggles, and how we try to embrace the future. I think we always have those inner battles, whether we’re young or we’re old. It’s something that everybody can relate to, but then when In Flames creates music, we don’t look really look outside much. Again, we just want to create good melodies, and something that we feel represents In Flames. It’s nothing strange, really.”
As referenced, Battles lyrically documents one’s inner struggles. “The album is about our inner struggles, and the importance of having goals in your life to reach, and embracing the future,” the lyricist repeats. “It’s about not missing opportunities that are there in front of you, that you’re surrounded by, and the importance of having an open mind and a clear path. It’s about things that I’ve felt and lived through throughout my whole life. It’s not necessarily something that happened yesterday – it could be about something that happened many, many years ago. I think every song is very much open to interpretation by the listener; they can make up something which is closer to them and maybe not exactly what I was writing about, but something that they feel.”
Battles delves into inner struggles of a personal nature for Anders, as opposed to the inner struggles of those at large. “I think it’s easier to look into your own life,” he figures. “Of course, not everything is a 100% accurate at all times, but for the most part it’s very much about me.”
And of course, aiding the performer in documenting said inner struggles was Howard Benson. “He just told us to come out here to California and write,” he shares. “He said ‘I want to hear demos of all the songs.’ We had to explain to him what we wanted to say with a song musically and lyrically. He was someone that we could bounce ideas off of and just gave us pointers, like ‘Think about this’ and ‘Think about that’ or ‘Remove this part here’ or ‘You don’t have to play that riff for one more minute. It’s not getting better.’ Stuff like that – small things. He didn’t go in and say ‘Do this’ or ‘Do that,’ or ‘You should sound like that.’ In the past, it’s been very repetitive. Now, we had to open up and let someone into our inner circle.
“Looking at it before recording, it was a bit scary because we didn’t know where things would go. When you let go of your control, it’s not easy, but he was very disciplined with recording. Not only with the production, but the way they recorded and the way they worked. So, he made it very easy. They have a certain style. Mike Plotnikoff, who was co-producer, recorded the guitars, bass, and drums. He made the guys extremely comfortable while recording their instruments, and they had a good time. There was no stress; there wasn’t so much pressure as we had during let’s say Siren Charms. It was just a very easy-going feeling and I think that you can hear that, but it has a warmer atmosphere and a warmer feeling.”
Prior to cutting vocals for Battles, Anders sought the assistance of a vocal coach. “I decided already before coming to LA that I wanted to go to a vocal coach, just to learn my instrument a little bit better,” he explains. “I went to this guy called Mark; he talked a lot about how to breath correctly, and how important it is in terms of how you feel that day when performing. It was much more than just standing next to a piano, and singing. He gave me a lot of pointers, actually, that I took into recording.
“And of course there was Howard also, and the same with the guitars, bass, and drums. He wanted us to perform as good as possible when we were doing our takes, so yeah. When I do my vocals, I always think of the way the music was done and created. I want the vocals to reflect that. I’m just trying to paint a picture; I’m doing the last part of the painting, and that’s just colouring it the right way I guess.
“I’m not in this to become the best singer in the world, but I think I have a unique voice, and it works really good for us. I think it’s a unique voice, and it has an identity where people can say ‘Okay, that’s Anders.’ It’s more about emotions and feeling – it doesn’t have to be perfectly pitched. It’s just the feeling, almost as if you knew what I was singing about. You get that feeling because of how it sounds.”
The assistance of a vocal coach greatly aided the vocalist during the recording process. “I think it did a lot, because I did that throughout the whole recording,” he discloses. “It’s not about becoming the greatest singer; it’s about understanding your instrument, how to develop your instrument, and how you take care of your instrument – in this case, my voice. I know when I should sing, and how the whole body’s connected. It’s one big chamber, in a way. You can place your voice in different regions of your body or areas of your body, and that creates a certain feeling. I definitely think it helped. It was amazing. It was a big thing for me going there after all of these years of doing the same thing. It was an eye-opener.”
The benefits of having undertaken vocal lessons will additionally help Anders during live performances. “Yeah, I definitely think so,” he seconds.
Cover artwork responsibilities for Battles was handled by Blake Armstrong. “Blake Armstrong is the same guy that worked on our previous album, and he’s also the guy who created The Jester’s Curse (2013),” the singer informs. “He’s a fan, actually. He came up to us and showed us some drawings that he had done many years ago. Then he became a close friend of the band, and he was the only one I could think of for this album.
“I gave him the concept of the album. I gave him all of the lyrics, and just asked for his interpretation. I asked the way he felt when he listened and read the lyrics, and that was what he came up with. We’re all sci-fi fans and he knows, so it has the sci-fi feeling of the album, and the title Battles is memorable. I wanted the cover to be iconic as well. It doesn’t have too many things going on. He came up with this, and I’m really happy with it. I think it stands out in a crowd, if you know what I mean.”
Excluding Scandinavia, Battles underwent European issue through Nuclear Blast, In Flames’ return to the label announced on June 16th, 2016. “I’ve been part of the family for a long time,” Anders enthuses. “It’s good to be back, and I have high hopes for the future.”
Directed by Patric Ullaeus of Revolver Film Company, music videos were filmed for the tracks ’The End’ and ‘The Truth’. “They are connected in terms of their stories,” the frontman divulges. “‘The End’ is the beginning, and ‘The Truth’ comes after. You can actually play them around and around, and everybody can see. We had a fun time recording them. We don’t appear that much in the videos – they’re not performance videos. We came up with this concept together with Patric Ullaeus the director, and he did hell of a job of creating it.”
Further music videos will likely be filmed to promote the release of Battles. “Yeah, most likely,” Anders ponders. “We haven’t recorded anything yet, though.”
And as well, In Flames will naturally tour across the globe to promote Battles. Stepping behind the drumkit will be Joe Rickard, whose appointment was confirmed on September 17th, 2016. The departure of previous sticksman Daniel Svensson had been revealed on November 7th, 2015. “Daniel left because he wanted to be home with his family, which is entirely understandable,” the wordsmith reflects. “If you can’t devote pretty much your whole life to this band (laughs), then it’s not the right place for you. If you spend so much time away and you don’t have your heart in the right place, then you should stay home. He made that decision, and I understand.
“He was a long-time member of the band; he was in the band for 18 years, and was hard to replace. It was a big blow at first, because we didn’t know what to do. We had to go to America and rehearse with a drummer before that. It was something that was in the way of recording, so we thought to get someone that could just record the album. There’s a lot of studio musicians, so we thought to think about the auditions or whatever afterwards, when we got back home.
“Then Joe was working in the studio with Howard though, and he got highly recommended by them. He was helping us out with some programmes. He said ‘Can I try? Can I play on some tracks?,’ and we said ‘Yeah, go ahead. Let’s see what you can do.’ We were amazed with his drumming. On top of that, he was a really good guy. We took in a few bars and had a few beers, and just talked. And yeah, he proved to be an awesome dude. After we recorded all of the songs, we asked him if he wanted to be a part of this, and he said ‘Yes.’ So, here we are, and it feels really good. It was a transition.”
Battles was released on November 11th, 2016 in Europe (excluding Scandinavia) via Nuclear Blast. North American issue was handled by Eleven Seven Music Group.
Interview published in November 2016.
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