REVIEW: In Flames - Clayman (20th Anniversary)
In Flames' talismanic breakthrough moment gets the 20th birthday re-packaging treatment.
It is existentially unsettling how this album is now two decades old, originally released in 2000 when this writer was a naive young shaver at university. In celebration, this remastered, re-packaged version has been released along with an accompanying EP of re-recorded songs. In retrospect, 2000 was a mezzanine year for the band's music, essentially heralding the early transition towards a long-term change in direction favouring a more accessible sound.
Having contributed to shaping the Swedish melodeath sound of death metal riffs and vocals coupled with Maiden-esque melodic leads and hooks with a concatenation of critically acclaimed albums in the late 1990s (The Jester Race, Colony, and Whoracle), Clayman differed with a cleaner production, catchier choruses, electro samples, and nu-metal style introspective lyrical tendencies; elements that would become less of a dalliance and more a permanent style in years to come.
The album explodes with a double jab of high-energy, defining songs Bullet Ride and Pinball Map, both pacey, rampantly uplifting with engaging melodies and vividly catchy solos and choruses. The mid-paced Only for the Weak has become one of the band's hit live staples over the years, with croaked, spoken word verses and a bombastic riff and melody.
Square Nothing, embarks with a gentle mediterranean acoustic strum, before taking off into a soaring power metal stomp while Brush the Dust Away is more akin to the previous work with its galloping double kick bass drumming and charging rhythmic ruckus while Suburban Me is another well known live highlight.
Only a churl would deny that Clayman is highly accomplished in catchy, well-structured songcraft as well as technical competence. The inventive guitar work has flair and melodies that would make Iron Maiden envious yet there is still just enough metallic crunch throughout to ensure the album is deserving of its breakthrough status. Consistent and teeming with soaring power metal solos and memorable song quality, yet obvious stylistic and production changes demonstrated this was a shuffle away from the Swedish death metal scene (where the band's peers remained).
It was In Flames' high tide mark that straddled underground credibility and commercial success; and only afterwards did the former give way to the latter. Clayman re-positioned the band towards wider appeal which has meant In Flames continue to attract derisory criticism, particularly from fans of their formative work, for the subsequent stylistic change. Yet the loud accusations of selling out tend to be hindsight-laden of what happened in the next decade or so rather than judging this undeniably memorable and good quality album individually.
The EP of the re-worked songs will not endear the majority former fans turned critics despite the improved sound, stronger vocal capability and better command of the English language. Covering your own songs is often not a low-risk strategy and it is difficult to see where these 2020 efforts add more than they detract. It might be too harsh, arguably, to suggest it sounds like an In Flames cover band, but you get the sense the band are enjoying it and the effort might re-route some novice listeners to the 2000 original.