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Flame On 

Sweden's death-metal kings rebound

>When filmmaker Sam Dunn — Canada's long-haired answer to Ken Burns — declared the future of death metal rests in the hands of the Swedish band In Flames in last year's documentary Metal Evolution, it was hardly news to the group's fans.

With more than 20 years of punishing riffs beneath, between, and behind them, the melodic band has become downright legendary in influence in its death-metal universe. But juxtaposing hardened extremes with tuneful, borderline proggy-orchestral brushstrokes has alienated some of their audience lately. Hardcore fans claim that In Flames' latest album, Sounds of a Playground Fading, pushes the music away from them and toward a more populist destination.

It's a dilemma facing every successful band, says drummer Daniel Svensson, who first joined the group for 1999's Colony. But they're not particularly interested in changing their approach to making music.

Translation: You can't make everyone happy, so might as well take care of yourself.

"We never think of what other people do or what fans expect of us, good or bad, because of the really high expectations we have of ourselves," he says. "We just concentrate on what we do. We're just regular guys, working hard and exploring sound."

The band hit a roadblock a couple of years ago when guitarist and founding member Jesper Strömblad hastily announced his departure to deal with some "personal demons." This "surprised the band some," says Svensson, and it tested the remaining members, who had to write for the first time as a foursome. The results were compelling. Sounds of a Playground Fading, which was released last year, takes a concept-album approach to the subject of innocence lost.

But if there's a secret as to how the narrative came together, and if Strömblad's departure somehow informed it, Svensson doesn't know or he won't say. He's selling the former. "A lot of this is up to [singer Anders Fridén], and he's cryptic about it," he says. "He's not keen on explaining lyrics, even to us. He wants the listener to make up their own mind."

Still, Svensson offers some insight into the album's meaty and perceptive middle section, which includes the pummeling centerpieces "Fear Is the Weakness," "Where the Dead Ships Dwell," "The Attic," and "Jester's Door." "There's regular things and current world events to look to, and you always want to have a thread to help it hang together," he says somewhat cryptically.

What Svensson will admit to is that losing integral members like Strömblad has destroyed countless bands in the past. "We've been pretty lucky overall," he says. "In Flames is stronger than any issues that could come up. Sometimes we're not best friends, but we love this, and that's what keeps us going. We are like a polygamist married couple, and not in a gay way."

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