Over the years, guitarist Niclas Engelin has dipped in and out of Swedish metal giants, In Flames, but right now he’s very much ‘in’. A year of almost constant touring throughout 2017 followed an equally busy 2016; which also saw the release of the band’s twelfth studio album, Battles, last November.
As the band hit the UK for a string of date in December, VH’s Katia talked to Engelin about what it was like to tour with a string quartet, the making of Battles and, more importantly, he explained the reason why everyone in Sweden is a musician…
The recording of the last album happened in quite unusual conditions for In Flames (Battles, was recorded in California with producer Howard Benson). Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
For us, it was really unusual indeed. It was just splendid. Being able to record during summertime, I mean it wasn’t Summer in February/March but for us Scandinavians, it was. Let’s get the barbecue going, a couple of beers, and we can make music and record! It kind of gave an uplifting feel to the album.
You worked with a new producer on this album. How did that decision come about?
We always want to explore, to be diverse and be on the move all the time. We recorded Siren Charms in Berlin, with the producer Roberto Laghi. We worked with him on 3 albums. That album is recorded during the gloomiest time, in November and December. We recorded at Hansa studio in Berlin which is 200 meters away from the Wall, so there’s a lot of history. I think that it reflected a little bit on that album, because it is a little bit melancholic, dark, but this one was totally the opposite. We went to L.A, California – this is almost our Van Halen album! Then we worked with Howard Benson for the first time. We had conversations with him before, we talked about music and how we wanted to do this. He is such an experienced and really great producer. So it was very inspirational to be around him. That goes for Mike Plotnikoff as well, who is a really good producer.
Do you think that you want to work in the same conditions again for the next album?
We haven’t planned it yet, but if you look at the history of In Flames, you know that it’s going to be an In Flames album – it’s going to be raw riffage. You’ll have the melody on the guitars and the screaming. But the question always is, in what kind of way do we present it? And that’s always interesting.
I know that In Flames recently toured with a string quartet. Tell us a little bit more about this!
Yes, we went on tour with a string quartet and it was just one of the most amazing experience ever. Unfortunately, we didn’t do any shows in the U.K. It was mainly Scandinavia and mainland Europe. It was incredibly cool and something that I would love to do again. Those musicians are so talented, you know? They are the proper musicians! And when they think of music, they think it’s wider. They are more open minded, whereas in the heavy metal community – it’s rather more sectarian. More like” Yeah man, Judas Priest, yeahhhhhh!!!” (clenches fist and makes horn sign).
The string quartet added so much to our music. Sometimes, after the shows, we would hang out and we would be just throwing songs at them. Asking them – “Do you know this song?”, “Yeah, of course!”, and then they would just play it. I was throwing a song by John English, ‘Six Ribbons’, and they just nailed it, straight away.
I know that you are involved in another band. How easy is it to combine this with In Flames?
Well, I have a band called Engel, and we are actually recording and mixing a new album called Abandon All Hope, which will be out in the Autumn. In Flames and Engel are two different worlds and bands, with different messages and approach. It’s tons of fun and inspirational to be playing with other musicians.
I always have the impression that everyone in Sweden is a musician. Why is that?
We have this tradition, or at least we used to have it – as they are closing down youth centres – where we had the luxury of hanging out at youth centres and they had instruments all over the place! Bass, drums, whatever you wanted to try. Everyone was really supportive going “yeah, I can teach you how to play guitar! Have a go at it! have you heard this band, Van Halen? Accept?…” So yes, youth centres played a really big part in music being played by so many youngsters in Sweden.
So, how old were you when you started playing?
I started with playing bass. At school, we’d get one hour every Thursday to try out different stuff. That hour was a little bit magic and I tried out the bass. That was soooo good!
You fell in love with it?
Yes, it was amazing. The first song I ever played was ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’!
You’ve travelled all over the place, even Japan. And the metal fan base over there is really quite something!
Yes, that’s true! You know, we are really lucky and thankful to be doing this.
You are quite an influence on younger musicians, that must feel quite special.
I have to pinch myself. I’m such a lucky guy!
In Flames will be in the UK this December:
17/12 – Birmingham, BCA.
18/12 – Glasgow, Hydro.
20/12 – Leeds, First Direct Arena.
21/12 – London, Wembley Arena.