As I was sifting through our website archives recently, I stumbled upon a review of this album, realizing Monday, March 17, 2014, marked the 10-year anniversary of its release. Already? Soundtrack to Your Escape is not the most popular album among diehard In Flames fans and never will be—I realize that. But this was an important release for the influential Swedish metal band, and I’ll try to explain why.
In Flames is now a household name in metal, but this wasn’t always the case. Most diehard metalheads know how the band got its start, so I won’t delve into a long and involved history. In short, way back in the early ’90s, then-upstart Swedish death metal bands In Flames and Dark Tranquillity unintentionally traded lead vocalists—Anders Fridén became the lead vocalist for In Flames and Mikael Stanne for Dark Tranquillity. Revolving members plagued In Flames throughout its career, culminating with the departure of guitarist (and last original member) Jesper Strömblad in 2010. But in the ’90s, these bands, along with At the Gates and others, went on to create the subgenre of melodic death metal, also known as the “Gothenburg sound.” My best description for the style is to think of hearing Iron Maiden playing death metal with keyboards.
In Flames released now landmark, influential albums like The Jester Race (1996), Whoracle (1997), Colony (1999) and Clayman (2000), establishing itself as one of the new powerhouses of extreme metal overseas. Reroute to Remain (2002) represented a major stylistic shift for In Flames’ music, in the addition of clean vocals, catchier choruses and no more growls. It was also its first album to have official singles released from it. It caused a divide among the fan base, especially with a clear American, nu-metal influence in the songs. But now, it is looked upon as the “gateway album” for In Flames, and it was the one that had me initially “discover” the band. It’s also still my favorite release by the band.
The reason for the prelude above leading into Reroute to Remain is that even though this album is cited as the period in which the band “sold out,” it is the “Black Album” for In Flames. The rest of the metal world in Europe, Scandinavia and Japan (In Flames released a live album in 2001 called The Tokyo Showdown) was already keen to this band, but in America it was still relatively unknown. I remember playing friends the band’s music and them hearing it for the first time even though they had existed for more than a decade at this point. Hard to believe, right?
Not really. In the late ’90s into the early 2000s, heavy metal was in a state of flux in the United States. Metallica had undergone its own style shift, bands like Sepultura, Machine Head and Megadeth had followed with the same, losing members and/or releasing mediocre albums. Pantera was winding down. The underground remained intact, but as far as hard rock and metal in the U.S., nu-metal was about it. Korn, Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit ruled the airwaves.
So before In Flames was set to conquer the Western world, it was smart (in a business sense) in incorporating American influenced and more accessibility into its music, beginning with Reroute to Remain. (I wouldn’t call them a sell-out, but you have to believe they didn’t want to keep going hungry, as well.) “Cloud Connected” was the first In Flames song to get airplay in the U.S. ( I heard it on satellite radio) and the first song many here had heard from the band.
So by the time 2004 rolled around, In Flames had begun building a solid fan base in North America, even though the band hadn’t toured here much, had any “hit” singles or regular airplay. I remember in the weeks (or even months) leading up to the album’s release, my anticipation was building like in my younger years when I anxiously awaited new releases by Megadeth or Testament, and I had only been a fan for a short period. Fans’ first taste of the band’s seventh studio release, Soundtrack to Your Escape came in the form of the video for “The Quiet Place,” a memorable, epic song, with a futuristic guitar sound and an even more modernized In Flames. I still remember picturing Anders atop a statue, fists in the air, belting out the song’s chilling chorus.
It was also around this time that the album “leaked.” Yep, even 10 years ago. This, to my recollection, was one of the first upcoming releases I was a part of that actually leaked. I had heard of these instances before but hadn’t experienced it firsthand. I eventually took a quick listen to the first few tracks but reserved the rest for official release.
This album was produced by Daniel Bergstrand, who also produced Reroute to Remain, but the overall sound was drastically different. “Overproduced” might be off, but no technology was spared in the recording of this very “electronic” album. The strong twin guitar harmonies that had always been at the forefront were still there, but Fridén’s vocals had entered a new era. While he still belted out a curdling scream, growling is no longer an option and they were at the peak of accessibility, clearly sounding influenced by current American rock and metal vocalists. The drums also had a distinct, futuristic tone, different from anything past or present. Songs were now basic in structure—verse-chorus-verse—and guitar soloing was minimal. In a 2006 Live Metal interview with Björn Gelotte (read here), he explained the lack of guitar solos on the record:
We recorded all the guitars with a guy that did all the samples, and he’s not a solo guy. So he found other ways of putting out the (material). Some of the stuff just disappeared after we recorded it. So, yeah, he wasn’t a big fan of (the solos).
You might read this description and think it’s pretty unappealing, however, it IS possible to write accessible and popular material, while still retaining integrity and staying loyal to a fan base. It’s a difficult line to walk, but in the case of Soundtrack to Your Escape, In Flames proved it could be done. To be clear, this isn’t elevator music or Top 40—compared to most anything else in the more mainstream hard rock and metal spectrum in the U.S., this was in the upper echelon of heavy. This wasn’t necessarily death metal, thinking man’s metal or foreign metal anymore, but what it was, was In Flames’ major worldwide breakthrough. More importantly, the band’s lineup of vocalist Anders Fridén , guitarist Björn Gelotte, bassist Peter Iwers, drummer Daniel Svensson and guitarist Jesper Strömblad was further solidified, as this was the fourth release recorded with this lineup. In the same interview, Gelotte had these remarks about being “commercial” or selling out:
We’ve never been a commercial band. It’s a label that’s been put on us. We didn’t change the way we write songs. We didn’t use any big shot producer to make sure (we would sell records). So commercial is the wrong word for us. Accessible, yeah … At the same time, already on Clayman we started working a little bit with clean vocals, and that makes the songs a little more accessible to a bigger audience, of course. Then if people like it or not, that’s another thing. So we’ve been doing this for quite some time, using keyboards and clean vocals. But the core is still we play metal …
In a 2009 Live Metal interview (read here), bassist Peter Iwers echoed the same sentiments:
We’ve never sat down and discussed if we’re gonna change and progress in “this” direction or anything. Everybody here is musicians. We learn stuff everyday and get inspired by whatever we listen to. It doesn’t matter if it’s a record that’s 30 years old or one that you’ve heard for the 21st time, or if it’s something new. Whatever’s good, that’s always what’s inspired us regardless if it’s pop music or extreme black metal. We just like music and since it’s us, it’s always gonna be the In Flames way. You can always hear that in us, whether you listen to an old record or the modern-day ones. But everything has always just come natural to us.
Though the album paved the way for future accessible releases like 2006’s Come Clarity (review), 2008’s A Sense of Purpose (review) and 2011’s Sounds of a Playground Fading (review), if you go back and listen to this album now, the sound, style and production sticks out in the band’s discography. It’s clearly an “escape” from the band’s material, past and present.
Just as maybe they had mapped out, Soundtrack to Your Escape increased the band’s popularity considerably, selling 100,000 copies in the United States alone. Four music videos were filmed: “The Quiet Place,” “My Sweet Shadow,” “F(r)iend” and “A Touch of Red,” all of which were directed by Patric Ullaeus, the founder of Revolver Film Company, which is based in Sweden.
The band’s biggest break came with an opening slot on the main stage of Ozzfest 2005. The set list consisted of only five songs: “Cloud Connected,” “Touch Of Red,” “Pinball Map,” “The Quiet Place” and “My Sweet Shadow,” and it was met with minimal response (at least at the show that I attended on July 24, 2005, at the Nissan Pavilion in Bristow, Va.) but with a crowd reserving itself for headliners Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, an older portion of the audience still didn’t know the band. Regardless of crowd reaction, any band will tell you that being a part of an Ozzfest lineup is an honor, getting massive exposure, and can lead to a huge breakthrough. I briefly met the band during a free signing at the Jägermeister tent and had my copy of the CD autographed. When I came down the line to Anders, I suggested to him “that the band needed to tour the U.S. more” (like this was some sort of unrealized revelation I finally brought to light). Dealing with nervous fans like me before, Anders nodded his head and immediately agreed. I know bands are quick to say they don’t have band meetings and everything happens naturally and organically, but to me, this was just another indication that they knew what they were doing all along.
As far as the songs on Soundtrack to Your Escape, every one has catchy hooks, grooves and a chorus that will have you singing and screaming along. This is one of those albums that after the first listen, it’s so damn good you’re not even sure what you just heard.
“F(r)iend” is the opener and is just brutal. This track is possibly one of the heaviest songs In Flames has ever recorded—not melodic death metal heavy, but a different breed of heavy. “The Quiet Place,” as we’ve already established, is one of the strongest tracks, was the first single and has become a live staple since the release. “Touch of Red” is a chugging, headbanging frenzy with one of the catchiest choruses ever from In Flames.
“My Sweet Shadow” is an epic power-ballad that the band now closes it’s live set with.
“Dead Alone” and “I Like You Better Dead” build on similar structures and both explode with drive-it-home heavy choruses from Fridén. It’s hard to imagine guitar solos appropriately fitting in these songs after we’ve heard the finished results. I’m a fan of solos as much as the next if they have a sense of purpose (see what I did there?). But they aren’t called for in some cases. The album teeters off some toward the back end with “Dial 595 Escape” and “Bottled,” but after such an impressive first 10 tracks, it leaves little to gripe about.
Soundtrack to Your Escape reached No. 3 in Sweden. In the U.S., it peaked at No. 145 on the Billboard 200 (its first album to reach the Billboard 200), No. 2 on the Top Heatseekers chart and No. 7 on the Independent Albums charts. The album, like Reroute to Remain, was criticized by longtime fans for further forsaking its original melodic death metal roots, however, many of us saw it as the next logical step for the band at the time. The strongest In Flames release? No. The most different? Yes. Necessary? Soundtrack to Your Escape was a pivotal album in the band’s career, allowing the band to break through into North America and dominate metal worldwide for many years to come.