By David E. Gehlke
THE HALO EFFECT features five familiar faces from long-running but currently divisive melodic metal troupe IN FLAMES: Mikael Stanne (vocals),Jesper Strömblad (guitar),Niclas Engelin (guitar),Peter Iwers (bass) and Daniel Svensson (drums). Naturally, the announcement of THE HALO EFFECT immediately fired up debate on whether they'd be the band to recreate the sacred melodic death metal sound that IN FLAMES mastered during the mid-to-late 1990s. While their "Days Of The Lost" debut includes an array of twin guitar melodies and song-oriented constructs, it is not the throwback to the melo-death times of yore that so many wanted. Instead, think of it as picking up where IN FLAMES left off around 2002's "Reroute To Remain" with the type of vocals Stanne has long perfected in his main band, DARK TRANQUILLITY.
Strömblad's participation is the biggest storyline here. The guitarist left IN FLAMES in 2010 to seek treatment for alcoholism. Since then, Strömblad has appeared in a small handful of projects (most recently modern metallers CYHRA),but nothing rivaled his previous band's work. Strömblad's live show status with THE HALO EFFECT remains a question mark, but he was present for their first show in June and was in high spirits for a joint interview with Engelin to talk about their new project, which feels more like a proper band.
Blabbermouth: What was the main driver behind putting THE HALO EFFECT together? Was it friendship?
Jesper: "We are all friends. I was sitting at home with idle hands, basically. Daniel hadn't touched his drumkit for like five years or something. I've been doing CYHRA and some projects, but we had nothing to do when the pandemic struck. I don't know who came up with the idea, but I think it was Mikael or Peter."
Niclas: "We always talked about it. Peter and Daniel wanted me to come over and jam and hang out. Then I met up with Mikael and we always talked about bands and albums, like CORONER. We were on a train from Stockholm and Gothenburg, and we talked about festivals, gigs, albums and Matt Pike from HIGH ON FIRE. Then, we met up and started to riff away and see if we could come up with songs. Everyone was available. Everyone had played together before and thought it would be cool to be on stage with Daniel and Peter because we've been on the road for so many years together. We realized what a fantastic lineup we had. Then, someone said, 'Let's make it a band.'"
Jesper: "I was the last in."
Niclas: "We had a meeting, like, 'Can't we hang out and play some music together?' No expectations. Then we started to just play together and see what we could come up with. It was like, 'Let's do this!' We had that vibe, but what kind of music should we do? Should we go progressive?"
Jesper: "We never needed to talk about it. When Niclas and I got together, Niclas had a lot of songs written. Then, I did some songs and we did some together. We never talked about, 'We want to be like 50-year-old guys living on old merits and playing songs from our old bands.' That was never in our heads. This is us. The biggest problem was that we had to stop making songs. We actually recorded 17 tracks. We could have released a double album. We have a lot of goodies in the vault. It was hard to choose a track list for the album."
Blabbermouth: Jesper: What would it have taken for you to join a proper band again?
Jesper: "There is a misunderstanding because I'm still in CYHRA. There was something going on, personal things that I don't have to get into. If you see promo pictures now, I am not in them. But I'm still in the band. It's always been the fact whether I can be on stage or not, but I'm always the musical motor, so to speak. When I heard about this lineup, there was no doubt. Of course, I had to jump on it. Me and Niclas, we played together, but you can't count that as working together before."
Blabbermouth: That's right. Niclas, your first stint with IN FLAMES was right after "Whoracle" before Björn [Gellote] switched from drums to guitar.
Niclas: "We also played earlier when we were kids. We played at a youth center where we could try out musical ideas."
Jesper: "We were 13. We wrote three or four songs. We've known each other since then."
Niclas: "We did one gig."
Jesper: "I don't remember it. It's repressed. [Laughs] It didn't take much thought from my side when it came to joining. It's always going to be for the time being, an issue with touring for me. We always are going to have a backup. I'm always going to be there in spirit with the band. I'm always going to be writing music and in there in the studio. But, when I heard Niclas's demos, I said, 'Yes, we have to do more of this.' They were phenomenal. It wasn't a repetition, either. There was no, 'Let's sound like we did 20 years ago.' It sounded so updated, fresh and good. I said, 'We can do this and get away from people saying we got this band together because we played in previous bands together.' This band stands on its own two feet. Maybe you can hear some of the influences, but that's not really weird because it's us playing together. That's how I write music."
Blabbermouth: Did songs take shape when Niclas, you would come in with something, then Jesper, you would add your ideas on top?
Niclas: "The cool thing is that sometimes I would work on a song, but I needed something else. That's where Jesper would come in with his coffee. He'd be drinking his coffee and go, 'Stop. Give me the guitar. I need to do this. I have something.' Then he'd play a melody on top and five minutes later, it sounded like the melody had been there forever. How do you do that, Jesper?"
Jesper: "It is a chemistry thing. I can go into the studio with a random guitar player and sit there and come up with nothing, like, 'What the hell is he doing?' But when I'm with Niclas, we have this chemistry where we complete each other. Every time we went to the studio, like at five in the afternoon and by ten o'clock, we'd go home and have a proper demo. It was super-creative in the studio."
Niclas: "The cool thing is by ten o'clock, you can't do more because you are so drained. You feel like, 'Okay, let's go. I'll drive you home now.' When you get home and are ready for bed, you think, 'Wait a minute. That riff should go here.' Then you really start to think about it."
Jesper: "That's why it's so fun to be in the studio with Niclas. Last week or two weeks ago, we had a long session and the song was pretty much done and I was so tired. I was like, 'Can't we just go?' Niclas ran over to his guitar case and opened it up again: 'Come on. Plug me in.' He did this extra riff that tied the song together. Those things are really cool and fun. I think about how we wrote the song. Then I heard the riff. I said, 'Yeah!' We were both excited."
Niclas: "It's the feeling when you have something inside you: 'I have to try it!' Then everyone is going, 'Yeah, that's good!'"
Blabbermouth: How did working with Mikael impact the music? Did you write around his vocals, or did he place them over the top?
Niclas: "We wrote the songs and he was there. Then we sent them to Mikael. He's an amazing singer and an amazing artist. He's just an artist. He came in, sat down and was ready to go. I remember he was putting down vocals on some tracks. He just nailed it. I had goosebumps. It's like your favorite team scored and was going to win the game."
Jesper: "He's a perfectionist. But he's so amazing because he's one of the guys who sounds better and better with each year. He also was a frequent visitor in the studio. He was very much into it. He had a lot of the say in the actual arrangements of the songs. Where he's phenomenal is his timing in where to sing, where to put the lyrics to make it dynamic. It's not like CANNIBAL CORPSE. [Mimics death metal vocals] He has such a great flow and timing with his vocals."
Blabbermouth: What was that like for you, Jesper? Mikael sang on the first IN FLAMES, "Lunar Strain". He was in the band when you started and now you're playing with him again.
Jesper: "It's mind-blowing and awesomely fun that he wanted to join. It was fucking 30 years ago. Well, 29, to be exact. [Laughs] He's just a cool guy. If you're on a road trip or going somewhere, he can tell you so many stories that will make you laugh. He's just a funny guy. He's so humble. He's one of those singers that escaped 'lead singer syndrome.' He's a really humble guy. I told him, 'Hey, Mikael. Here we are again. It was 30 years ago we were in the studio. Can you believe it?' He said, 'Tell me about it!'"
Blabbermouth: You recently played your first show at Sweden Rock Festival. How do you think it went?
Jesper: "I loved it. I love to be onstage. I haven't been on stage in a lot of years. If I could go back, I would be a little more active onstage. I prioritized playing well, to play the songs because they were brand-new for Niclas and me. Nowadays, you write the riff and record it. Then you don't rehearse it. Now, you have to not only learn the songs and refresh your memory. For me, it was there 95 percent. I was kind of stiff. I wanted to nail the songs. It was a fantastic show and I had an amazing time. Just looking back and seeing Daniel smiling behind the drums and hearing Peter's rumbling bass…only he can get that sound, then seeing Niclas running around like a grasshopper. If you think about it, it was kind of cool that the band could play a festival on the big stage and fill it, more or less, and we didn't even have the album out yet. People haven't heard the songs. They heard four songs, tops. We did a signing session where we sat for one and a half hours signing autographs. It was a huge success for us, I think. It couldn't have been a better start."
Niclas: "The challenge came right away. The fourth single came out on a Friday, the day before the show. People have maybe heard three songs. And, alright, we were going to play the entire album front-to-back for the first gig. Whoa. That's 48 minutes. We have to add an intro and an outro, then execute it. We just did it. I'm so proud of it. It was a very good dream where you're walking into a room with old friends and they're going, 'Mikael is singing. There's Peter!'"
Jesper: "It sounded surprisingly good. I watched some videos. We have an amazing front-of-house sound guy. He was the one who produced the album, Oscar Nilsson. I'm surprised we nailed it. I think it comes from even if you have had a hiatus for ten years, when you go up on stage, it's like riding a bicycle. This wasn't that big of a deal. I was nervous, but when I was on stage, no problem. But to learn the riffs and I didn't play one-hundred percent, but no one plays one-hundred percent. For a first gig, it was amazing."
Blabbermouth: What's your take on most of the Gothenburg melodic death metal bands still going and making relevant music?
Niclas: "It's mind-blowing. It's fantastic, but I've never stopped to think about it. I want more and I want to be on the move and riff away. It's fantastic to do this."
Jesper: "Look at bands like ARCH ENEMY and AMON AMARTH. Some of the tours that are coming up now have a capacity of 15, 16,000 people. Swedish melodic death metal in 2022 is still on the rise. These bands have been around for a long, long time, and finally, they reap the rewards. They totally earned it. It's so cool to see how it's still relevant."
Niclas: "Don't forget about SOILWORK."
Jesper: "Of course. I said ARCH ENEMY and AMON AMARTH because they've exploded from one album to the next. Swedish metal is very healthy."
Blabbermouth: Another component here is all the American bands who popped up 20 years ago and used your melodic ideas. Did you see that as thievery or take it as an honor?
Jesper: "It was more of a tribute. It was amazing you could hear it and the members of the successful American bands who mentioned Swedish bands as their influence. From little Sweden, we have been part of creating this genre of metalcore, like KILLSWITCH [ENGAGE] and AS I LAY DYING. It's an honor to be a part of creating this."
Blabbermouth: Wrapping up, what's next for you two? Is THE HALO EFFECT your priority going forward?
Jesper: "Yeah, it is. Maybe sometimes it will be a little puzzling if it clashes, but THE HALO EFFECT is my priority. I'm laying low with everything else right now. We started working on this album so long ago. We are already planning to start recording a new album. I don't know if I should say that."
Niclas: "Go ahead!"
Jesper: "We're writing new music for the next album because everything was so delayed. We don't want to wait another four years before the next album comes out."