It’s been almost two weeks since this story first broke, but for those who haven’t heard yet, Jesper Strömblad has officially quit In Flames. Strömblad, the last founding member of the band’s lineup, announced that he was leaving the band on February 12th, to “defeat his demons once and for all.”
This news comes as a shock to maybe four people in the metal community. For those keeping track, Strömblad missed over half of the band’s touring cycle last year to spend time in rehab for alcohol abuse. His problems with addiction have plagued the band on and off for over three years now, and fans have gotten more used to seeing Niclas Engelin, Strömblad’s replacement on several tours, than seeing Strömblad himself.
Nevertheless, it is a shame to see Strömblad leave the band. He was a huge part of the band’s creative force throughout their career, and he was one of the musicians that helped pioneer the Gothenburg sound before it became popular worldwide. In Flames weathered the difficulties of their early career because of his desire to succeed with their music. Jesper Strömblad will be missed in the metal scene, and I hope he is able to conquer his addictions and return to a normal life in time.
For fans of In Flames, the question now becomes, what will the band do on their next album? The logical choice would be to make Niclas Engelin a permanent member of the band. However, he has his own band, Engel, that is working on its second album right now, and it is unlikely that Engelin will abandon that project or put it on hold while he is part of In Flames. Without a doubt, In Flames have one of the most intense touring schedules of any band worldwide, touring multiple countries each year and taking part in festivals quite often. Whoever the band gets as their new guitarist, that person will need to be almost entirely focused on In Flames.
Many fans will also be wondering what the band’s new material will sound like when it is released. That question is much more difficult to answer. In the past decade, In Flames has released five albums. Two of them, Clayman and Come Clarity, are favorites of the band’s entire fanbase and have received notable critical acclaim. However, the other three albums are much more polarizing. Reroute to Remain is the album that many of the band’s older fans consider to be the turning point in their sound, where they began to play more mainstream metal that would reach a wider audience. It is enjoyable to some and avoided by others. Soundtrack to Your Escape and A Sense of Purpose are almost universally disliked by the older fans, who condemn the albums as sellout pieces aimed at emo and post-hardcore fans.
All five of these albums credit the compositions to Strömblad, Björn Gelotte, and Anders Fridén (with the exception of Clayman, which is credited to Strömblad and Gelotte alone). It is unclear, though, how much was written by Strömblad and what parts were his. In Flames will likely continue to be unpredictable with their music for the time being. The only thing that might serve as a predicting factor is who Strömblad’s replacement is. Fans will be able to tell what style the new guitarist has and what they can bring to the table by their previous work, unless the band decides to bring in a completely unknown musician. If that is the case, fans will just have to wait and see.
Again, though, the thoughts of all In Flames fans are with Jesper Strömblad as he fights through his substance abuse and tries to take back control of his life. We’re all pulling for you, Jesper. Best of luck.