In Flames-The Jester Race
1995; Nuclear Blast; Studio Fredman
1. Is It Any Good?
There are moments of The Jester Race when there is nothing you would rather be doing than listening to it. The best example of this is the first track, “Moonsheild”, which exemplifies everything that this album does right when it’s working-it’s hauntingly gorgeous and abstract, with evocative riffs trading off with long, soulful acoustic guitar passages with an incredibly fluid ease. The song is unforgettable, and it’ll stay with you long after you’ve finished listening to it-and, sadly, much longer than most of the rest of the album.
In Flames works best when they’re not being anybody but themselves-songs like the aforementioned “Moonsheild”, the title track, the instrumental s “Wayfarer” and “The Jester’s Dance”, and “Dead Eternity” show the band doing things that no other metal group at the time was really doing, which was combining moving melodies with vicious, jagged attacks, often times in the same instant. On all the rest of the songs, though, the sound extremely derivative of other melodic death metal groups-maybe they were some of the first to make music that sounded like this, but that doesn’t mean the rest of this album has aged very well. “Lord Hypnos” and “December Flower” are two examples of tracks that, while not being offensive to the ear, offer nothing that the listener can’t hear elsewhere, done better. There’s no reason to skip over these songs, and they’re decent enough headbanging material, but because these more derivative tracks make up half of the album, they have the effect of dragging the whole thing down.
There’s a good amount of innovative, occasionally masterfully created music on this album, but they’re peppered between segments of “been there, done that” moments that might prevent you from listening to The Jester Race more than a few times. It’s worth listening to, but just barely.2. Is It "Important"?
This album was one of the very first of what’s become known as the “Gothenburg Scene”, a style of metal known for being as ferocious as it was progressive. While the album itself does have its share of flaws, it laid the groundwork for a lot of metal to come and was one of the blueprints for an entire subgenre(melodic death metal). It is, and will continue to be seen as, one of the most influential metal albums released in the ‘90s and as such, its contributions to the genre cannot be discounted.
3. Is It A Good Entry Point For Beginners?
This one is a bit harder to judge. Like I mentioned, there are moments sprinkled throughout where you can hear something really special happening. It should be mentioned, however, that the vocals could come off as incredibly aggressive-Anders Friden growls and croaks his way through essentially the entire album and newer listeners might have trouble reconciling them with the melodies. Likewise, there’s a chance that the more standard-issue songs could turn listeners off, since it might force one to consider, “If this is what the masterpieces sound like, what passes for ‘shit’ in this genre?” An ability to distinguish the inspired from the mediocre is needed to appreciate some of this album, which isn’t an ability a lot of new listeners have when it comes to metal(I know I certainly didn’t when I first got into the genre).
So you could run into problems if The Jester Race was your very first experience with metal, but if this was among at least the first ten I would trust a new listener to figure out for themselves what works and what doesn’t.