In Flames - Lunar Strain / Subterranean
Gothenburg Melodic Death Metal
Disc 1: 14 songs (49'13") Disc 2: 9 songs (38'45")
Release year: 2005
In Flames, Candlelight
Reviewed by Alex
Archive review

I could not have asked for a better opportunity to review an album of the band I once revered. Why once? It is rare that the style you pioneer as a metal band becomes so pervasive they name it after your hometown. In Flames once were that band, them, Dark Tranquillity, At The Gates and Eucharist morphing the early beginnings of Gothenburg melodic death metal. The flow of time, however, can not be defeated, people age, two of the above bands long since gone, another reigning supreme in my metal pantheon and In Flames, sadly, falling down hard from the pedestal. Not to dwell in the present, this review is about the glory days of the past.

I would not lie to you and say I am the lucky one to own Lunar Strain and Subterranean when they came out in 1994 and 1995, respectively, on Wrong Again Records. Not many people knew about the band at the time, thus those who have the originals better hold on to them as they are worth big bucks on evilBay. Still, as a fan mesmerized by the melodic extreme bliss of The Jester Race, Whoracle and Colony I have pursued and obtained the Regain Records version (with the Eagle cover) which combined two early albums on one platter. Today, Candlelight partnered with Regain to make those two landmark recordings, completely remastered, with bonus materials to cover two CDs. The popularity of In Flames growing bonkers, albeit with the wrong crowd as I perceive it, these reissues provide an invaluable glimpse of how it all begun, and, by the way, can teach the modern day In Flames fans the history of what truly was “Gothenburg” style just before it exploded.

Having mentioned In Flames and Dark Tranquillity in the same sentence above, I am obliged to say that the history of two is intertwined. That is probably how Metal Gods wanted it to be. Jesper Stromblad (one of the In Flames founders and current guitarist), Anders Friden (current In Flames vocalist) and Mikael Stanne (vocals, Dark Tranquillity) were once together in Ceremonial Oath (believe it or not I have the album Carpet by that band). Mikael was the first vocalist of In Flames, the one who sung on Lunar Strain, while Anders was doing the same for the early Dark Tranquillity albums, where Mikael was a guitarist. The two performed an infamous “switch”, with both bands breaking through with The Jester Race (In Flames) and The Gallery (Dark Tranquillity). Dark Tranquillity drummer, Anders Jivarp, also contributed on Subterranean. Between Stanne and Friden the vocal duties in In Flames were filled by Jocke Gothberg (ex-Marduk, Dimension Zero). Dimension Zero also nowadays seems to be the band where Jesper Stromblad, reunited with another In Flames founding member guitarist Glenn Ljungstrom, seems to be showcasing his aggressive thrashy side.

Enough of history, and please forgive me if I got some of the facts wrong. The purpose of this review for the albums penned long ago is to confirm their influential and classic value. Lunar Strain, reportedly conceived and recorded in the record short length of time, is one of those albums. It combines hunger of the talented bunch of young musicians, their respect for the folk music of Northern Europe, romanticism of classic music and overriding sense to compose memorable aggressive music. On Lunar Strain we can hear those Metallica, Kreator and Iron Maiden influences, all processed through the strictly personal inner prism of Stromblad/Ljungstrom guitar duo. Guitar, melody and harmony driven In Flames, where art thou?

Songs like Everlost (Part I) manage to tell stories without a single word of lyrics. Classics Behind Space (rewritten for Colony) and Starforsaken have so many ideas, leads, riffs, tempo changes they burst at the seams. This was the creative trough the band reached time and time again for The Jester Race and Whoracle. Proud expansive marching of Upon an Oaken Throne, nasty riffing of thrashy Clad in Shadows, blackened blasting of Dreamscape, these songs perfectly co-exist with folky and acoustic pieces, intros and interludes. I have heard many hardcore In Flames fans denouncing female sung electroacoustic Hargalaten and Irish jig dance of In Flames. For the life of me I can’t fathom why. The only question I might have is sequencing the two of them one after another. Stanne isn’t best on Lunar Strain, but Everlost (Part II) already shows glimpses of his torturous suffering growling, which will propel Dark Tranquillity to its heights.

Subterranean, although originally a shorter, only 5 song record, has taken the wealth of Lunar Strain ideas and crystallized them in 5 superb packages making a better presentation of so many rich ideas of Lunar Strain. I strongly believe that without Subterranean there would be no In Flames launch, there would be no Nuclear Blast deal and worldwide popularity. The riffs of Stand Ablaze and the title track are simply unforgettable, they flow together extremely well, placing the leads right where they need to be. And if you don’t mutter the main riff of Biosphere for a long time, you should check why you call yourself a metal fan. Every time I hear the title track of Subterranean I would like to sway to its radiant, mood uplifting rhythm and melody.

Candlelight, of course, needs to provide “value” on the reissues, as if the classic groundbreaking albums are not enough in and of themselves. First off, the remastered guitar sound (same as on the Regain reissue) is great. Then, there are a couple of tracks with Jocke Gothberg singing (same as on Regain), some demo versions and Metallica and Iron Maiden covers. I particularly like Eye of the Beholder, the tightness of the riffs rivaling the original. Murders in the Rue Morgue seems a bit chaotic (I have this song on Toy Factory Maiden tribute and I am not impressed again).

If you are an older fan, I probably was preaching to the choir, you already own these in one form or another. The younger, more recent fans should absolutely check Lunar Strain/Subterranean out. Along with The Jester Race and Whoracle these two albums form In Flames golden vault.

Killing Songs :
These are two classic albums
Alex quoted 82 & 92 / 100
Other albums by In Flames that we have reviewed:
In Flames - Sounds Of A Playground Fading reviewed by Khelek and quoted 55 / 100
In Flames - A Sense Of Purpose reviewed by Chris and quoted 86 / 100
In Flames - Colony reviewed by Dylan and quoted 95 / 100
In Flames - The Jester Race reviewed by Adam and quoted CLASSIC
In Flames - Come Clarity reviewed by Jason and quoted 95 / 100
To see all 13 reviews click here
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