Much was made last year of a "Swedish Invasion" of garage rock acts, led by groups like the Hellacopters and lo-fi heroes The Hives, with their smash single "Hate to Say I Told You So." But for many stateside extreme-rock fans, the only Swedish Invasion that matters has crept into North America under the radar, without the fanfare of their radio-friendly counterparts. Long a hotbed of Euro-metal wizardry, Sweden has produced a plethora of bands that have trickled over to U.S. soil in recent years, including Opeth and Meshuggah, but by far the most talked-about has been In Flames. With their patented dual-guitar melodies and insanely hummable hooks, In Flames' live act is a prime reason why this newest invasion is worth some serious reconnaissance.
Times are good for In Flames; on a night off from their support role on Mudvayne's U.S. tour, the band rolled into Houston for a one-off gig in a tour bus that threatened to dwarf the venue. Though they were the only (inter)national act on the bill, In Flames had no trouble packing the house, and the lukewarm reaction received by the three local openers left no doubt as to who the audience was there to see. The band took the stage to a roar of anticipation from the crowd and immediately launched into an energetic set greeted by a flurry of thrashing on the floor.
In Flames' studio sound translates perfectly into the live setting. Long noted for their crisp recordings, the group is able to recreate their album sound precisely in the live setting. The band plays so tightly together that at times it seems more like they are lip-synching to a record than actually hammering it out. Even during mind-boggling speed passages, the apparent effortlessness with which In Flames plays their polished riffing detracts quite a bit from the live, ragged raunch that appeals to the nutsack in each of us, but the crowd on this night was feeling every riff, run and kick. The band's fret board wizardry is what the fans came to see, and In Flames delivered.
The band's setlist culled together material from over half a dozen albums, showcasing a Swedish guitar highlight reel that kept the crowd's energy level high. "Behind Space" from the band's 1999 Colony album and "Cloud Connected" from their latest, Reroute to Remain, drew the most enthusiastic response from the crowd, but it was clear that In Flames could have crapped on a microphone and the fans would have flashed the sign of the devil with glee. The band reproduced their trademark blasting with the cleanest of technique and an almost alarming efficiency, even while a bombardment of insufferable stage-divers threatened to disrupt the latter half of the set. Much as their musical style suggests, In Flames is a machine; their technique is honed to such a fine degree that it would take far more than a few hairy, crowd-surfing virgins to test their professionalism. That's not always a good thing. Sadly, the band's presence onstage could be accurately (and generously) described as rather conservative.
In Flames is not the heaviest band from Sweden, or the most extreme, but this performance showcased why they are the most popular. Their repertoire of energetic, Maiden-style speed anthems contain enough polish and poise to impress even hardened studio vets. If the band can elevate their stage presence to the level of their guitar solos, they will truly be a group few will wish to take the stage after. In what may have been the most appropriate statement from a band that keeps the stage banter to a minimum, lead singer Anders Friden promised, "We'll be back this summer... and we'll bring some of our Swedish friends with us!" With In Flames paving the way, the invaders may prove difficult to resist. In Flames notes: The band will return for a headlining tour in the U.S. in June as part of promoting their upcoming E.P. Trigger.
Nate Smith is a Contributing Writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.