“He’s my brother, and will always be. The reason why he quit is because of family and that’s the one thing I can’t argue with him about. He could be a fucking clown like everyone else, being pissed drunk or whatever, but when it came to his drumming nobody in the world is more serious than him.”
– Björn Gelotte on ex-drummer Daniel Svensson
26 years ago, no-one could have imagined that this Swedish band from Gothenburg would carve out such a formidable path for melodic death metal.
Formed by ex-guitarist Jesper Strömblad and with their beginnings rooted in instability, the group finally solidified their lineup by fourth album Colony (1999). That enabled them to really find themselves, with the band’s harmonised lead guitar melodies combining seamlessly with screaming and growling vocals.
While sixth album Reroute to Remain (2002) saw the quintet move away from the sound they were lauded for, they certainly drew new fans, while crafting songs with even more power and purpose live. They’ve stamped their mark onstage, smashing through global headline shows while touring with the likes of Judas Priest and Motörhead.
Now they’ve got 12 albums under their belt, with latest effort Battles unleashed today, and I sat down with lead guitarist Björn Gelotte to talk his first ever In Flames show and record, as well as the stadium moment still giving him goosebumps.
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It was with immense pride that Gelotte reflected on Battles as “musically who we are now”.
It’s also a powerful testament to the guitarist’s 20 year tenure in the band, and as he expressed, “I couldn’t be more excited about being able to do this for as many years as I’ve done and still be fucking happy about it. It’s the only thing I want to do. I’m extremely blessed, and being able to put out the twelfth record… Most bands don’t last half as long.”
That’s certainly true, and even after over two decades of making albums, touring and all round improving, there’s always room to shake things up. A huge step was bringing Pennsylvanian producer Howard Benson [Flyleaf, Skillet] into the fold, and while the group have worked with people outside the band before, I was surprised to hear that they’ve “never been open to the concept of it.”
“In the end we’ve always done it our way, and mainly used them [producers] as engineers and mixing guys. That’s not fair, but life isn’t always fair. At the time that’s what we needed, because we were so full of our ideas. This time round, we actually talked to eight to ten different producers, and all of those guys are very important to us. Musically they’ve done records that mean so much… just so many things that we really look up to. So when we finally had the chance to talk to them, we were like ‘Now we’re here. Let’s actually listen to these guys and use their skills, their experience’.”
“So that forced us to open up in a different way than we’ve ever done before, and not only towards Howard because he wanted to be a part of this early, but to each other. Especially me and Anders [Fridén, vocals]. We started writing music in a slightly different way, like I could work on the vocal melodies and he could work on the guitar riffs and melody. It gave us a whole new perspective on songwriting which we couldn’t tap into before, so I’m very grateful for that.”
One of Gelotte’s biggest personal milestones was working on sophomore release The Jester Race, his first record (which also turned 20 this year). He transported us back to 1996, the slight waver in his voice showing the depth of his connection with the album.
“I’d done demos in the past and been in the studio once or twice, but never like this. I remember getting the first rough mixes from Fredrick [Nordström] after just ten days… Then we sat down in our old guitar player Glenn [Ljungström]’s car, put the cassette in and listened to ‘Graveland’. I can still remember every fucking beat and tone [chuckles]… My memories are vivid, but that’s mainly because it was the first time I actually heard how good a studio recording could be, and I was part of it.”
While holding the fort as axeman for 18 years, Gelotte initially jumped on board as drummer. Reflecting on his first gig as guitar player, he affirmed that it was downright terrifying.
“The actual instrument wasn’t the problem, the position on stage was. You sit in the back and don’t need to worry about shit [as a drummer], you just start the song and make sure every hangs out with you until the end. As a guitar player you have to entertain, and also sound pretty good. I wasn’t ready for that, and the first show I did as a guitar player and Daniel as a drummer was at Dynamo Fest [in the Netherlands]. I remembered one face from that audience, I had tunnel vision I was so fucking nervous [chuckles].”
It’s awesome to hear that the band have been lucky enough to play with all of their heroes, from Black Sabbath to Iron Maiden and Slayer. Further reminiscing, Gelotte dropped a daunting experience which actually turned his expectations upside down.
“We were playing a hometown show opening up for Maiden, at a stadium to 60,000 people, and obviously it sold out. We were like ‘Fuck this, no one’s going to care about us. Everybody’s here for Maiden.’ So we sat down in the dressing room and no-one really wanted to do it, but then we said ‘Let’s just have fun’. Then we started the intro, and there’s this weird noise, and we’re like ‘What the fuck’s going on?’. So we stand side stage, and then we hear it’s actually the audience cheering. They wanted to see us. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.”
Our conversation shifted to the band’s longtime friends in Nuclear Blast Records, who they reunited with after eight years to drop their Sounds From The Heart Of Gothenburg live DVD last month. Contemplating this, Gelotte said “These are some of our oldest friends in the music industry. The owner Markus [Staiger] believed in us really early.”
“We were on a small Swedish label Wrong Again. I think he was friends with Jesper to begin with because he did HammerFall at the time, but then he heard about In Flames and just said ‘I really believe in this’. They’ve been such an important part of our career and history, so we’re super excited to be back. They know exactly what they’re doing. They are metal. A lot of the time, something that gets lost is the love for the fans, because these are the guys supporting you. Not only the bands but the labels too, and they’re [Nuclear Blast] really good with that stuff. That fits us really well.”
Yet one true brother for Gelotte is ex-drummer Daniel Svensson, who joined three years after he did and left just last year. The two have developed a deep bond, and the guitarist’s respect for his decision to walk away was palpable.
“The reason why he quit is because of family and that’s the one thing I can’t argue with him about. He could be a fucking clown like everyone else, being pissed drunk or whatever, but when it came to his drumming nobody in the world is more serious than him. He can’t lose. It was such an easygoing thing stepping out on stage, knowing that you’ve got Daniel and Peter [Iwers, bass], the best rhythm section you could probably find. Me and Nic [Engelin] could just fuck around on the guitars, no-one would notice anyway [chuckles]. So that’s one thing I will definitely remember. But also his dedication to family and friends… He’s a kickass guy.
“But now we have Joe [Rickard], and he’s a fucking good substitution I have to say. He’s young and energetic, and got the same winner’s head. He really wants to do this, and that rubs off on us too. So that’s another fun thing to look forward to for us.”
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Join In Flames with your fist in the air by grabbing Battles here, out now via Nuclear Blast/Eleven Seven.