If the Hives are the first offensive in a Swedish rock invasion, then In Flames were the early reconnaissance team, quietly spreading their supercharged melodic death metal in whatever North American clubs would take them. Reroute to Remain, In Flames' sixth album, is their latest missive, an album that's heavy and pummeling yet accessible enough to potentially crack the limiting ceiling of the extreme underground. And if that happens, in a way, they'll have Slipknot to thank for it.
"We met Slipknot in Italy a couple of years ago," vocalist Anders Friden relayed from a Detroit dressing room. "We just started talking and some of them said they were fans of our music. We were kind of surprised. We never thought that they would know about us."
As it turned out, Slipknot were well versed in the group's style, one built around contemporary aggressive guitar riffing juxtaposed with the catchy, melodic leanings of more traditionally minded heavy metal. It's a style that has developed consistently since In Flames released their appropriately titled Subterranean EP in the early '90s. 2000's landmark Clayman combined the most effective moments of previous records like Colony and Whoracle, placing In Flames firmly atop the heap of the so-called "New Wave of Swedish Death Metal," a sub-genre that includes Arch Enemy, the late and lamented At the Gates and, to some extent, Meshuggah.
"Some of [Slipknot] are huge metal fans in general," Friden explained. "They're all cool, all nine of them."
Cool enough, in fact, that the masked Iowans elected to take the road-hungry In Flames, already familiar with the backroads of Europe, the U.S. and Japan, on a short tour of the U.K. The trek was due to be followed by a full U.S. tour, until Shawn "Clown" Crahan's wife fell ill and the whole outing was postponed (see "Slipknot Postpone U.S. Tour").
The side-lining of the Slipknot/ In Flames tour proved to be a blessing in disguise for Friden, guitarists Jesper Stromblad and Bjorn Gelotte, drummer Daniel Svensson and bassist Peter Iwers, who used the downtime to craft Reroute to Remain.
"It's too bad that the tour got cancelled, that would have done a lot for us," the singer lamented. "But there's good things out of that as well. I don't know that we would have had so much time [to make this album] otherwise."
For one thing, the extra time allowed Friden to lyrically delve more deeply into his personal life than ever before.
"I came from a really self-destructive relationship," he said. "That was almost two years ago, [but] I'm still dealing with some of those topics. It takes a while to get it out. I think even the next album will still deal with some of these topics. I mean, it took me down really heavily, so to speak. But I'm out of that now and in a new, way healthier relationship and feeling better as a person."
The extra time also gave Friden an opportunity to experiment with a more melodic vocal approach, while the entire band dabbled with keyboards, larger arrangements and a more streamlined production. Reroute to Remain still draws liberally from the gallop of Iron Maiden and the crushing staccato of Florida death metal with equal reverence, but at the same time it expands In Flames' scope beyond the established sounds of their buddy bands in Gothenburg, Sweden.
"I'm afraid that [older fans] will judge this album upon if it's a 'Gothenburg death metal album' and already make up their minds," Friden said. "It's a new metal album."
So in 2002, what do In Flames have to offer the average American rock fan weaned on Limp Bizkit, Puddle of Mudd and Blink-182?
"The impression I get from people is that they like the mix between melody and aggression that we have," Friden offered. "I think that attracts a lot of people. It's just such a great record, it has a little bit of everything. It's a bridge between the '80s and 2000 and everything in between. There is a gap in between people that are kind of tired of the 'nü' sound and are ready for bands that they have never heard before. There is definitely a place for In Flames."
Indeed, In Flames have delivered an album that plays upon many of metal strengths while jettisoning all of its hair-sprayed, more Spinal Tap-ish baggage. It's a combination that seems to even be winning over fans of Slayer — an audience notorious for its singular devotion to the thrash titans.
"I've heard some scary stories [from support bands] about people chanting, 'Slayer, Slayer,' " Friden said of In Flames' current U.S. tour supporting Slayer and Soulfly. "But so far, so good. I guess the people enjoy a real metal band. They see us up there working really hard for half an hour and I think people can appreciate that. It's doing really good for us. Getting us out to a lot more people who haven't heard us before. It's kind of a dream come true. I never thought I would be here 10 years ago."