The band's fourteenth studio album is all-encompassing and ripe for immersion.
Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):
It's release week for Foregone — the fourteenth album by way of Sweden's In Flames, who instead of remaining comfortable with a melodic death metal legacy forged by its trailblazing songcraft continue to stretch the confines of their sonic moniker. Foregone is truly that, a boundless extension of their intentional composition, bridging crushing extremity with serene passages and influence. Beyond the comprehensive listen that the album sets forth is the artistry of Blake Armstrong (Spaceboy Comics). who again delivers big with a cover intersectional with the material within it. Armstrong has helped develop the contemporary In Flames visual identity from the moment the collaboration began on 2014's Siren Charms. Since then, In Flames frontman Anders Fridén and Blake further solidified their partnership with Battles (2016) and I, The Mask (2019), leading up to what is now their most grandiose endeavor — Foregone.
We sat down with Anders and Blake just prior to the band's co-headlining performance with Meshuggah in October 2022 at the Hollywood Palladium, and got a chance to dive deep into the album's audiovisual making, which was largely a seamless process. "We have a history of getting the business done," says Anders. "Blake understands me and my lyrics, and takes it even further, which is very important. I remember being in the booth recording vocals and telling my producers that I had to call Blake and talk about particular lines and themes, which would inspire me to write more. I value that so much in our relationship. He's my friend, a really good friend."
Anders continues, "We were talking all the time about it. We collaborated on the concepts and created a story, a vibe. Initially, there was between five or ten covers that we cycled through before we ended up where we are now. I want listeners to dive deep into it because that's how I did it. When I was younger, I absorbed the music and it made the whole thing greater to me. It's an ongoing dialogue." The partnership here is more than a commercial, transactional one of simply paying an artist to perform a job. It's fruitful and goes both ways as they inform one another's work throughout the development cycle.
"'I, The Mask' was where we hit the sweet spot," adds Blake.
"I'll come to Anders and he'll tell me a theme, then I'll come at him with an artwork pretty much finished, and that'll spark something new." Anders and Blake have simply found a rhythm that works, but the dynamics are unique to each album cycle given the mental state of mind surrounding Anders and the band at the time. There's a certain connotation that one gets from color palette and symbols, and Foregone treads down similar lines to that of its predecessor.
"Tonality is key, and obviously, the record before this one was such a fucking heavy record," says Blake. "For 'Foregone', we wanted to go darker, heavier. We needed visuals that were going to support it all. Anders and I share the same love of flipping through a vinyl shop, seeing a cover, and having it take you somewhere. When you hear this music and you look at this cover and you look at the artwork inside, we want it to be a complete experience." Foregone is far from linear and encourages repeated listens, listens best felt when holding on to the art on display. A notable characteristic about Blake's In Flames covers is that they're from direct, encouraging a deeper look as they're not quite understood at a surface level, and rightfully so. Foregone is no different as its ambiguous creative direction grasps onto the viewer as the band's Jesterhead figure stares down on souls marching into systematic oppression.
In Flames give viewers only a piece of the puzzle, encouraging viewers to complete it through their own unique interpretation. That's the beauty of art. Blake mentions, "We talk very deep about the story through the visuals, but we're not trying to shove anything down anyone's throat. We want everyone to put themselves in the music, we want Anders' poetry to be their poetry, and I want my visuals to hopefully share in that experience." Foregone definitely excels in its accessibility.
When approaching the visual direction for a new album, some bands have a clear idea on what they'd like envisioned whereas others allow an organic exchange of ideas to pave the path towards a materialized being. As Anders would write lyrics, they were sent over to Blake for creative interpretation, and vice versa. "It was very organic and there were really no deadlines," says Blake. "We just kept a creative riff going. I don't have that same rapport with other bands I work with. It's kind of a special thing that In Flames and I have. We've definitely cultivated a friendship and trust, which makes the process insanely fun and rewarding, but we never lose sight of the herculean task of creating a world for the listener to visit. Every album brings a new set of challenges in trying to set a new bar, but I think that like any good team, we work together to achieve the best result. It's always about doing something better and different than the last time, which is pretty tough but always generates the best result. We only ever want to make something we, as fans ourselves, would be stoked to have on our wall." I'd agree from just sitting backstage and sharing this moment with both that Foregone, as well as any of their previous collaborations, was rooted in honest camaraderie.
"We actually came up for the album title in my kitchen. We poured a glass of whiskey and just began thinking of what it could be," adds Anders. "We went back and forth and 'Foregone' just lingered with us as the title. It felt right. I wish we could do this more."
Blake feels the same way about the In Flames partnership, which as mentioned, is unlike any of his other projects. "I do art posters professionally and have relationships with a lot of different people, different studios and whatnot, but there's nothing quite the same as this." Foregone is simply the culmination of years of growth for both parties respectively, and the end result is one worth basking in. He continues, "These are the best visuals we've done so far for this band. I mean every album we do together is my favorite album, but this one was absolutely unbelievable." Though that statement is subjective, what's not is the fact that the covers have remained a feat to be appreciated. Every inch of detail invested into Jesterhead's evolution, as well as the figure's surrounding environment, is staggering.
Speaking of the Jesterhead mascot, he's at is at his most menacing form here, faceless and looking down on the vulnerable as a sort of father of time. "Before anything was written or drawn I think the consensus among everyone was that this was going to be dark and heavy," says Blake. "We were separated by the pandemic for almost 3 years and all of that frustration and hunger really fed into what this album became. From my perspective, 'I, The Mask' had an almost thematic innocence to it that the Jesterboy represented — a small figure that dresses like a monster and wears a mask, almost akin to "Where The Wild Things Are". With 'Foregone', this Jester is the monster he appears to be. The Jesterboy is almost like a little hero, and this Jester could be a villain." Whatever your interpretation of the Jesterhead may be, it serves as a strong visual representation for the band, as well as Eddie did for Iron Maiden or Vic Rattlehead did for Megadeth.
These creative decisions all stems from a tight-knit, insular creative process that then turns outward. The catharsis felt as you see the music and art roll out to the world is profound. There's a sense of detachment, and for some, the perspective changes as one is no longer in the same emotional state from when it all began. The album, along with its lyrics and its artwork, is now in the hands of an audience keen for immersion. "We left everything on the table and the response has been so positive. This is all you can hope for," says Anders. The roaring response to the band's crushing hymns solidified the record's anticipation. Riffs flew and the venue turned electric as the band soared high.
Time is a central theme for Foregone, as evident from the notable cogs turning in the background, Jesterhead holding the stopwatches, the hourglass on the merch design, and the facial clock on the single artwork for The Great Deceiver. There's a variety of external elements that informed Blake's compositional approach to the lyrical and conceptual themes presented by Anders. "I think time has been on everyone's mind these last few years for obvious reasons, so it's not the most outlandish theme to embrace," Blake states. "We've all lost time with family, with ourselves, rarely in the last few decades has there been such a collective sharing of experience. And with all of that living in the back of my head I wanted to create something that, to me, visually represented that darkness and that loss. Sometimes, the lyrics have a direct impact and sometimes it's more surreal or enigmatic. I think if anyone hears the record, reads the lyrics and looks at the art they will definitely find something there that they wouldn't have seen otherwise. It's truly meant to be an experience." Foregone is best felt in harmony with its visuals for it completes the narrative told in blood-curling growls and cleans throughout its 12 offerings.
"There's something special about this, especially after that two year break with COVID where people suffered all over the world. I've been touring a touring musician my whole life and it's something that is basically my family's livelihood. You can take things for granted, so coming into this album was something even greater. To be where we are now, sitting and talking about the album, is great. I can't wait to present the whole thing," concludes Anders.
Our conversation might have been brief, but what was taken from it spans years of progress among two extraordinary talents in their respective fields. What Anders and Blake have built is few and far between, and something that will continue to yield magnificent audiovisuals for a discography that will go down among the best in metal's history.
We stepped out into the arena floor to allow for the band to run through warmups, and stood in anticipation of what was a momentous career spanning In Flames performance to follow. Foregone got its live debut throughout the North American trek, and proved to be a defining record welcome to all, regardless of where one stands in the metal spectrum. The facial expressions, joyous persona, and vivid lighting rigs present in the below photo gallery of the performance do little justice to the band's live delivery of material both new and cemented. Foregone is here to reign, and that it will do.
Foregone arrives February 10th via Nuclear Blast Records (Order).