In Flames still burning bright

It’s been 22 years and still, In Flames is as prominent as ever.

This Swedish band, credited with having created an entire sub-genre of heavy metal – melodic or harmonic metal – is finally touring South Africa, and after all this time is ever close-knitted and creative.

Bassist Peter Iwers says that the band as we know it today is tight. “We’re very strong together as a band, as musicians… we know our style of playing, and everything comes very naturally for us.”

DSC_0011In Flames before their Johannesburg performance at RAMfest.
(Photo: Nikita Ramkissoon)

Iwers is a big guy, standing almost two metres tall and yet as gentle as a six-week old puppy. He talks of the band as if they are blood brothers, and treats the music as part of himself.

He says they have moved away from the fact that they were somewhat pioneers of the sub-genre and respectfully pays homage to the ones they drew inspiration from. “There were other bands at the same time doing similar things. I think we reached a little further then some of them. You have Dark Tranquillity, At The Gates … so many bands did this together I would say, and I think we all had one thing in common, and that was the new wave of British heavy metal.

“It’s not like we sat down and tried to sound like any of the bands we listened to, but we all liked these different bands. We just made music inspired by whatever we liked.”

Melodious as fuck
Though it may not sound like it, the music is melodious. In fact, to the untrained ear, it sounds like noise. But what beautiful noise it is. Guitars singing and harmonising with each other as deep growls give way to clean melodic vocals, held together by rolling and crashing drums and deep maniacal bass.

Every instrument speaks to each other.

Iwers reckons it comes from a place of enjoyment. “We did all of these rough years on the road, not making any money, not enjoying ourselves, besides the part of being on stage.

“Everything around it, sometimes was really crappy. So we stuck in together and had a really good time. We went up there and remembered why we started doing this. We love playing music, we love being on stage.”

Even though the band’s 22-year history has held them together, they were not without struggles.

Iwers says the hardest obstacle was founder Jesper Strömblad’s illness. “It took us some years to realise how sick he was from the alcohol. We always thought he could handle it.

“But he needed more and it was really hard for us to see one of our best friends destroy himself. When he left to take care of himself, it was difficult.”

Which is when current guitarist Niclas Engelin stepped in as temporary replacement, after being on the periphery for years.

“But after one year, Jesper called and said he was quitting so that he could get better by himself, and we said, ‘okay, as long as you’re happy and feel well’.”

That was really hard, Iwers says, because to this day he is one of his best friends. “We’ve done this together, we built this.”

There have also been times when the band has almost reached breaking point, but recovered. “We’ve come close, but never close enough to destroy this. I mean, on tour, we miss our families, but the love for music is what drives us.

“The stage brings us back and whenever we are together we are stronger than ever.”

Pushing boundaries
Ïwers says that even though they pushed the boundaries further, the key thing to In Flames is they never really stayed with one specific sound.

“Between the five of us we listen to everything from Simon and Garfunkel to D-side, and I think that’s really cool.”

Through the band’s history, coming from Sweden, listening to English metal and being the forerunners in melodic metal, they have come under fire for changing their sound over the years. “If you listen to the first In Flames record it was kind of brutal melodic death metal,” Iwers says.

“But you listen to today’s stuff and it’s not really the same thing, anymore. We’ve always had the element of melody and harmonies, usually on the guitars, sometimes on keyboards, sometimes vocals, and we just tried to incorporate it into whatever element that fitted the purpose at the time.

“We don’t want to make the same record twice.”

They certainly haven’t, with their 10 studio albums sounding entirely different to the previous one. From rockers in their 40s to 18-year-olds who will be attending the concert this weekend, In Flames is known and loved.

“It feels great to close the generation gaps with our music. Music can unite and we are proud to unite all ages and generations. We appreciate that we have been accepted for so long.”

Even now, Iwers feels like they are still learning, even though they are veterans in the game. “We listen to bands who list us as an influence and appreciate it. Like Killswitch Engage … It’s give and take. We inspire and be inspired.”

Not slowing down
Though it has been a rollercoaster, these years in the music industry have made In Flames a force to be reckoned with, and they show no signs of slowing down. In fact, they sound like they’re just getting started.

“We are touring, and will be for a while, because of the new album. Then we go home to rest and then some studio time. No, we’re not taking a break!

“And we are so happy to be in South Africa. We have always wanted to tour here. I’m sad we can’t do our lightshow and pyrotechnics, but save that for when we come back!”

In Flames are headlining the annual RAMfest music festival and will be at the Johannesburg show on Saturday and Cape Town on Sunday. – Nikita Ramkissoon