Despite their respectable place in the world of Scandinavian death metal, In Flames has never been at the front of the pack. Their albums are heavy, ugly affairs that offer plenty of interesting moments, but they never could get the fan base or the respect that peers such as Dimmu Borgir and Emperor have received. Lunar Strain/Subterranean sheds light onto their situation, as it collects their first two albums onto one CD to show the origins of the fivesome. When In Flames is good, they are fantastic, offering a heady mix of classical themes and traditional melodies presented through a filter of acidic death metal. This is best reflected toward the end of Lunar Strain, where both versions of "Everlost," "Hargalaten," and "In Flames" are very interesting and well-crafted variations on their chosen genre. Falsetto vocals, acoustic guitars, string sections, low keyboards, and wonderfully mournful melodies are the glue that keeps these tracks from being bland death metal screechers. But when In Flames is average, they are notably average. The first half of Lunar Strain is filled with dated, harmless riffing that does nothing that any other faceless death metal group wouldn't attempt. Singer Mikael Stanne also has a very generic voice for the genre, offering neither personality nor the sense of threat that would have made this a more interesting affair. Still, the album as a whole stands fairly strong, if only because it continues to improve as it goes along. "Stand Ablaze" and "The Inborn Lifeless," the first and last tracks on the Subterranean half of the disc, are very memorable and catchy bursts of death metal that again show the band willing to experiment with melody and structure. But the music between these two tracks is merely average, making that particular album fairly unmemorable when held against Lunar Strain. While neither album is exceptional, there are some excellent songs sprinkled throughout the disc that make the initial listens well worth it. This spotty tendency is also what keeps them from being considered a major player in the death metal field, but these albums are early enough in their career to forgive most of their songwriting weaknesses. Although they may not be the Testament of their scene, this re-release is a must for anyone interested in the initial releases from the Scandinavian death metal groups.
Lunar Strain/Subterranean Review
by Bradley Torreano