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In Flames: "We had no idea when we created this thing" – Clayman 20th anniversary track by track interview

(Image credit: In Flames)

There is a very long list of American bands who, by their own admission, simply would never have formed if it were not for In Flames.

The Gothenburg sound the quintet helped create and popularise would cross the Atlantic and spawn a New Wave Of American Heavy Metal, a movement cross-pollinating twin harmonies and minor melodies with the frenzied aggression of its own hardcore scenes. 

Widely considered to be the breakthrough jewel in the crown of the In Flames back catalogue, it was the Swedes’ landmark fifth studio album, Clayman – released in 2000 – that witnessed them taking their melodic death metal to its critical peak.

In Flames circa 2000: (from left) Björn Gelotte (guitar), Anders Friden (vocals), Peter Iwers (bass), Jesper Strömblad  (guitar) and Daniel Svensson (drums) 

In Flames circa 2000: (from left) Björn Gelotte (guitar), Anders Friden (vocals), Peter Iwers (bass), Jesper Strömblad  (guitar) and Daniel Svensson (drums)  (Image credit: In Flames)

Two decades on and with an anniversary reissue of the album, it has remained a modern masterpiece, still influencing generations of bands to come...

“It’s insane when you think about it,” reflects singer Anders Fridén, speaking to MusicRadar ahead of the album’s 20th anniversary release. “For us, it was all about Iron Maiden growing up, but we’re a little older. We had no idea when we created this thing... I’m amazed to be still here doing what I do, still loving it and looking forward to the future and the next album.”

In Flames 2020: (from left): Bryce Paul (bass), Chris Broderick (guitar), Björn Gelotte (guitar), Anders Fridén (vocals) and Tanner Wayne (drums)

In Flames 2020: (from left): Bryce Paul (bass), Chris Broderick (guitar), Björn Gelotte (guitar), Anders Fridén (vocals) and Tanner Wayne (drums) (Image credit: In Flames)

For Björn Gelotte, this fifth full-length would mark his second album in his new main role as guitarist, having initially joined the group on drums. He describes the transition as going “from behind the kit, trying not to suck too much to stepping up front, playing leads in front of thousands of people” – which was precisely where he felt he was best suited...

“I was always a guitar player,” he explains. “When I joined the band during the Subterranean EP recordings, I’d already known the guys a while. And it was under the premise that they needed a drummer but I could join as a songwriter and maybe do some leads too. 

"It was always my hope that one day I would play guitar. It’s what I do best and enjoy most. That happened on [fourth album] Colony, so I felt more comfortable by the time we got to Clayman.”

The new 2020 edition of Clayman will feature the original 11 tracks remastered by Ted Jensen, four Howard Benson-produced re-recordings of Bullet Ride, Pinball Map, For The Weak and the title track, plus new instrumental Themes and Variations in D-Minor. Though the band have always prided themselves on being forward-thinking and open to new means of evolution, the opportunity to commemorate this anniversary in particular was something that simply couldn’t be ignored...

“We haven’t really celebrated much up to this point,” continues Anders. “We’re always somewhere else in the world when people tell us a certain album came out however many years ago. 

"We thought why not celebrate for a change? It wasn’t about going back to change anything, but more about having fun. And it was by far the easiest recording I’ve ever done. Just go in, drink a few beers and sing a bit! It was like tapping ourselves on the shoulder to acknowledge 20 years and saying thanks.”

“There was no point in doing the exact same thing again,” adds Björn. “It had been remastered before, a couple of times I guess. We couldn’t be more proud of the original, it brought us to where we are today. It’s always going to be there. The new versions aren’t trying to replace anything, it’s just us having fun. 

"It’s perhaps more of a live vibe than the hi-fi recording of the original, and features the line-up we currently have, some of whom were only seven or eight when it was first made! So it was about adding value, anyone that’s seen us live will know we now have a different take on it.”

“It’s like two different worlds comparing the new versions to the old ones”

Björn Gelotte

That different take Björn speaks of involves a number of changes, some more subtle than others, between the two recordings – but as for the gear used, he’s someone who found what he needed early on and stuck with it. So much has changed in the world of music technology over the last 20 years, but – at least for this guitarist – you simply can’t beat an EMG-loaded Les Paul Custom going into a JCM800-style amp.

“It’s like two different worlds comparing the new versions to the old ones,” notes Björn. “I can’t remember exactly what we used on the original but it was probably a 5150, with a Marshall in there somewhere. It was a different time back then, mic’ing everything up in a studio ourselves. 

"We’ve always been pretty straightforward with our guitar sounds – it’s basically the amp and the guitar with nothing really in between. I make sure the amp sounds as good as possible, which is pretty easy for me as I’ve used EMGs in my guitars for a long time… which also help with recreating everything live.”

Then, of course, there’s the electronic side of the band that has been more apparent on more recent releases – many fans likening their stylistic shift to UK arena conquerors Bring Me The Horizon, who themselves originated from more extreme sonic pastures before finding new meanings to success in outside experimentation.

"We got our sound from bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Kreator, Testament, Death, Morbid Angel, Judas Priest and Saxon – and yet we don’t really sound like any of them!”

Anders Fridén

“I’m really interested in electronics,” says Anders, adding “you should see the studio I’m sat in right now, I’m surrounded by old analogue synths made by Moog, Yamaha, Roland and Korg. I like adding another dimension to our amazing, we always start out with guitars and drums before adding electronics later. 

"I think BMTH are a great band. They’ve definitely gone from one place to another, and they’ve done it really well. But my inspiration lies more in the era of Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode than anything modern. The same goes with our metal influences – we got our sound from bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Kreator, Testament, Death, Morbid Angel, Judas Priest and Saxon – and yet we don’t really sound like any of them!”

Here the singer and guitarist talk us through the making of a metal masterpiece...

1. Bullet Ride

Björn: “When it comes to the theory stuff I’m sorry to say I don’t know what anything is called, I just know how to play it. But I can tell you that the first riff is a stretchy one based around the second fret of the second string but it goes really far up, to the seventh I think. Live I cheat a little bit because it’s a bit too much of a stretch when standing up. You can’t really hear it though (laughs)! 

"For the new recordings, it was important to do it right. It’s a very dynamic track. I remember we were worked a lot on our clean tones. We always had some cleans in there and I think this might be one of the few that didn’t come from an amp. I might be wrong, but I think it was one of the early Pods. It sounded perfect, and gave a Jazz Chorus kinda vibe to the chorus which worked really well.”

"I was at the end of a long relationship that had gone really sour, I wasn’t doing well on a personal level"

Anders Friden

Anders: “This whole album has a certain theme. I was at the end of a long relationship that had gone really sour, I wasn’t doing well on a personal level. I was trying to find my place in the world. I think the previous albums were extremely important to this one – The Jester Race, Whoracle and Colony were like a trilogy, with a before, middle of and after kind of theme. This was a whole new direction. 

"I felt so much more personal, I got way more into myself – writing things down to get them out of my system. I was trying to understand myself. I don’t know if it was a call for help, but it was definitely about getting it out there. If you read the lyrics, I think you can get a sense of the inner-turmoil. 

"I use a lot of metaphors, which feel dark and sad but I think people can turn them into their own. Finding your own interpretations can help the music live with you for a longer time, which is what I prefer to making it obvious and direct. So this album documented my inner search for something.”


2. Pinball Map 

"This is a song that kicks our ass whenever we play it"

Björn Gelotte

Björn: “This one got written really quickly, maybe even in the studio, but it’s hard to remember all these years later. It just came together riff by riff. It’s amazingly fun to play live, it’s got the perfect tempo and a nice and open chorus. 

"This is a song that kicks our ass whenever we play it. There is so much energy in there. I’d say it shines better live than it does on any recorded version. It’s aggressive and massive but with still a lot of dynamics.”

Anders: “This is one of the ones we’ve played the most so that’s why we decided to re-record. I love this song. It has this Iron Maiden-esque kind of vibe, as well as one of the worst videos ever made in the history of heavy metal. It’s not the greatest (laughs)! 

"I would say it’s one of my favourite songs we’ve ever done but I love everything we’ve done – it’s extremely difficult to pick amongst these children! But lyrically, it was just how I felt. Shooting out a pinball to see what happens. Sometimes you end up with a high score and sometimes everything just falls.”


3. Only For The Weak

"I was actually sat on a public transport bus when it originally came into my head"

Björn Gelotte

Björn: “I think it’s the melody that just keeps punching through and sticks in your head. Once you’ve heard it, I find it tends to just keep going round. I was actually sat on a public transport bus when it originally came into my head. I couldn’t get rid of it! I figured if it was still there when I got home an hour later, I should try to record it… and I did. It has stuck ever since! 

"Again, it just happened, I didn’t really think much about it at the time. Jesper [Strömblad, guitarist, In Flames founder and former member] added some really cool stuff to the verse and pre-chorus. It’s almost like there’s no other way this melody could have come out other than the way it did. It all happened so naturally. It’s ended up becoming another live favourite. 

"You never really know for sure before and there are a couple we guessed might work better, with the right tempo and drumming to sound heavy as shit. But you never know until you try it and this one sounded massive from the get-go!”

Anders: “This was one of the more difficult songs to record for me, I don’t know about the other guys. It’s more laid-back. With the faster-paced songs I can just go in there and scream. This one needed a bit more air. 

"To do the instrumentation justice I did feel a bit of pressure and it did take a while. But apparently it worked really well because it’s one of the most streamed songs we have and still a huge one for playing live. When you see a sea of people jumping it’s crazy. It gives me goosebumps every time.”


4. …As The Future Repeats Today

"This along, with Pinball Map, is one of the few where we tuned down"

Björn Gelotte

Björn: “We used to play this but haven’t done it many years. It’s another fun one to play but for practical reasons we’ve had to leave it out – we have so many records and so many songs we want to play. 

"We already have to play three or four from Clayman and 13 albums to pick from in total. There are so many we haven’t played live. Unless we are playing a five-hour set, it’s really hard to fit everything in. This along, with Pinball Map, is one of the few where we tuned down. We felt it kinda needed the drop, so we were playing in C with a dropped A#.”

"This and Satellites And Astronauts have a common theme – looking at ourselves and what we’re doing"

Anders Fridén

Anders: “I remember writing lyrics about losing the knowledge of time and asking if this is the price or hell we pay. Looking into modern politics, I had no idea I was a visionary at that point but here we are (laughs). 

"This and Satellites And Astronauts have a common theme – looking at ourselves and what we’re doing. We seem not to learn, which is insane. I’m afraid that social media is just fuelling the fire. Everybody is angry and wanting to argue. 

"Even though this whole Covid thing is super sad, especially for those who have lost family or have been affected really badly by it, maybe this is the world telling us to slow the fuck down a bit. I hope we can learn from it all. I have a serious doubt that things will return to the exact same normal. 

"I don’t think about past albums, I’m always thinking about the next one. Sometimes reading the lyrics again doesn’t even feel like me, and yet it’s somehow close to my heart. I look at a title like …As The Future Repeats Today and think, ‘Holy shit, did I write that?!’”


5. Square Nothing

"We were free to do whatever we wanted, there was no-one telling us what we could or couldn’t do"

Björn Gelotte

Björn: “I guess this one was a bit of a studio experiment. We had all the time we needed, working through evenings and nights, trying out different sounds. This and Satellites And Astronauts are tracks we took our time with in the studio, finding something spacey. 

"I really like the dual melodies. It’s not really clean, more like dialling down the distortion using your volume knob. It sounds like the neck pickup but it’s actually not! It’s how we dialled it in.

"I remember us doing a lot of the work ourselves, at least for the guitar side of things. We’d done a few records with Fredrik Nordström already. He’d just had a couple of kids and basically wanted to start working office hours and that wasn’t really how we were thinking of making a rock ’n’ roll album. 

"So me and Jesper came in over the afternoons and would carry on recording, then Fredrik would come in early the next day to edit or listen to what we’ve done and tell us to re-do it! 

"We were working on our own because of the time schedules but it was very creative. We were free to do whatever we wanted, there was no-one telling us what we could or couldn’t do, so we got a lot of shit done. For Colony or Whoracle, everyone was there at the same time doing really long sessions. This one was a bit different.”

"I think it’s a great example of how wide our musical palette was"

Anders Fridén

Anders: “We play this once in a while. I really enjoy it live because of the dynamics. There’s that slow beginning and more groovy, laid-back bits before it kicks into a very typical In Flames kind of riffing. It’s very gallop-y and Iron Maiden-esque. 

"I think it’s a great example of how wide our musical palette was. It’s my way of saying I’m back to square nothing. I was at the end of a relationship and needing to learn from my mistakes to become a better person, questioning what I’ve doing for all these years and stuff like that. Life can be tough, it can be a beating. It’s not easy to end something even if you know it is inevitable. There are a lot of emotions you go through.”


6. Clayman

"I was almost half my age back then. It was a different outlook on how I wanted the music to sound or what me and Jesper wanted to achieve together"

Björn Gelotte

Björn: “It was a lot of fun digging into the songs chosen for the new recordings. I had to listen back and dig into how they were actually played on the record. I rarely listen to our own stuff. You get used to the way you play and then all of a sudden you realise you’ve deviated little by little into a very different place on certain riffs. 

"I had to refresh my memory and have never felt the need to do that before. So it was a lot of fun to re-record, this is how we play them live. A bit rougher and maybe a little faster, less polished than the original because it was never meant to be. It’s more like a there and then. I was almost half my age back then. It was a different outlook on how I wanted the music to sound or what me and Jesper wanted to achieve together. 

"We’d just started to tour consistently and learned a lot from that. The studio was a place to explore some more. We didn’t know how we’d play these songs live but that shit takes time. We’re still not there, but we’re constantly working towards that – trying to capture how we sound. 

"I like the breakdown in Clayman, it’s a lot of fun to play and adds a depth to what is quite a hectic song. Nothing we’ve done is super intricate like brain surgery, but this one is up there because it’s so fast.”

"Much like the Da Vinci cover, it’s about trying to be everywhere at the same time and mould into different situations"

Anders Fridén

Anders: “Much like the Da Vinci cover, it’s about trying to be everywhere at the same time and mould into different situations. It’s the general search and question of bigger things, why are things the way they are. It’s about being scared of new things but trying to cling on to old stuff that you know deep down is falling apart. 

"I can’t remember much about recording the original, but I really loved the making new version. Going in to just scream and have fun. You can hear every note really well. But like the others it was already a good song to begin with. Björn recorded all the guitars for this one, but Bryce [Paul, bass] and Tanner [Wayne, drums] were on it. Chris Broderick was there in spirit. He plays these songs live and he’s quite a decent guitarist!”


7. Satellites And Astronauts

"On this track we were searching, trying to tap into new sounds we didn’t even know we could recreate live"

Björn Gelotte

Björn: “For me studio time has always been a necessary evil in order to get back out there and play live. It’s about refining the songs you’ve written after you’ve been out touring and learning shit. Then you head into the studio, making them the very best you can, and then you carry on touring them and learning from them. 

"There’s a lot of experimentation going on. But if you ask Anders, he would probably say the opposite. He loves the creative side of the studio, being a nerd about different ways to record. I prefer to get it done so we can tour. We’re quite different in that way! 

"On this track we were searching, trying to tap into new sounds we didn’t even know we could recreate live. We’ve always added guitars until it feels like it’s there, so you get to a point where it’s not possible to recreate that live. It’s like an orchestra piece played by two violins. You can work around it maybe but it’s definitely not the same. 

"On Clayman, we were still adding shit. So you can’t always play everything the same live, which is why I prefer working quickly in the studio and sound close to what we are like live. I don’t like using guitars on tracks and all that shit – I mean, we do have a click track, drum loops and keyboards – but a guitar should be played by a guitar player.”

"This is about taking a step outside of yourself"

Anders Fridén

Anders: “This one is about looking at the world from the outside, but also my world from the outside. If you look from a distance you realise your own mistakes are as bad… there’s a bigger picture to everything. When you are in the middle of something, you feel like you can never see the end or the beginning. 

"This is about taking a step outside of yourself. Look at how we fight back and forth on this planet when in the big picture we are extremely small. We do we destroy ourselves when there is so much left to explore? I don’t think any of the songs were hard to sing at the time. This was a ballad-y kind of track, I don’t know if I was singing as much back then, it was more mumbling the clean stuff. I didn’t really have a vocal technique, I learned about my vocal style much later in my career. It was more about doing the songs justice.”


8. Brush The Dust Away

Björn: “I remember the break at the beginning being a real bitch to record! This one is up-tempo and full of melodies, but for some reason never cut it for the live set much. We played it a few times at the beginning but it feels like it’s now been 15 years or something. 

"Maybe it was the arrangement, I think it wasn’t as good as we hoped. Or let me rephrase and put it like this – when we started rehearsing it for shows, the arrangement wasn’t as smooth as it is on the record. It’s always different. You think you have the perfect arrangement until you hit the stage and realise parts are way too slow or too fast. 

"Things sound different in a controlled studio with no adrenaline compared to when you are on stage and everything feels like slow motion. But it’s a great song – it’s got a lot of melodies, it’s exactly who we are, you know? Just maybe not as strong in a live environment.”

Anders: “I can’t remember shit about this song. Honestly, I have zero memory of it being made. I know we’ve tried to play it live but I’m not sure if we actually did. I haven’t even listened to song for 20 years. I guess we felt this song was great because it’s on the album. 

"We don’t try to write singles, we try to write an album"

Anders Fridén

"We don’t try to write singles, we try to write an album. Every song has its own dynamic, feel and place within the song order. We don’t write 40 songs to choose 12. We don’t have any leftovers, we can’t release a B-side album because it doesn’t exist! We give everything to every song and then move on...”


9. Swim

"This one is always interesting because it starts straight on the one. I don’t think I’ve ever hit all the notes perfectly live… not even once"

Björn Gelotte

Björn: “This one is always interesting because it starts straight on the one. I don’t think I’ve ever hit all the notes perfectly live… not even once. Whenever I see that name on the setlist, I’m always like, ‘Damn, better start practicing!’ I’ll do an hour, have it perfectly ready and then always mess on stage. It doesn’t matter how many times I play it! But it’s a pretty cool song, and pretty big on the keyboards and drum loops. It’s really fun to play because it sounds heavy as shit!”

"Now this is a song I love to play live"

Anders Fridén

Anders: “Now this is a song I love to play live. It has a great melody and groove. We try not to write political songs but when I think about the lyrics to Swim, that’s sort of what it is. Talking about the leaders of our time and heading for a downfall or whatever, it’s me saying no-one is better than the other person, everybody is trying to save their own skin while in leadership. We have the chance to learn from our mistakes but never do.”


10. Suburban Me

Björn: “This is another fun song to play but Chris Amott [who guested on the song's solo] kicks pretty much everyone else’s ass when it comes guitar – and that kinda ruins the song for me because there’s no way I can play it! I don’t want to mess it up either. So usually this one has been vetoed by me, I’ll tell them, ‘Sure, you guys can play it while I sit down and drink a beer, ask Chris if he can come up?!’ 

"Honestly though, his solo is so good. I’ve always admired that guy and his playing. I really wouldn’t want to mess it up… and that’s too bad. It just doesn’t feel right for me to play live, even though it’s a great song. 

"I know his brother Michael really well too. They’re both amazing guys. It’s interesting how both of them are so good and yet so different! Mike is so much more blues-based with a lot Schenker lines and really cool wah stuff, like I do, and then you have Chris who is a classical shredder extraordinaire. His technique is impeccable.”

(Image credit: In Flames)

Anders: “This is another one I don’t remember at all. I don’t think we’ve played it [live]… the lyrics are about feeling like you are on the outside rather than being in the middle. It’s about how the world is moving forwards but you feel like you are stuck somewhere, hoping to wake up one day when someone comes along to scream it in your face. 

"I guess it came from being at the end of something, being tired of yourself and everything else and feeling like shit doesn’t matter. It’s not a happy song, that’s for sure. Chris Amott’s solo was great, he’s a brilliant guitar player.”


11. Another Day In Quicksand 

"It’s more like one of our instrumental tracks from the earlier days"

Björn Gelotte

Björn: “I don’t think this was meant as an outro, but it turned out that way. It was more an experiment than an arrangement. We had a bunch of ideas and tried to put it all together. 

"The structure is very different, it’s more like one of our instrumental tracks from the earlier days – even though it’s got vocals on there, you can almost tell it was more of a guitar-driven demo to begin with. So vocals got added to something that could have been instrumental, but it turned out really well. 

"There’s another song on one of our other records which was also made as a guitar track to start with. I mean, we had a singer so it made sense. We think a bit differently these days and leave space for the vocals – it’s a very important part of who we are. 

"Back then, I’d be in one corner writing my stuff, Jesper in the other corner and Anders working somewhere too. We’d get our shit done and meet up in the mix, so to speak. Now it’s more about keeping doors open for each other and seeing where the energy is needed. We didn’t really do it back then, which is probably why we ended up with a song like this.”

Anders: “Again, it’s about being at the end of something or stuck, and trying to fight to survive. I’m asking about why someone sees me as an enemy and realising we think in different words. 

"Like, we were getting along at one point, why are we now fighting and fighting and fighting? We can’t we find a conclusion and move on. 20 years on, I’m in a very different place now, so this almost feels like I’m talking about someone else.”


12. Themes and Variations in D-Minor (instrumental)

Björn: “I know the guy who wrote and recorded it, Roberto Laghi, he’s actually been out with us on tours. We asked him to do melodies and intros, things like that [for the reissue]. He’s classically trained with one foot in that world and another in rock and metal… which is very rare when it comes to professional cello players. 

"He’s got it all, which is why it was so interesting to hear his versions and arrangements of our music. He wrote the whole thing, trying to get every song on there and did a fantastic job.

"I was there for the recordings and added some guitars as well, but it was his own view of Clayman. I knew it was going to be really good, but I was really impressed in how he turned our riffs and melodies into something coherent, that takes the listener on a really interesting journey.”

In Flames will be releasing their Clayman 20th Anniversary Edition on 28 August. You can pre-order it here.