In Flames’ Björn Gelotte: the 10 albums that changed my life – “That combination of Ritchie Blackmore and Dio, I haven’t heard anything since that hits me that hard”

In Flames
(Image credit: Nuclear Blast)

Over the past couple of years, Björn Gelotte has bought a banjo, double bass and a violin. He has played some country, some bluegrass with friends, jammed Celine Dion, Ryan Adams covers and all kinds of things to keep the chops up, but as he joins us from tour he has his game face on as In Flames are back in business, returning after a nigh-on four year gap with Foregone.

The direction might be the same, the raw materials of pristine melodies and riffs shaped by their death metal heritage, but the sound is bigger. “Big and metal” were the words that steered its sound, with Howard Benson returning as producer, and Joe Rickard in charge of super-sizing the mix.

In Flames have always taken a box-office approach to their sound but Foregone had to be bigger in every aspect. Even with the dial down low, it’s a loud album.

“We wanted it big, heavy, big and metal,” says Gelotte. “I love the production of I, The Mask [2019], but it is leaning towards the rock sound more because it is Chris Lord-Alge [mixing]. He is phenomenal. I have no clue what he is doing but it is punchy, and the guitars are there, the drums are there. I wouldn’t say it is safe but it is leaning towards rock, so this time around we really wanted to make it fucking massive.”

In Flames weren’t afraid to make themselves unpopular in search of the right personnel. They reached out to six or seven high-profile people and asked for a test mix. They all sounded terrible, jokes Gelotte.

Who wants to do a test mix nowadays? Anyway, it turns out Rickard, who played drums for the band from 2016 to 2018, did, and he was the one. “All this stuff is always important to us,” says Gelotte. “This time around we wanted to make sure that we got it zeroed in.”

There’s a classic Side A, Side B, quality to Foregone. Listening to it, you might be able to guess some of the bands Gelotte is going to bring up in conversation if not the albums. Of course, there is going to be Iron Maiden, Metallica too. But can a new release still change your life?

“Well, I had never thought about it that way but it depends on what you mean by changed your life,” says Gelotte. “It might have opened doors, or changed your way of looking at things, for sure. For me, I have those every now and then.”

Those epiphanies would come on recommendation from Anders Fridén, In Flames’s frontman. He keeps his ear to the ground. That’s how they ended up with Orbit Culture on tour. Otherwise, Gelotte is tunnelling back and seeking solace in the records in his father’s record collection.

“If you ask anyone who knows me, I am really not looking for new music,” he says. “I am very boring that way. I am very very comfortable listening to what I was growing up. I still listen to the same records. My dad is a metal head, a rock dude, so he had the most awesome record collection.”

His tastes in electric guitars are similarly unchanged over the years, relying on his Gibson Les Paul Customs, retrofitted with EMGs, and their Epiphone signature guitar counterparts, occasionally an SG, too. But being bored, scrolling through Thomann he bought a Charvel. It’s a cool So-Cal S-style, a good guitar for metal, but don’t expect that to turn up on tour anytime soon. He is still learning how to tune it.

“I wouldn’t say it’s cheesy but it plays really nicely, and I wouldn’t know how to tune it,” he laughs. “It has got a Floyd Rose on it and I am fucked with that. It took me almost two hours to get it done, which normally takes, I dunno, four minutes. I am probably never going to change those strings again. But it’s a nice guitar.”

Indeed, and while Gelotte heads over to MusicRadar's guide to changing strings and balancing a Floyd Rose vibrato, you can check out the 10 albums that changed his life – with the caveat that none are in order and when it came to death metal he had to squeeze the rules and put two in for one. 

In Flames’ Björn Gelotte: the 10 albums that changed my life

ZZ Top – Eliminator (1983)

“I’ll just go with some of the earlier records and one of them is Eliminator by ZZ Top. I didn’t think about it back then but it is most likely programmed drums on that one. The guitar sound is incredible. The way he played? I had never heard anything like that. 

“Obviously, I was young. I was growing up with Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, and all that, so when Eliminator came along, his vocals along with the guitars really scratchy – it sounded amazing. 

It was one of the records that actually made me curious about guitar playing. I had never thought about it as a separate instrument

“It was one of the records that actually made me curious about guitar playing. I had never thought about it as a separate instrument. When you are young it is just music coming out at you. That one was really important. I think a couple of records here I picked up myself but this is all my dad’s collection in the beginning. 

“They mix it beautifully with some keys and some samples in there. It just makes it really, really nice. I love the way it sounds with the bass. I was not so interested in the old stuff. It was bluesy. Everything was blues-based in my dad’s collection. But it didn’t really stick out until I heard Eliminator.”

Van Halen – Van Halen II (1979)

“The second album I’m thinking of is Van Halen II, and it was, again, an album where the guitar stands out – especially when listening to it on headphones because the mix is really epic. 

“The guitar is to one side and it’s just a weird mix. You have a delay and stuff on the other ear. You can really, really pick out the guitar, and you can hear his playing. It feels very right there and then. It’s almost a live feel to the guitar playing. ‘Somebody is doing this!?’ I started getting my head around that. I was very young at this point.”

Rainbow – Rising (1976)

“I had a mix-tape that was really, really important to me and it had the first three Rainbow albums. Well, I made the mix-tape. My dad had the records. But it was Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow Rising and Long Live Rock ’N’ Roll, Gates Of Babylon, and basically the whole of Rising – that is an incredible album.

“That is when I started learning about harmonies and stuff, because the vocals and the guitar lines create magic on that record. It’s incredible. That combination of Ritchie Blackmore and Ronnie James Dio, I haven’t heard anything since that hits me that hard.

“His voice is just… There are quite a few that are almost there. I mean, [David] Coverdale is incredible as well, back when he was really, really pushing it; early Whitesnake is awesome too but back then he was a different kind of singer. And Ronnie was at the absolute top.

“Ozzy was great, extremely important for the genre and that band, but it wasn’t until Ronnie sang that I really got hooked. My dad was playing Black Sabbath all the time, awesome, all these songs, Paranoid, we would cover them as a kid. But it wasn’t until Ronnie was singing on them and the Rainbow records. Holy Diver was amazing but [The] Last In Line was when I started playing in bands.

“Today, it can feel very processed. It didn’t feel like that with the stuff Ronnie did – and most of the stuff you did back then where it wasn’t processed; it was takes and takes and takes. Like with Eddie’s guitar playing, it just had a flow to it, like it feels natural, like it was made right there and then.”

4. Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction (1987)

“Appetite For Destruction was incredibly important because of mainly Slash as a guitar player, who was not only cool but played incredibly well. The riffs together with the guitars being super-thin, almost phone mix together with that super-kicking bass, it was just incredible. It was totally separated but it sounded amazing.

“And great songs. Great songs that you just want to play. I was probably about 14 or 15 at the time when I heard it, and it was the time when we started forming bands, started trying to do covers, and nobody wanted to sing because nobody could do it. 

“Nobody sounded like Axl. Everybody wanted to be a guitar player and I ended up playing – trying to play Slash’s stuff, so that was important.

“I don’t know how his picking technique is. I haven’t seen them that many times live, just some clips and stuff, but he has got the guitar so low that it is incredible what he can achieve with the guitar. It’s like Zakk Wylde; same thing here, the way they carry their instruments and still make it sound that way.”

 Metallica – …And Justice For All (1988)

“Around the same time, it was …And Justice For All, from Metallica. That was my gateway into Metallica. I had heard songs before. Nothing really stuck until I heard or saw the video actually for One. 

“I love the video. It was the long version, like a story in it, too, movie quotes, it just sucked me right in, and all those harmonies on the guitars!

“Obviously, these are added guitars but I just never got my head around how they made that, and it was incredibly massive. That made me go back through their catalogue. I became a huge Metallica fan, like most people. 

“I was listening to that album while going to school everyday so I had the cassette with …And Justice For All, running one half on the way to school, the other half on the way back. I heard the record everyday. Everyday!

“The kick-drum sound on that record is just ridiculously good. And the whole production, I love it! I understand why today people say, ‘What the hell!?’ It’s weird. Possibly. But it was perfect at the time. You can hear all the guitars in the world. You can hear everything that they’re doing. It was really, really cool.”

6. Iron Maiden – Somewhere In Time (1986)

“Somewhere In Time is where I got into Maiden. I had heard some stuff before, Number Of The Beast, songs like Hallowed Be The Name, but it wasn’t until Somewhere In Time that I really got into them. 

“Guitar-wise, it is a little sneaky with keyboards and stuff like that but it just hit me. The cover art is what first gets you with Maiden, even if you had never heard them you would want to hear it because it is incredible. 

It was complex enough to make you want to try it and practise, and slowly become a guitar player

“And it was just the right time in life, as a guitar player at the time it was perfect, two guitar players so you could hear the harmonies, you could pick them out.

“It wasn’t super-fast, it is not extremely complex. It was complex enough to make you want to try it and practise, and slowly become a guitar player so it was very, very important, and it is always an absolute joy to see them live.”

Queensrÿche – Empire (1990)

“Early stuff, I had heard on TV, but then Empire really kicked my ass, the musicianship, everything, and I had just started playing so I started to understand what it took to make it sound that good, and also to write those songs.

“Then everybody told me, [Operation] Mindcrime, dude. That’s where the gold is!’ And I really do love that but for me my first love was Empire – like Jet City Woman, the song Empire, incredible stuff. Listen to the bass on that one, and the drums. It is still top-notch.”

Death – Human (1991)

“Listening to Metallica brought me into more death metal. All the records that I am talking about I still listen to. It doesn’t matter which one – they are all important. I can’t really grade any one of them. But there are a few death metal records that I really want to mention. They have meant so much. 

“One of them is Human, by Death. I wasn’t a fan of Death before this record because it was kind of technical but it was not, for my taste, technical in the musical way that I was brought up with Maiden and all that, but then Human came along, and the drumming on that!? Sean Reinert, who unfortunately passed away, was not very old on that record. 

“He was in a band called Cynic, and he was recording with Chuck, and when the Human album came out, everyone wanted to be a drummer because of that. And none of them are today, let’s put it that way. It’s just an incredible record. That’s why I fell in love with it – and [Chuck’s] vocals obviously.”

Malevolent Creation – Retribution

“Another one is Retribution, by Malevolent Creation. That one is just… When I heard it the first time, I felt like somebody punched me in the gut, because it is so massive. It’s gritty. It’s impossible to make out any riffs but you know it’s heavy. You have to listen to it to know what I mean. 

“You bought records back in the day if it said Morrisound or Scott Burns. I’d buy that. You knew. As Anders mentioned the other day, anything with Roadrunner on it, you bought it, because you knew it was going to be awesome and right up your alley.

Anything with Roadrunner on it, you bought it, because you knew it was going to be awesome and right up your alley

“Scott Burns did Napalm Death. He did all sorts of bands. I thought all of these bands came from the same place but they were from all over the world. They just came from the same guy. It’s kind of cool. I wish I had got to be there and record. 

“So those two death metal albums – amongst a lot of other stuff that came out around the same time. A lot of Morbid Angel, Napalm Death, those were the first death metal experiences. My cousin was a death metal head, and the reason why I am in In Flames; he was best friends with Jesper growing up and he introduced me to Napalm Death.”

Dream Theater – Images And Words (1992)

“It was a friend who was not into metal at all who showed me this. I think his older brother had the album or something, and when I heard the Metropolis that is on Images And Words? I had never heard anything like it. 

It is nerdy to listen to but what people say, ‘You have to be a musician to appreciate it,’ is not true

“I thought the musicianship was fake. Nobody plays like this. It’s not possible! But then I’ve seen them live and I have seen them play it and it is ridiculous, still, how good they are.

“I don’t even know where to begin. Everything on it is very tasty. It is nerdy to listen to but what people say, ‘You have to be a musician to appreciate it,’ is not true, because there are hooks, and it’s big, and there is so much to dig into. You can’t have it in the background. You have to be focused on it, sort of like where I want to wrap-up the albums, with Rush…”

Rush – Moving Pictures (1981)

Dream Theater brought me to Rush. Moving Pictures, obviously, is the one, and that made me go through their whole catalogue after that. They have been on a fucking journey! 

“Like any band who has been around for that amount of time but they also went through so many, not genre changes, but the introduction of electronic music, all that stuff, they just changed a lot of things and they just moved with it, and were never afraid of experimenting.

“Rush is a band my uncle tried to get me into because he know I was into metal or rock but I could never get my head around it. It was not until I heard Dream Theater, and they were talking about Rush, and then I started to understand. Then I found Moving Pictures and yeah. And it’s a fucking three-piece!? It’s incredible. And they were as good live. I am getting goosebumps just thinking about it.

“That journey is really, really cool, and especially getting – as you mentioned – one band getting you into another band and then realising how many records they’ve got, how many hours of exploration you have in front of you, how many days, it is really cool.”

  • Foregone is available to preorder and is released on 10 February via Nuclear Blast.
Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.