In Flames / Louder Live
Off the back of their thirteenth studio album I, The Mask, which was released via Nuclear Blast Record back in March, In Flames retuned to the UK once again as part of their European tour. Despite the album receiving slightly mixed reviews from fans, which in general has been something of a trend for In Flames over the last decade, a headline tour always get Jesterheads out in full force; even at this stage of their career twenty-five years after the release of their debut album. The Swedish pioneers of the melodic death metal subgenre tour fairly relentlessly, so the fact that they can continue to fill venues such as London’s Roundhouse should give some indication of their prowess in a live setting and the following that they have in the UK. Many of these London-based followers were out in support on this Friday evening in Camden, which ensured that a terrific atmosphere, as well as a wide age range of fans, awaited them.
Opening up the evening were Light the Torch (formerly Devil You Know), fronted by Howard Jones of ex-Killswitch Engage fame. The four-piece are back in the UK following a break, a line-up change and, most significantly, a name change and a new album Revival and immediately remind us what we have been missing this entire time that they have been away. The revived, if their album title is to be believed, Light the Torch are powerful and dynamic from the instant they take the stage, almost catching the still slowly filling Roundhouse crowd by surprise. Jones in the obvious centre of attention, being the charismatic presence that he is, but his booming voice is also very much on point, and his popularity was very clear from the reaction of the crowd chanting his name between every break between songs. It was not all about him though, as guitarist Francesco Artusato (All Shall Perish) and bassist Ryan Wombacher (Bleeding Through) demonstrate their energy and technical proficiency throughout and new drummer Mike Sciulara fit in seamlessly behind the kit. The only downside to Light the Torch’s performance was the fac that it only lasted thirty minutes, but hopefully this is a sign of more activity to come from them in the near future.
Metalcore veterans Norma Jean came next to an onslaught of sound and vicious energy which did not let up for the next forty-five minutes. Although they have been around for over twenty years now (albeit with no original members left in the band), they act like a band who are fresh off the blocks and looking to give their all to every show. Both musically and performance-wise they were relentless, and this approach clearly delighted the section of the now much fuller venue who were dedicated fans of the band. Unfortunately for them though, the stylistic differences between them and the headline act meant that this section of the crowd was fairly small and their attempts to garnish a similar reaction from the rest of the crowd were consistently in vain. It did not help matters that the same aspects of their performance that are their biggest strengths are also their biggest weakness as they do not seem able to generate the energy that their performance relies on without sacrificing musical quality. For fans of the band, it is easy to see how one could get lost in the intensity of the music and not be bothered, but when trying to win over newcomers to their sound, this is a lot more difficult to accomplish with Norma Jean not sounding at their best.
A low-lit stage with an ominous backdrop and the low buzz of the intro music serves to hype up the excitement for the arrival on In Flames to the absolute maximum, as the band open the show with the opener of their latest album ‘Voices’. The original excitement of In Flames’ arrival is somewhat dissipated however once the music starts. This is due to the fact that even for such a big fan of the band, it takes a remarkably long time to be able to recognise which songs they are playing as there appears to be something not quite right with the sound. The guitar riffs start off being overly distorted and lead singer Anders Fridén can barely be heard throughout most of the songs, often being drowned out simply by the noise of the crowd. Not that this seems to have made a particularly large impact on the crowd however. “We encourage mosh pits and crowd surfing” announces Fridén to the gathered crowd, who evidently did not need telling twice. Whether the band go through some old classics like ‘Pinball Map’ and ‘Colony’ or come back round to the new tracks of ‘Call My Name’ and ‘Where the Dead Ships Dwell’, the crowd engaged fully at all times and were as energetic as the band themselves. A particular standout was ‘(This is Our) House’ from ‘I, The Mask’, which has an anthemic quality with a memorable chorus perfectly suited to a live setting such as this.
Mercifully, the sound does improve to some extent as we get to the midway part of the set and the band take the time to slow things down a little bit. ‘Here Until Forever’ from their previous album ‘Battles’ and long-time stalwart of their live set ‘The Chosen Pessimist’ provide welcome respite from the intensity of the songs which went beforehand and allow for the vocals to be heard in all their glory. It is not just the frontman who shines through in these moments however, as it is notable how tight In Flames are as a unit despite the fact that only two of those on stage are long-term members. Chris Broderick (Act of Defiance, ex-Megadeth) fills in admirably for the absent Niclas Engelin, while new members Bryce Paul and Tanner Wayne act as though they have been in the band for far longer. The attention is generally drawn toward the two old sweats however, as Fridén performs his frontman duties with great charisma and guitarist Björn Gelotte seemingly effortlessly nails every solo that comes his way.
In Flames go through most albums from their incredible history as a band, and though the set is mostly comprised of their more recent catalogue, it is great to see some old surprises such as ‘My Sweet Shadow’ treated just as warmly by the crowd. The band saves the best for last with the triple threat of three of their best songs ‘Cloud Connected’, ‘The Mirror’s Truth’ and (fittingly) ‘The End’ to round off the evening. Anybody thinking that the crowd’s enthusiasm for the evening was spent over the previous hour and a quarter had made a grave miscalculation. The experience and quality of In Flames shines through and leaves the crowd feeling elated even with there being no encore and no sign of their most famous song ‘Tale This Life’. It is a real shame that the band were hindered by substandard sound, even though it improved midway through, but it is testament to the extent to which the band are able to captivate their audience time and time again that even this does not turn the evening into a negative experience. In Flames are showing no signs of slowing down even this far into their careers. They still appear to love what they do and there absolutely no doubt that their fans repay that love a hundred times over.