I, The Mask CD With Autographed Booklet
At this point, In Flames are less of a band than they are a musical institution in the heavy music world. Since helping create Sweden's legendary "Gothenburg Sound" three decades ago to their current status as melodic metal monoliths, the act have constantly eschewed trends in order to forge their own musical path. This is evident on their 13th full-length I, The Mask, which sees them reuniting with multi Grammy-nominated producer Howard Benson (My Chemical Romance, Motörhead), who also produced 2016's Battles, in order to further redefine their sound. "I think it's very difficult for In Flames to be something we're not and that dichotomy of melody and aggression will always be at the core of our identity," vocalist Anders Fridén explains from a tour stop opening for Deep Purple in Mexico. "We are always open to new ideas and don't let anything limit us," guitarist Björn Gelotte adds. "We just ask ourselves if we will love playing this stuff live... and as long as we feel that, nothing can really touch us."
Unlike previous recordings, this time around Fridén and Gelotte holed up in Los Angeles for three weeks prior to the production of I, The Mask and came up with a bulk of the songs during those sessions. "For Battles I wrote a lot of the material at home first but for this one, Anders and I really wanted to just get in a room together and see where it would take us," Gelotte explains, adding that Benson would frequently drop by and act as a filter for their creativity. "I think this process worked really well because a lot of the lyrics fed off the music or Anders would come up with a really powerful line and it would inspire a riff, so there was a lot of symbiosis between us in the songwriting." From there the duo fleshed out the arrangements with guitarist Niclas Engelin, bassist Bryce Paul Newman and previous drummer Joe Rickard and then spent two months tracking the songs. (I, The Mask is also the last recording to feature Rickard who was subsequently replaced by Tanner Wayne who played on the track '(This Is Our) House.') Finally, the album was mixed by Chris Lord-Alge, who has worked with everyone from Cheap Trick to Linkin Park and mastered by Ted Jensen (Pantera, Eagles, Guns N’ Roses).
The result is a massive-sounding album that showcases why In Flames are one of the biggest metal bands in the world. From the way acoustic guitars give way to to anthemic riffing on the power ballad 'Call My Name' to the relentless riffing on 'Burn' and sweetly syncopated groove of 'I Am Above,' I, The Mask sees the band stretching out musically and crafting music that's as catchy as it is crushing. As the driving force behind the act, it was important for Fridén to challenge himself on the album and take vocal lessons three days a week in order to expand his own arsenal of abilities. "I wanted to do something new and take things to another level when it came to the vocals," he explains. "I know what I'm capable of and I feel more confident today taking higher notes and being able to push my voice in a higher register, so that's something I really wanted to explore as well."
Lyrically, I, The Mask is in many ways a social commentary on the state of the world when it comes to isolation, loneliness and the way technology has subverted our need for genuine human connection. "Instead of being connected we divide ourselves into all of these little groups and if you scratch the surface most people's lives are miserable," Fridén explains. "I thought about that and how we all carry a mask around and how in our striving to become better, I think we're actually going backwards." However there is also a level of hopefulness that's inherent in the sentiment of I, The Mask, which is showcased in songs like '(This Is Our) House.' "That song is a call to arms and it's saying, 'We need to unite because we're going in the wrong direction,'" he explains. "We might have ten years to stop the pollution of the planet. We aren't going to die on the 11th year but we can't turn it back from that and it's a slow process of rebuilding our house, so I think it's a strong lyrical theme and one that is unifying as well."
Admittedly if you listen to 1996's The Jester Race next to I, The Mask, there are marked musical differences, but through the course of In Flames’ output you can trace their evolution and hear how they managed to remain relevant by never getting complacent. "The way we write music is super challenging but it's also super rewarding," Gelotte explains, adding that as the band have improved as musicians it's opened up countless sonic and creative possibilities. "We've never been the type of band who likes to show-off but we like to have fun making music and working with Howard [Benson] was one of the first times where we actually listened to someone from the outside – and I think it was his first time working with a band like us, too," he adds. "The instrumentation on the album is pretty straight-forward on this album, but there are so many layers in a lot of these songs that if you're interested you can really dig into it and it will live on for a long time."
That said, ultimately In Flames are a live band and they can't wait to get back on the road and share this new collection of songs with fans, whether they've supported the band for decades or are recent converts to their sound. "I love the act of creating something from nothing and then getting to travel the world and play these songs and see how they affect people," Fridén summarizes. "It's extremely rewarding to hear how a certain song moves someone and then you talk to someone else and learn that it affected them in a profoundly different way. The dynamic between the creator and the fans and what they bring to the table is such an amazing feeling, so that's a big part of our drive. To make something and share it with the world, that's what we were meant to do."
- Number of discs: 1
- Label: Eleven Seven
- Mono/Stereo: Stereo
- Catalog Number: ESM5182