In the vein of our love for all things Swedish, today’s Throwback is at another cornerstone of melodic death metal. While it’s not old enough to buy its own beer yet, it could probably at least pass for being legal. In Flames‘ classic sophomore record The Jester Race just turned 20, and if that makes you feel old, you best hold on to your walker while we blast the solo from “December Flower.”
While Lunar Strain arguably could have been a lost Dark Tranquillity album, the induction of Anders Friden on vocals as well as the band’s distillation of their twin guitar-driven brand of death metal resulted in the breakout effort of The Jester Race. The interesting thing about this particular album is that, more than most other melodic death metal albums of its time, The Jester Race basically lifted death metal into bright, major-key territory. Across its running time, intricate, airy guitar lines intertwine and lock step, providing a nearly uplifting sonic template that provides the foundation for Friden’s hoarse screams. This was a contentious matter for death metal purists of the time, and honestly, it’s not hard to see why: The Jester Race takes the rock-like structure of British Steel, adds leads and harmonies ala Powerslave, and smatters it with vocals that weren’t quite the deep, gutteral norm for death metal. All the songs here are stubbornly reliant on their infectious hooks, and even the faster moments ooze with jubilancy.
Aside from being hugely important album for melodic death metal, The Jester Race is probably the zenith of In Flames’ early career, if not their entire discography. The songwriting is tight and inspired, the riffs erupting with equal focus and fervor. Songs like “Moonshield” and “Artifacts of the Black Rain” are obvious classics with their memorable and insanely accessible hooks and mid-tempo drive, and elsewhere, “Graveland” and the excellent “Dead Eternity” tightly switch between melodic thrashing and swinging, anthemic choruses. The bright, tight production job brings the intricate guitar work to the forefront, and when that famed solo in “December Flower” kicks in –– also, shout out to the zany synth solo in “Wayfaerer” — it’s difficult to realize what melodic death metal would be like without The Jester Race coming into the world.
And finally, God bless the Comic Sans on the album cover. We’ll excuse it because a) It was 1996, and b) The music itself is sick, so they could’ve had unicorns on there for all I care.