In Flames

The Jester Race

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Of the three albums that make up Gothenburg's holy trinity, Dark Tranquillity's The Gallery was the least immediate, with unorthodox song structures that took time to assimilate, while At the Gates' Slaughter of the Soul didn't truly cement its classic status until a new generation of American metalcore bands started to copy it riff for riff. In Flames' The Jester Race, however, pretty much announced itself as a masterwork right from day one. More than any other, this is the album that put the "melodic" in melodic death metal. Traditionalists who'd never been able to stomach death metal's brutality were stunned to hear winding, intricate twin-guitar lines lifted from Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and countless European power metal records. The neat trick of The Jester Race is that it maintains the intensity of death metal, but dispenses with the apparent chaos: it's a tightly controlled, meticulously arranged album with nary a note out of place, even during the fastest sections. There are plenty of midtempo grooves here (with and without double-time drums), and -- shockingly for the genre -- bright major-key compositions like the triumphant instrumental "The Wayfaerer." Most of the arrangements straddle both worlds, contrasting cerebral lyrics, moody clean-toned arpeggios, and those harmonized lead lines with typically Swedish detuned riffing and the hoarse death-style growls of ex-Dark Tranquillity vocalist Anders Fridén. Despite the album's flashy reputation, there isn't much soloing per se (although session guitarist Fredrik Johansson steps in on the excellent "December Flower" to deliver some spotlessly articulated fireworks). Instead, bandleader Jesper Strömblad and tag-team partner Glenn Ljungström have embedded most of the technical guitar work in the confines of the song structures, and that's where all the melody comes from. And there's entirely too much of it for death metal purists. For everyone else, it makes album (and career) highlights like "Moonshield," "Artifacts of the Black Rain," and "Lord Hypnos" instantly memorable, impeccably crafted additions to the heavy metal canon. The Jester Race did more to make death metal accessible to a wider audience than any other album save perhaps Entombed's landmark Wolverine Blues. To purists, that may be a sin as unforgivable as the band's later move into mass-market metalcore, but The Jester Race's place in metal history is assured nonetheless.

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