In Flames' first release is certainly an interesting one. While the band are commonly considered to be pioneers of the melodic death sound along with Dark Tranquillity and At the Gates (all Swedish), their early work displayed many other facets that helped to grace the metal world with classy, intelligent death metal. Lunar Strain showcases the band at their most inventive, lacking the fear for experimentation that seems to have dulled their later releases.
After pressing play, the very first thing that enters my mind is Dark Tranquillity. Not only do they have many musical similarities, but Dark Tranquillity's vocalist Mikael Stanne is also present, making the likeness even stronger. In a strange twist of events, In Flames' later vocalist Anders Friden was at the time of this release the vocalist for none other than Dark Tranquillity. Putting the incest-like nature of the bands aside, I'll move on.
The Swedish outfit have generally riff driven tracks, yet are certainly not afraid to bring on some impressive lead-work. It's the melodies that make this album so catchy and it's the variety that allows it to still sound fresh even today. With a female vocal led ballad (Everlost Part II), a ripping thrash track (Upon an Oaken Throne), a doom-driven slab (Everlost Part I) along with their trademark Gothenburg death metal sound mean the listener never gets bored. Even if not everything they attempt on Lunar Strain works completely (the folkish "Hargalaten" a prime example), I still give them a whole lot of marks for effort.
Highlights for me include the album opener "Behind Space", "Everlost Part I" and Upon an Oaken Throne", but there's something here for everyone.
Lunar Strain is by no means their best album, but it's a great introduction to a hugely successful band, and should not be set below their more commercial work that would split their fan-base many years later.