20 Year View: How In Flames Embraced Their Evolution on 'Soundtrack to Your Escape'

20 Year View: How In Flames Embraced Their Evolution on 'Soundtrack to Your Escape'

- By Dan Franklin

Frontman Anders Fridén revisits the pivotal era of In Flames musical progression and explains how singling out just one album, diminishes the significance of the whole sequence.  

With hindsight, In Flames’ 2004 album, Soundtrack to Your Escape, was the second act in a dramatic sea change. The first act was 2002’s Reroute to Remain (subtitled “Fourteen Songs of Conscious Insanity”), whose huge (clean) choruses, enhanced electronics and downtuned guitars had a contingent of their fanbase in uproar. The transition crested with its third act, 2006 album Come Clarity

This trio of records followed 2000’s Clayman, a huge breakthrough for In Flames. Its cover used Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man sketch, as if to say this was the perfectly proportioned melodic death metal album. It set the pace for Killswitch Engage, As I Lay Dying, and partly inspired the New Wave of American Heavy Metal in the noughties. But at its heart was a restlessness, embodied in frontman Anders Fridén’s lyrics and innovative vocal delivery.

Gone was the straight-ahead howling and shrieking of melo-death classics such as The Jester Race (1996), Whoracle (1997) and Colony (1999). Instead, Fridén crooned, whispered and roared on Clayman – describing a life ricocheting out of his control on songs like “Pinball Map”. Where do you go from the perfection of Clayman? Another route entirely.

Well, this is my interpretation of the output of In Flames in the early years of the 21st century. The truth is, In Flames never stopped evolving. From their 1994 debut album Lunar Strain (the only one not featuring Fridén on vocals) onwards, they’ve never looked back, delivering new music every two to three years. 

When I speak to Fridén about Soundtrack to Your Escape, keyboards line his walls and a monstrous modular synthesizer dominates the background of the video call. He is surrounded by the tools that revolutionized In Flames’ sound. But he finds it hard to single out and singularly praise any one of their albums.

“Because I think every album is so significant,” he says. “And have led up to where we are today. So it's difficult to maybe take one out of the whole sequence of albums.”



Heading into the studio to record Soundtrack, In Flames were in a good place. Things were happening around them. They had the approval of the old school in thrashers like Testament. The new/nu school loved them too. Slipknot took them out on tour at a time when the Iowans were keen to espouse their extreme-metal credentials. 

In Flames came from the Gothenburg melodic death metal scene which revolved around producer Fredrik Nordström and his Studio Fredman. He had produced the band’s albums up to Clayman as well as At The Gates, Dark Tranquility (where Fridén cut his teeth) and other luminaries of the Scandinavian scene such as Opeth. 

On Reroute to Remain, In Flames – the band that typified and was also unique in melodic death metal – switched producer, opting for Daniel Bergstrand. Reroute was awash with synths and hefty hooks but was still a pummelling record. Bergstrand was no slouch. He had presided over two of the heaviest albums ever made – Strapping Young Lad’s City (1997) and Meshuggah’s Chaosphere (1998).

“It’s all by design,” Fridén says of the band’s creative choices. “Our intention is not to repeat ourselves. We will stay in the bubble that's In Flames. But if we can push the boundaries for what we are – awesome. Not to go too far, so people don't recognise us. But it's still based on melody, still based on aggression. It is still in the pool of metal – that's where we are.”



All metal bands play with melody and aggression, but few have taken the interplay of the two as their raison d’être. With the inevitable experimentation that follows, comes the voices of criticism that have sniped at the band since they began evolving their sound more radically with Clayman and especially Reroute to Remain.

“It's easy to say no, it doesn't bother me at all,” says Fridén. “But of course, it does when it's more somebody misinterpreting your intention with things and questioning – 'Why are you doing this? Why? Why?!' – instead of understanding that I'm doing this for me. If you don't get it, then, for me, that's fine.”

In his mind, when he’s recorded and released an album, he’s done his part. The rest is down to the fans. The critical voices have got quieter and quieter as the years have gone by. The positive responses – the tattoos of lyrics, the stories and emotion at meet-and-greets – mean the world to him. You don’t release music if you’re not happy getting people’s attention, bad and good.

What In Flames achieved with Reroute worked for the band, and for the follow-up they again rented a house in Frederikshavn on the Danish coast about a three-hour boat journey from Gothenburg. Just north of the town itself, they kept away from its temptations. Fridén’s brother, a professional chef, cooked for them. Being away from Gothenburg meant a necessary separation from friends and family for the sake of their creativity. Something which persists to this day –Fridén and guitarist Björn Gelotte took themselves off to LA for three weeks in 2021 to begin writing last year’s Foregone.

The songs for Soundtrack were written in Gothenburg and Daniel Svensson's drums were already tracked. They split the house into two principal studios – one room for Peter Iwers’ bass and Fridén's vocals, another for all the guitars. Effectively dividing the space up into two sessions created some issues.

“Things were happening a little bit out of everyone's control,” says Fridén.

But out of the “controlled chaos” good things started happening. Fridén admits that at the time he liked being involved in everything – and he still does. Once he gets a feel for the music, he can create his parts on the fly, “depending on how the music moves me”.

The separation in the studio meant that while Gelotte and founding guitarist Jesper Strömblad were busying themselves in their room with their parts, Fridén could go about subverting expectations with his own.



“They had a certain way they expected the vocals to be [on a given song] and then I totally changed it,” he says of the process. “And it took a little time for them, maybe to adjust to what my thoughts were. And that's sometimes where an argument can happen. Because, it's very personal – a song is very personal to the writer, of course. For the most part, it's always constructive. ‘Arguments’ sounds too harsh to me. It's a constructive discussion of a track or a song that leads to something better.”

One example of this was “My Sweet Shadow”, one of the album’s singles. The song opens with sweeping guitar work and grandiose chords, and the band’s trademark chugging momentum. Then it transitions to a delicate, clean section. It is sparsely arranged and Fridén’s vocal is low key to the point of fragile. 

“I sing very low [on the song],” says Fridén. “Instead of singing out or screaming through a very quiet part – that’s how I arranged it.”

The song bursts into life with his rasping scream over the chorus, but the subtlety of the arrangement was new to In Flames.

Soundtrack is full of surprises. “The Quiet Place”, a staple of In Flames’ live set for years, is pushed and pulled by tidal guitars and warbling synths. “Superhero of the Computer Rage” is the quintessential speed workout. The signature In Flames chug and garrotting triplets stand out on “Touch of Red” and album opener “F(r)iend”. “Dead Alone” starts with almost Killers-esque guitar shimmer before being swept away by frantic Maiden-ish serrated riffing and a massive halftime hook which again features Fridén’s croon. By contrast, “Evil in a Closet” has strong echoes of Black Sabbath’s trippy “Planet Caravan”.

This combination of a pop sensibility and irrepressible heaviness can be heard in the latest generation, from Bring Me the Horizon to While She Sleeps.

“There were a lot of dynamics within the music,” says Fridén. “We play stuff from that and it still sits very well within the discography and setlist next to something old, very old, or something very new. So it holds up really well. Some of our biggest songs come from that album too.”

It proved to be their most popular album to date, but the success exposed their ambivalence towards the more commercial end of metal at the time. By 2004, nu metal had peaked, but In Flames still benefited from bigger stages touring with Soulfly, Mudvayne and their ilk. Fridén admits they weren’t immune to what was going on and that the nu metal sound was everywhere: “You hear it and unconsciously it might trickle into the music.” You might call that a halo effect.

By dint of doing something so different within the death-metal musical realm, In Flames found themselves associated with nu metal – its own revolutionary force. But it was never a comfortable fit.

“That whole nu metal thing was coming on really strong,” says Fridén. “We did something that was slightly different, we got thrown into this whole mix, which we were never part of, really. If you listen to our music, it’s nothing like those bands. I’ve never come to terms with us being lumped into that genre at all.”

Where they found growing audiences in mainland Europe, Japan, Australia and the UK, America proved to be an occasionally awkward marketplace. The band never had what Fridén calls the “MTV mentality”, despite issuing multiple music videos for the album.

“To have a certain kind of success in the US you have to play along with the whole ‘game’. And we were never good at doing this,” says Fridén.

In Flames, in many senses, have never played by the rules. It’s also a question of the national character: “We were pretty stubborn and very Swedish.”



The Swedish caricature is one of taciturn aloofness, topped with a dry sense of humor. But under the glassy surface, there can be a raging river of emotions. The “escape" of the album title was about grappling with relationships and what Fridén calls “previous ghosts”, as well as “looking into myself and dealing with my demons”.

“I've heard this one from someone else or read it maybe: if you have any issues or feelings of depression, or whatever it might be, you can just write it on paper, go into the forest, burn it up, and it disappears,” says Fridén.

More than a little apt to have a band called In Flames to do just that. The album is full of symbols of fire and water. “And all I do is turn into flames/Will time open my vault?” reads the lyric of “In Search for I”. 

But there is hope lurking on the gray horizon: “I found a flame in the burnt out ashes” (“My Sweet Shadow”). The protagonist can “Drown the monster/Make all bad dreams go away” (“The Quiet Place”). Though there’s lots of imagery of sinking and being emotionally flooded, this album is also a place for “Reaching depths of clarity” even if things are worse than expected (“Touch of Red”).

Soundtrack was, in Fridén’s words, “probably the last ego album” for him. His daughter was born around the same time as the record and shifted his focus. The next album, Come Clarity, was “not about me anymore, it’s about something else”.

The title track of Come Clarity said it all: “Rushing through thirty/Getting older every day/By two, drawing pictures/Of innocent times/Can you add color/Inside these lines?” Fridén was no longer bouncing inside his own pinball machine.

With the arrival of his daughter, Fridén soon moved to Stockholm where he has lived ever since. Over the years, In Flames’ progression has been merciless. They’ve veered more into pop, then back into pure aggression, and with Foregone, a fresh and timeless evocation of the Gothenburg sound they pioneered.

“I surpassed all my dreams and my goals,” says Fridén. “But I'm still hungry. I still want to have more. I still want to go further. I'm more proud that we have a sound that is recognised across the globe, more than a certain song or certain album – you can hear, OK, this is In Flames.”

In Flames are elder statesmen of the melo-death scene. In May, they’re embarking on a US tour taking out new-generation death metallers Gatecreeper and Creeping Death. Then in the Fall they’re to perform a victory lap of Europe with old friends Arch Enemy and Soilwork, compatriots and fellow pioneers of the Swedish brand of accessible death metal. 

“I think it's amazing how this country created so many bands with such a significant sound and not just these guys and girls,” says Fridén. “You have the others like Amon Amarth, Dark Tranquillity, Opeth and Meshuggah, and tons and tons more.”

“This tour is definitely a celebration of the sound and the era,” he says. “And it's cool to see that all of us still continue to push it. And then we don't sound the same, but we’re cut from the same cloth.”  

In Flames is antithetical to nostalgia, but they’re not afraid to pay homage to their past and where they come from. Just as the anniversaries of their classic albums continue to roll around, Fridén has a healthy attitude towards any continued skepticism of their newer material (“Give it five years and it will be your favorite!”).

After all, there is only the present – the past and future take care of themselves.


In Flames begin their headlining North American trek next month in support of their celebrated 2023 LP, Foregone. See the list of North American dates and cities below. Additionally, In Flames is slated to join Arch Enemy and Soilwork for an epic Eu/UK tour later this year.  

A complete list of dates and cities can be found below. Tickets are currently available - HERE

May 1 - Portland, ME - State Theatre
May 2 - Hampton Beach, NH - Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom
May 3 - Brooklyn, NY - Warsaw
May 4 - Wilmington, DE - The Queen
May 5 - Norfolk, VA - The Norva
May 7 - Charleston, SC - Charleston Music Hall
May 8 - Greensboro, NC - Piedmont Hall
May 9 - Atlanta, GA - Buckhead
May 10 - Daytona, FL - Rockville
May 12 - Huntsville, AL - Mars Music Hall
May 14 - Nashville, TN - Marathon Music Works
May 16 - Pittsburgh, PA - Mr. Small's Theatre
May 17 - Buffalo, NY - The Town Ballroom
May 18 - Columbus, OH - Sonic Temple
May 19 - Milwaukee, WI - Milwaukee Metal Fest
May 21 - Detroit, MI - St. Andrews
May 22 - St. Louis, MO - The Hawthorn
May 23 - Oklahoma City, OK - Diamond Ballroom
May 24 - Austin, TX - Emo's
May 25 - Houston, TX - House of Blues
May 26 - Dallas, TX - House of Blues

European Tour w/ ARCH ENEMY &  SOILWORK
Oct 3 - Glasgow, UK - O2 Academy 
Oct 4 - Manchester, UK - Manchester Academy
Oc 5 - Birmingham, UK - O2 Academy
Oct 6 - London, UK - Eventim Apollo
Oct 8 - Paris, FR - L'Olympia
Oct 9 - Esch-sur-alzette, LU - Rockhal
Oct 11 - Hamburg, DE - Sporthalle Hamburg
Oct 12 - Dusseldorf, DE - Mitsubishi Electric Halle
Oct 13 - 's-Hertogenbosh, NL - Mainstage Brabanthallen
Oct 15 - Dübendorf, CH - The Hall
Oct 16 - Milan, IT - Alcatraz
Oct 18 - Stuttgart, DE - Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle
Oct 19 - Frankfurt Am Main, DE - Jahrhunderthalle
Oct 20 - Munich, DE - Zenith
Oct 22 - Wien, AT - Gasometer
Oct 23 - Budapest, HU - Barba Negra
Oct 25 - Prague, CZ - Tipsport Arena
Oct 26 - Dresden, DE - Dresden
Oct 27 - Berlin, DE - Columbiahalle
Oct 29 - Oslo, NO - Oslo Spektrum Arena
Oct 31 - Malmö, SE - Malmö Arena
Nov 1 - Goteborg, SE - Scandinavium
Nov 2 - Stockholm, SE - Hovet
Nov 3 - Sundsvall, SE - Nordichallen
Nov 5 - Helsinki, FI - Helsinki Ice Hall

Back to blog
1 of 3