In Flames looks to silence skeptics

Swedish metal band replaces departed member, who left to wage battle against alcohol addiction

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If you go

• What: In Flames, in concert.

• When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 1.

• Where: Roseland Theater, 8 N.W. Sixth Ave., Portland.

• Cost: $25 through TicketsWest, 800-992-8499 or ticketswest.com.

• Info: http://roselandpdx.com.

In Flames bassist Peter Iwers said the band knew fans would see its latest album, “The Sounds of a Playground Fading,” as a test.

“I know there are a lot of people being very skeptical,” Iwers said in a late-December phone interview. “For us it was really important to make this record. Not that we went into the studio with a lot of pressure, but when we came out, I think we were all extremely happy that we had done this as a four-piece.”

Fans were skeptical because of the departure in February 2010 of Jesper Stromblad, founding member and guitarist of the Swedish metal band. Stromblad struggled for years with a severe drinking problem and on several occasions it caused him to miss performances, most recently in 2009 so he could enter rehab. When Stromblad departed, the guitarist said he was determined to “defeat his demons once and for all.”

Iwers said he and bandmates vocalist Anders Friden, guitarist Bjorn Gelotte and drummer Daniel Svensson talked about the band’s future before Stromblad left and had already decided to continue regardless of what Stromblad did.

While there wasn’t any serious thought given to ending the band, losing Stromblad was still difficult.

“When you go through something like we all did, with Jesper’s illness, it’s something that could break a band,” Iwers said. “He’s our brother suffering from a disease that’s destroying him, destroying us. So when he finally left, we were all really heartbroken.”

Helping In Flames prepare for a post-Stromblad era was the fact that the group had a replacement in mind: Niclas Engelin. He had briefly been in the band from 1997-98, and in 2006 and 2009 he filled in on tour in Stromblad’s absence.

Engelin waited a bit to join In Flames officially and didn’t play on “The Sounds of a Playground Fading.” But he was in the fold before the CD was finished.

“We had asked Nicolas before we actually went into the studio if he wanted to join the band,” Iwers said. “He had some

time that he wanted to think it over. So we decided OK, we’re going to make this record as a four-piece. If you say yes, you come in afterwards.”

The music on “The Sounds of a Playground Fading” suggests that In Flames has overcome the loss of Stromblad, who was a significant songwriting contributor.

The band’s sound shifted a bit when Gelotte took over the music writing (Friden is the band’s lyricist). Gelotte now writes riffs and the core structures of the songs before bringing them to the band, which then completes them as a unit. That’s because, as Iwers explained, he and Stromblad had distinctly different writing styles.

“When the demos in the past were done, I never really sat down to think who wrote which riff,” Iwers said. “But now, in retrospect, I know who wrote which riffs. The more complex ones were probably Jesper and the more rock-and roll-oriented were probably Bjorn, even though they might be the other way around sometimes.”

That classic rock and roll is apparent in the epic lead guitar lines and riffs, as well as the melodic choruses that populate songs like “Deliver Us,” the title track, and “Where The Dead Ships Dwell.” Such songs, though, still have the expected dark intensity of In Flames, and Friden’s growly/screamy vocal tone gives the music its familiar modern metal edge.

Having already spent a good part of 2011 playing shows, In Flames is back in the U.S. for a winter tour, playing a set that Iwers said tops an hour and a half and emphasizes newer material.

Life on the road, Iwers said, is drastically different now than it was before Stromblad’s departure

“I mean, three years ago, four years ago, I was looking out for one of my best friends (Stromblad), seeing him through this, seeing if he was still alive in the bunk, if he was standing up, if he was sober, how he was doing,” Iwers said. “So life on the road now is much less complicated than it ever was. … We’re out there now and we’re having fun and we’re playing music. We’re just enjoying ourselves.”