The below editorial features the opinions and views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of #escYOUnited as a whole, Eurovision, Melodifestivalen or the EBU.
An artist’s change in sound is one of the riskiest moves they can make. It’s the ultimate proposition of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” with some fickle fans getting bored if they churn out the same album all the time (eg. Cannibal Corpse, Deicide) or some fans getting inexplicably angry if an artist feels they’ve gone to far (eg. Elvis Presley’s Hawaiian and post-comeback Vegas phases, Metallica’s “Load” and “St. Anger,” Opeth dropping death metal in favor of progressive rock).
Swedish band In Flames know this all too well, transitioning from being one of the pioneers of melodic death metal to being one of the most popular flag-bearers of 2010’s alternative metal. And as we arrive on the week of the 15th Anniversary of the band’s step up into the mainstream with their 2006 album “Come Clarity,” and the day before Heat 1 of Sweden’s Melodifestivalen 2021 to select the Scandinavian powerhouse’s representative at Eurovision 2021, we go back to this metal classic and also the “infamous” song, featuring Melodifestivalen 2012 entrant Lisa Miskovsky, that risked it all by potentially putting off a legion of their fans to bring on board a larger set of new fans.
Pioneers of Melodic Death Metal
Early death metal (1985 – 1992) in Sweden tended to follow the aggressive and raw formula pioneered by the Tampa, Florida scene including the likes of Morbid Angel and Deicide. Groups such as Hyprocrisy who had worked in studios in Tampa as producers, sound engineers and session musicians, brought the sound to their native Sweden. However, the early Swedish death metal bands were not content with mimicking a sound, and with many of the band members having being fans of the so-called NWOBHM scene (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) of the 1980s, particularly Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, they sought to blend the NWOBH guitar harmonies with the fast drumming and harsh vocals of death metal. Several bands took different approaches with this blend, but by the mid-90s a new metal sub-genre, melodic death metal, took form and began to dominate the Scandinavian extreme metal scene.
Most of the Swedish projects that we now recognize as the classics of ’90s metal started out as side projects, with session musicians coming and going, and early fissures over band direction. Such was the case with In Flames and the three other titans of ’90s melodic death metal: At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity, and British grindcore turned melodic death metal legends Carcass. Some even shared members, with In Flames’s vocalist Anders Fridén having performed with early Dark Tranquillity and Dark Tranquillity’s Mikael Stanne having been a session guitarist for early In Flames.
Now it will take forever and a day to explain the movement in personnel for In Flames, but by their 1999 album “Colony,” the lineup had solidified. So from “Colony” to their 2008 album “A Sense of Purpose,” released two years after “Come Clarity,” the line-up was as follows: Anders Fridén (vocals), Björn Gelotte (lead guitar), Jesper Strömblad (founder and rhythm guitarist), Peter Iwers (bass), and Daniel Svensson (drums).
In Flames released their debut album “Lunar Strain” in 1994, but it was their 1994 EP “Subterranean” that got them the attention of European metalheads and record labels, signing shortly thereafter with Nuclear Blast Records. Their first album on Nuclear Blast was “The Jester Race,” and the buzz was such that it became a sensation in Europe, North America and Japan.
“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,” wrote Allmusic.com critic Steve Huey. “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 vocalist Anders Fridén.”
In Flames built up a devoted metal fanbase with a succession of fantastic releases: 1997’s “Whoracle,” 1998’s “Colony,” and 2000’s “Clayman.” “Colony” featured the track “Coerced Coexistence” which contained a guitar solo by former Europe guitarist Kee Marcello.
You may recall that in Melodifestivalen 2007, Kee Marcello’s band K2 joined forces with Canadian blues rocker Alannah Myles (she of the Billboard Hot 100 number one song “Black Velvet“) for Melodifestivalen 2005. Their effort “We Got it All” came in 7th out of 8 in Semi-Final 3.
A Change in Sound
Fans were shocked when In Flames released their 2002 album “Reroute to Remain.” Though the band had evolved in sound from “The Jester Race” to “Clayman,” with gradually less pummeling, less reliance on flair like elaborate guitar solos, and the subtle introduction of clean vocals, “Reroute to Remain” represented a clean break from the melodic death metal sound that made them famous. Some fans would would call such a break “selling out,” and the accusations kept flying from a vocal segment of their melodic death metal fans through “Reroute to Remain” and its follow-up “Soundtrack to your Escape,” which doubled down on the slower tempo and the more prominent use of synthesizers.
However, for the third album of their newer alternative metal sound, In Flames opted for a different approach. For “Come Clarity,” which was released on February 3, 2006, In Flames decided to bridge their new sound with elements that made them melodic death metal gods, particularly Svensson’s drumming and heavier guitar riffs. To try convince the old fans that they still have the technical chops and the brutality, In Flames dropped “Take This Life” as the first single.
The third single “Dead End” perhaps best achieves the bridge between past and future that In Flames wants. Though female vocals are nothing new in metal, or even in In Flames’s discography, the use of a highly respected young female Swedish pop singer-songwriter such as Lisa Miskovsky signals that they respect their fans’ love of the older In Flames material, that they onboarded their criticism, but that they will contain to evolve their sound though without the disorientating leap that “Reroute to Remain” represented.
Unlike the other three previous times In Flames used a female vocalist, Miskovsky’s contribution is more prominent. Though Svensson’s drumming propels “Dead End” forward at a quick clip, the duet nature brings to mind the sound of Lacuna Coil, the great Italian alternative metal act with great interplay between vocalists Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro.
“Dead End” was certainly not a dead end as far as In Flames and “Come Clarity.” The album was critically and commercially well received, getting into the Top 50 of the Billboard 200 album charts in the United States, which is quite an achievement for a band from a niche genre. “Come Clarity” hit Number 1 in their native Sweden, and readers of Aftonbladet ranked it as the best Swedish album of the 2000’s in 2009.
Additionally, Sweden’s then Finance Minister Thomas Östros said that “Thanks to In Flames, Sweden now has an absolute world-class metal band.”
American critics also agreed. “Come Clarity is not a return of the classic In Flames sound, but it reclaims much of their earlier glory,” wrote Pitchfork reviewer Cory Byrom. “Metal bands have an unfortunate history with altering their sound in an attempt to broaden their audience, only to return to some neutered version of their earlier selves once the crowds dwindle. But where so many have failed, In Flames has succeeded. It’s as if the years they’ve spent evolving were merely the process, and Come Clarity is the melodic, head-banging result.”
Lisa Miskovsky and Melodifestivalen 2012
Born in Umeå on March 9, 1975, to a Czech father and a Finnish mother, Miskovsky got into music very early, learning to play guitar, bass, piano, and drums. Her sister Carolina Miskovsky was also bitten by the music bug at an early age, and also embarked on a career as a singer and songwriter. At the age of 11 she already had written material for her stage debut.
As she told Aviva-Berlin in 2005, “I was 6 or 7 years old [when I wrote my first song]. That´s the first song that I still have. I was singing about the weather, about animals…then I also made a song of a fairy tale, I made a melody to the lyrics.”
Miskovsky would also become an avid snowboarder at age 18, and her excellence in that sport would lead her to compete with Sweden’s best and also land her a sports reporting and commentary job, including going to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
In the meantime, Miskovsky hit the ground running as a singer songwriter as she was noticed by Swedish songwriter and producer Max Martin, who made waves for Swedish musicians and songwriters in the United States, racking up countless chart-topping hits. One such American chart-topper Max Martin produced was one that was brought to him by Miskovsky: Backstreet Boy’s “Shape of my Heart.”
Max Martin credited Miskovsky for the original idea for the song, which made it to Number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart in 2000.
Miskovsky then signed with Stockholm Records (Sweden’s division of Universal Music Group) and her self-titled debut album was an immediate hit, being certified Gold and reaching Number 23 on the Swedish album charts in 2001.
Her follow-up, 2003’s “Fallingwater,” went to Number 1 in Sweden, but also hit it big in the United Kingdom, with the lead single “Lady Stardust” getting a lot of radio airplay there.
While recording her follow-up, Miskovsky joined In Flames in the studio for “Dead End.” At the time it did seem odd that a singer-songwriter known for writing warm, dreamy pop and being the genesis of an American boy band hit, would collaborate with one of the pioneers of an extreme form of metal.
According to her interview Aviva-Berlin, Miskovsky is fan of heavy metal and explains it like this: “A good song needs a good melody, and good lyrics. Melody and lyrics need to be a unit. If there is a song with a good melody but bad lyrics, it´s still OK though. The same with heavy metal songs. I mean it´s very different from my songs but as long as there is a beautiful melody I like it.”
Miskovsky’s next two albums – “Changes” (2006) and “Violet Sky” (2011) – solidified her position as a top shelf pop act, both landing in the Top 10 of the Swedish charts.
And in 2012, while still at the height of her career, she entered “Why Start a Fire” into Melodifestivalen 2012.
Eurovisionary asked Lisa why she entered Eurovision, and she said she went on a songwriting camp in Norway with three other songwriters, and she was asked if she’d be interested in submitting one of their compositions to the organizers of Melodifestivalen.
“And I’ve said no three times because you know I don’t know what it is you know, I’ve heard so many different point of views about Melodifestivalen,” said Miskovsky. “Everything from its chaos all the time and the journalists are crazy and you know, everything from this to that. And I heard it’s fun and nice and you meet a lot of people, everything is well organized. So I was like, I have to go and find out myself. Christer Björkman called me and explained what kind of event Melodifestivalen is, what they wanted to do with the songs, that it’s a celebration to good songs and artists and I said yeah, why not.”
Miskovsky was selected as a Melodifestivalen 2012 and was drawn in Semi-Final 4 alongside some stiff competition, including Charlotte Perrelli and Danny Saucedo (who incidentally will compete in Semi-Final 1 of Melodifestivalen with “Dandi Dansa”). Miskovsky managed to finish 2nd in Semi-Final 4 (Saucedo coming in 1st) to qualify for the final.
So far, so good. Who could possibly prevent Miskovsky from going to Eurovision 2012 in Baku, Azerbaijan? There’d have to be an entry so euphoric to overcome the dreamy pop of Miskovsky and go on up up up to the Land of Fire.
Yep. Unfortunately for Miskovsky, she was up against a song that has, for the last eight years running, been considered the best Eurovision entry of all time. Miskovsky came in 9th, though she came in 4th with the jury and 12th and last with the televote, the latter being especially unfair considering, no names in particular, there were definitely at least six acts who were far worse.
After “Come Clarity” / After Melodifestivalen 2012
In Flames continued with their “Come Clarity” sound, though towards the latter years of the 2010s they were accused of something new for a band in a state of constant flux – resting on their laurels. In Flames can’t catch a break. As a fan of their melodic death metal phase, I will say that In Flames still has quality moments in their post “Come Clarity” phase, particularly their short and punchy “Deliver Us” from their 2011 album “Sounds of a Playground Fading.” I first saw In Flames in 1999 at a club in the middle of a trailer park in Lorain, Ohio with the incredible Portuguese metal band Moonspell in support, and now they can fill stadia in Europe and Japan.
Miskovsky, as mentioned before, embarked on a career in sports commentary, including reporting on Sweden’s progress at the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014. She did not abandon her music career, and also continued to release albums. Her last album, 2019’s “Bottenvikken,” may not have upended trees like her 2000s albums in terms of sales, but she still has the time and the talent to make another shot at Melodifestivalen.
Who do #YOU think will win Melodifestivalen 2021? Are #YOU an old school melodic death metal In Flames fan, or do #YOU prefer the current alternative metal incarnation? Let us know in the comments, in our forum, or on our social media.