BJÖRN GELOTTE: How IN FLAMES Recaptured 'Death Metal Feel' On 'Foregone'February 23, 2023
By David E. Gehlke
Far and away the most scrutinized of the core Gothenburg, Sweden, melodic death metal bands from the 1990s, IN FLAMES has spent the better part of 20 years making music removed from their foundational, classic period. Anything post-"Clayman" (2000) has been ripe for debate and has often drawn the ire of the metal scene, particularly those turned off by the alternative rock motifs, clean vocal volleys and lack of heaviness. Even a 2020 reboot of four songs from the aforementioned "Clayman" was met with a collective sigh. IN FLAMES, it appeared, was headed for the irrelevancy bin.
However, IN FLAMES' new studio platter, "Foregone", appears to have rectified those issues. Bolstered by the type of robust and powerful production job that has eluded the band ever since they split with the reputable Fredrik Nordström after "Clayman", "Foregone" brings out the stalwart twin-guitar melody brigade and pure aggression for another spin. While it's not a complete and total return to form (vocalist Anders Fridén is still doing a lot of clean singing),"Foregone" is one of the year's early surprises. With that in mind, guitarist and co-songwriter Björn Gelotte connected with BLABBERMOUTH.NET to discuss "Foregone" and his first position within IN FLAMES, the drums, which seemed like a fitting place to start.
Blabbermouth: You started as a drummer in IN FLAMES but moved to guitar before "Colony". How do you think that move redefined the band's sound and approach?
Bjorn: "The position that opened up for me when I got asked to join was as a drummer. I'm not a drummer. But I happen to know a little about playing drums. I was working at youth centers and learning how to play. I was teaching people interested in playing in a band and taught them the basics. I didn't have much knowledge. It appeared my drumming skills were not the worst in the band then. [Laughs] [Founding IN FLAMES guitarist] Jesper [Strömblad] was playing drums. He was absolutely not comfortable. He wanted to play guitar, so that's the position that opened. The reason why I thought it was an okay idea was that I could participate in songwriting. I could play guitar on records. I could do some leads. I thought it was an okay trade-off all the way until we started touring more frequently and that's when I realized I suck as a drummer. It's a lot of hard work. I have the biggest respect for drummers. It's not only physical but the foundation for the music we play. My respect for drummers is immense."
Blabbermouth: You are too hard on yourself. "Food For The Gods" and "Morphing Into Primal" on "Whoracle" aren't a walk in the park.
Bjorn: "Well, compared to most of the stuff that happened afterward, when we got Daniel [Svensson], nobody was happier than me. He was a phenomenal drummer. It's only gotten better and better. I couldn't respect drummers more for their contribution. It's because I've tried and done it and for two records and some touring in the beginning. At the same time, back then, we rehearsed quite a lot while making songs and before going into the studio. We came pretty prepared. I think that probably helped. Also, being in the studio, you have time to re-do things. If it's a shit take, I could do it again. [Laughs] I didn't mind that part. It's the touring side of things. I'm simply not a drummer."
Blabbermouth: Do you still think like a drummer? IN FLAMES has maintained an identifiable rhythmic quality since you became a primary songwriter.
Bjorn: "I think it made me more aware of what's possible when writing songs. For sure, it made me a better or more well-rounded songwriter. That's something that developed over the years. Initially, I wanted to throw in as many kicks as possible and cool breaks. You do that when you program drums, then you realize it's something somebody with two arms and legs will play. It's not possible to do some of the crazy ideas. I think that's important. Having an understanding of these instruments helps. You know the limitations of the instruments."
Blabbermouth: You mention wanting to throw in all these parts during the early days, but IN FLAMES has been a very economical band in songwriting.
Bjorn: "We like to get to the good stuff really quick. There are a lot of bands out there that I admire who can make long journeys between different parts. My attention span is a little bit too short for that, even though I'm a huge fan of RUSH, OPETH and all these progressive bands. They're fantastic. I think it might have to do with the fact we play a lot live. We want to make sure the songs work live. For them to work, in my opinion, is to get to the good stuff, like the cool melody or big choruses, fairly early in a song. Then, keep it nice, tight and full of energy up until the end. That's how I like to play music."
Blabbermouth: Is the "Don't bore us, get to the chorus" line applicable here?
Bjorn: "That's a pretty good saying. There's a ton of stuff you want to put into a song. At the same time, I'm not a 'pop' guy. I do understand it, though, to an extent, that getting to the good stuff is a way of capturing the listener. Nowadays, you get so little time. It would help if you had at least something that you would capture. We have so many songs and so many albums. It needs to be an interesting journey. It's stuff that makes us happy to play. We write for ourselves, for good or bad. We get a lot of flak for it, but it's the only way we can be honest and true with our music is that we actually like it. We need to have that flow in a song to enjoy playing it live."
Blabbermouth: Early IN FLAMES songwriting was between you, Anders and Jesper. But did you and Anders bond early on?
Bjorn: "That came later. It was always a riff or melody or putting them into a song, then Anders had the most difficult job because we presented full songs. He had to put lyrics on top of them, including melodies. It was more frustrating back in the day, but we found a way of working together that's fluid now and organic. Anything can trigger the birth of a song. It can be a couple of words written together. It could be a melody. Now, we try to work on the big picture, the whole song. We didn't do that in the past. It took a bunch of years. We're in a way better and more comfortable place songwriting-wise."
Blabbermouth: Do you argue much?
Bjorn: "I would like to say no. [Laughs] I think we do, but there are only a few people…I don't like the word 'compromise' when it comes to music. There are only a few people who I would listen to with suggestions. Anders is one of them because he has a great understanding. He listens to so many different types of music. He has opened me up to at least some possibilities and I have explored way more than I ever would have done if I had continued doing everything on my own. I think it's absolutely necessary. I feel like a better songwriter. It's more rewarding now, listening back to stuff that I wouldn't have done if I had sat by myself and written it. All these songs are important. It's working really nicely. We argue, but it's not a big deal. Most of the time, it's about arrangements. That's more a craft than creating or finding inspiration. When there are lyrics, I rarely have anything to say about them. It might be phrasing or rhythmically how something can be. He does the same thing: he re-arranges riffs and melodies that make sense to him and his lyrics."
Blabbermouth: You mentioned Anders has a wide range of tastes. Has that left you as the "metal" guy within the band?
Bjorn: "Anders is wide open. He's so curious. He listens to everything. Nothing is taboo for him. I'm simply not that interested. I have so many bands that I grew up listening to. Most of them are still running, or their albums are still there, but I find new joy in these old albums every time I listen to them. A lot of times, Anders puts something in front of me and I listen to it. Sometimes it sticks and the newer bands I pick up are because of him or because I saw them live. But I'm not keeping my ear to the ground. I probably should. [Laughs] At the same time, I know what I like to play and hear. I don't know if I'm backward, but I'm not so curious."
Blabbermouth: Your sound has evolved quite a bit over the years. "Foregone" brings back some of those early, classic melodic death metal elements. Do you see it as a "homecoming" of sorts?
Bjorn: "I don't really look back. We know what we've done. It's been a very long career and we've been extremely fortunate to do it for such a long time and had the opportunity to explore and do many things. At the time we did certain things, it was awesome. It was as good as we were. It's a timestamp of the band when we make a record. We learn from each record and it's something we have with us. I'm not looking back. I don't think everything was better back in the day. Very few people were listening to us, and it was hard to get shows. Songwriting-wise, that's where we started and it will always be with us. That's always been in every song we write. Maybe not as obvious because of production differences or maybe because there are some clean vocals, but there's always the brutality of death metal, the aggression from thrash. You have the frailty of the harmonies and melodies. It's that meeting that I really love. That's always been part of us.
"Now, with 'Foregone', we talked more about production than songwriting. It's going to be an IN FLAMES record, no matter what. It was more about that 'death metal feel,' that sound, that big wall of guitars again. We haven't had that for a while. As a guitar player, I love the way the guitars sound. Especially like on 'I, The Mask'. You can hear every detail. You can hear the fingers moving and picking on the strings. As a guitar player, it's awesome, but you lose some massiveness. We wanted to sound more metal. It made it bigger and maybe some of these riffs shine in a different light because of the production. It's not like we're going back to our roots. They're always with us. We can't get rid of them. And I'm not interested in getting rid of them, either. It's a strength to have done all these different things. Picking and choosing from anything we want to do will turn into an IN FLAMES record."
Blabbermouth: There is a proliferation of your melodic choices here. It felt like you gave them a fresh coat of paint with the production, too.
Bjorn: "The massive production that Joe Rickard made — he knows us really well. He was a member of the band for a bunch of years. When you listen to demos from this record and the demos from the last three or four records, they're not very different sound-wise. I use the same programs. He wanted to bring the metal vibe to it and he did. That's more what happened than us reaching for death metal. It's that meeting of the aggressive death metal, thrash, all that stuff that has so much energy in it and meeting those melodies, that's what makes it click for me."
Blabbermouth: Chris Broderick (guitar) has been playing with you for a few years and was recently elevated to full membership status. What was his involvement in "Foregone"?
Bjorn: "Having known Chris for 20 years, knowing what kind of guitar player he is and still being amazed about his playing — he's incredible. He's super-focused and he has his shit together, more than any guitar player I've played with before. The songs were there. It felt like everything was there. In the studio, I like to record all the guitars. I can change things on the fly. If I want to change a little detail here and there, I can do it there. It saves time. Normally, I would record all the guitars, but I asked him if he'd be interested in laying down a solo or two and he was really happy. Nobody was happier than me! It has a huge impact, just as much as Tanner's [Wayne] drumming compared to the programming I do. [Laughs] Bryce's [Paul Newman, bass] extremely heavy low-end and the stability he brings with Tanner all change the songs. It makes it better. It makes it more real. These are really skilled musicians putting their touch on these riffs. It's hard to explain, but every musician has their own sound. It's in the fingers, not so much the amps or strings. It's in their fingers. That combination is incredible. The combination we have right now is the best we've ever had. We've always had really skilled and awesome musicians in the band, but now it's crazy good. It's never been more fun playing together. And it's always been fun. Then it always sounded good, but it never sounded better. When Chris wanted to do those songs, he elevated them to levels I could have never taken it with my playing."
Blabbermouth: IN FLAMES toured the wheels off over here in the States and Europe from "Clayman" and beyond. It had to be draining, but you put the work in and here you are today. What do you remember most about that period?
Bjorn: "It's usually a blur. [Laughs] When you think about all the tours, they intermix. I'm very much in the here and now, even when I'm on tour. I don't think back so much. I'm excited about what we're doing now and what we're looking toward doing. These are all great memories. These are experiences that I couldn't be without. Each and every tour we've done has brought us to where we are today, as well as the records. Each and every good or bad show has taught us something. That's the beauty of being in a band like this when we toured, toured, toured. We played and played. We tried to improve and make things better — try to sound better and easier for ourselves when we're on the road by practicing. These are all great memories. We made a bunch of friends, especially touring the U.S. We have friends in every city. It's incredible. Almost all of these guys come out to the show every time we're there. It feels a little bit like coming home."
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