In Flames revisits their groundbreaking sixth album
I discovered In Flames shortly after they released their seventh album, Reroute to Remain. As I later learned, it marked quite a dramatic evolution of the band’s sound that helped catapult them onto a larger stage. Without sacrificing their intensity and much of their heaviness, the album featured more varied and interesting vocal stylings from Anders Fridén (one of my favourite metal vocalists). Clayman was released two years before Reroute to Remain, and in its singles, one could just about hear the seeds of their impending evolution.
Why “just about”? That reads rather uncertain. The problem with the original Clayman recording is that the production was muddy and fuzzy as hell. It lacked the polish of pretty much everything In Flames has released since. (I guess the album was successful enough that the band was afforded the chance to spend more on production and recording their subsequent albums.)
The first eleven songs on this record are the re-mastered version of the original album. On the whole, it’s a solid new mix. The production has been cleaned up, but none of the album’s intensity nor heaviness have been compromised. If you are a purist who only enjoyed the first handful of albums before they “went pop” or “sold out” (frankly idiotic accusations, but hey-ho, the metal community has its issues), then you should like these new versions. It still sounds like early In Flames — complete with Fridén’s more gravel-and-broken glass vocals. But now you can, you know, actually hear and distinguish everything. I probably won’t listen to the originals anymore, now that I have this version.
The first new track is “Themes and Variations in D-Minor”, which is a great instrumental piece. It blends some of the albums riffs, hooks and melodies in a rather uplifting piece of pseudo-classical music that forms an excellent coda to the original album. It also serves as a nice segue into the re-recorded material.
The re-recorded songs are superb updates of four classics. Because I came to In Flames “late” into their career, after they had already made a sonic leap, I am more attached to what to me made them distinct from their peers. The original Clayman was inching in that direction, but was still firmly within the sub-genre they rose from. Unsurprisingly, these new versions are the four best songs on the album. “Only for the Weak” (one of my all-time favourite songs), “Bullet Ride”, and “Pinball Map” close the album with new versions that are more in keeping with the band’s modern sound, while remaining true to the spirit and energy of the originals.
Let’s take “Only for the Weak” as an example. The original version (below), had production that was muddier, and was far less polished. This was, in part, because of the genre’s mores at the time. Nevertheless, you can occasionally hear in Fridén’s vocals the “cleaner” sound and vocal melodies that would become far more prominent in future albums. The same is true for the other songs that were selected for reinterpretation.
If you search for “Only for the Weak” on YouTube, you’ll be able to find a few live versions that hint at what the re-recorded version would become, with its more-melodic feel. Below is the new re-recorded version. The sound has been polished, some of the mud/fuzz has been stripped away so you can better hear what the hell they’re playing and singing. It also sounds bigger, albeit a little less muscular (a quality the re-mastered edition retains, which makes it difficult to pick a favourite). Fridén’s vocals are more in keeping with what he’s been doing for the past decade, and it sounds more modern/fresh:
In my opinion, the evolution in the band’s sound for Reroute to Remain (and beyond) was a fantastic move: it helped the band stand out from the rest of the “Gothenburg Sound” bands — a term that was thrown around a lot in the trades, in the 2000s. It’s perhaps not surprising, though. If you listen to In Flames songs like “… As the Future Repeats Today”, it’s not especially different — in sound, vocals, pacing, etc. — to what Dark Tranquility was doing around the same time (Fridén was that band’s vocalist from 1989-93). Like In Flames, Dark Tranquility have also evolved over the intervening years — both musically and, to a lesser extent, vocally (check out their latest single, “The Dark Unbroken”). They’ve definitely retained more of their original identity, though, in Mikael Stanne’s heavier/harsh vocals.
I interviewed bassist Peter Iwers (who left the band in 2016) when they were touring 2003’s The Soundtrack to Your Escape in the UK, and I asked him about it: I got the impression that the band was resigned to being pigeonholed in that camp, but didn’t think it particularly intelligent. (If you came out of Sweden, played melodic death metal, you were considered part of the Gothenburg Sound, even if you’d never been to Gothenburg. Sometimes, when a reviewer and/or journalist was particularly lazy, the band didn’t even have to be Swedish.)
I’m going to include one more video/clip. This one is for the re-recorded version of “Pinball Map”, another fan-favourite from the album (which is also great live). It, too, features the improved production, modernized and polished sound. It is, in my opinion, a genuine improvement on a classic song:
So, is it worth buying the new edition? If you’re looking for an introduction to the band, then I think this could work quite well, as it’s a good example of what the band sounds like now, but with a dash of their history. If you’re an existing fan and a completist, then you will likely have pre-ordered the album and so won’t be reading this review. If you love the original album, then the re-mastered versions of the album proper might be of interest, but familiarity might lead you to prefer the originals. I think the new, re-mastered and re-recorded versions are, however, still worth buying. At the very least, buy the four re-recorded songs — they are great reinterpretations of some of the band’s classic songs.
2020 is the year of anniversary editions, it seems: first Black Veil Brides re-issued their debut album as Re-Stitch These Wounds, after 15 years (a superior version of the album, in my humble opinion); and Linkin Park released a 20th anniversary mega-edition of their spectacularly successful debut, Hybrid Theory. The Clayman anniversary edition falls somewhere in between these two other re-issues: it’s not as great a departure or overall improvement as is BVB’s new album; but as far as new content goes, it is certainly better value (and quality) than LP’s — if for no other reason than I can see myself re-listening to the new Clayman more frequently than most of the new/previously-unreleased/rare Hybrid Theory content.
Clayman (20th Anniversary Edition) is out now, released by Nuclear Blast Records in North America, Europe, and in the UK. Here’s the track list:
- Bullet Ride
- Pinball Map
- Only for the Weak
- … As the Future Repeats Today
- Square Nothing
- Satellites and Astronauts
- Brush the Dust Away
- Another Day in Quicksand
- Themes and Variations in D-Minor
- Only for the Weak (Re-Recorded)
- Bullet Ride (Re-Recorded)
- Pinball Map (Re-Recorded)
- Clayman (Re-Recorded)