VERSUS: The Gallery vs. The Jester Race

VERSUS: The Gallery vs. The Jester Race

Welcome to Versus. The series where we look at two albums in metal history, compare them, and see which one was the better record.

In this edition of Versus, we are tackling the melodic death metal sound made popular by two of the biggest acts to come out of the scene. Two bands, who switched vocalists and made their debuts on each other's band's second albums. Both bands are defining names in the melodic death metal sound. One would continue the melodic death metal, but begin to push the sound by adding progressive elements and experimentation. The other, a band that is now known for an alternative fusion of the genre, but got their origins with one of the most well-known releases. So let's analysis these two legendary bands and the influence these records would leave in their wake in a match-up I'm calling "Crowning The Kings of Gothenburg".

In this corner, we have Dark Tranquillity with the band's second album, 1995's The Gallery. This would be the debut of new vocalist Mikael Stanne, who was the former vocalist of In Flames, appearing on the band's debut album Lunar Strain. The album would be hailed as a defining record in the Gothenburg sound, along with At The Gates' Slaughter of The Soul and their opponent's second record. With such power and sophistication, the album would push the band into one of the most recognizable names in the Swedish melodic death metal sound. Let's breakdown this classic melo-death album and see what it brings to the matchup.

The album opens with "Punish My Heaven". With dueling guitars by Fredrik Johansson & Niklas Sundin, the song starts with a strong reverbed heavy guitar piece. With Anders Jivarp's aggressive drumming behind it, the song starts off fast and heavy. Martin Henriksson's bass highs pop, as an almost counter melody, to the aggressive and fast guitar playing. Vocalist Mikael Stanne's snarling growls have so much grit to it and fits the song's motif. I like the slow-down tempo change at the halfway mark, almost sounding like traditional heavy metal with the build up, clean vocals and emotional guitar solo. You hear the anguishing growl vocals in Stanne's voice before the dueling and acoustic guitars join around the three quarters mark. Strong, complex, progressive melodic death metal. A heavy and diverse opening track. On "Silence, and The Firmament Withdrew". the track has a mid-tempo opening feel, with little flurries of speed up, but then returning to a slower pace. I adore the slower pace feel of the song. Along with the guitars having that trademark Gothenburg sound the genre is famous for. Henriksson's bass pokes through during the dueling guitars as Stanne's vocals get layered with harmonies and ferocity at the same time. Following that is "Edenspring". With opening drums by Jivarp and bass by Henriksson, it transitions beautifully into atmospheric guitars. Then, with a snarling scream by Stanne, the pacing picks up and the song's intensity amps up throughout the track. I love how Dark Tranquillity play around with progressive metal in their death metal. With the addition of piano on the track, the start/stop pacing, and the transitioning of guitar heaviness to emotional soloing and back, is just top-notch on this album.

"The Dividing Line" has an almost guttural growl into a banshee like shriek in the opening. With guitar and bass blending well together, into a bouncy drum section in the opening. The song has an almost classic heavy metal sound to the playing and tone of the guitars. Stanne just pushes himself vocally, with each verse section giving a more snarling, phlegm inducing growl or shriek. The progressive metal elements showcase on this song. With such complex and unique pacing, and transitioning from aggressive guitar, to atmospheric guitars, into black metal tremolo playing. The song is just a sonic journey through the whole five minutes. Following that song is the album's title track. With an angelic opening acoustic guitar and accompanying bass, the song picks up with the drumming. Henriksson's bass adds accenting and pulse to the track as the song's aggressive side begins to rise. Another track with snarling and visceral fury on the verses, with returns to the acoustic section and female vocals by Eva-Marie Larsson. Giving off a diverse and unique vocal delivery of harmony and distortion in the vocals between Stanne & Larsson.

On "The One Brooding Warning", the drums strike hard and fast, with tremolo like guitars behind it. I love the chugging guitars, into complex fretboard hopping playing, accompanied by double bass behind it. Creating a great rhythm section of Henriksson & Jivarp. This track really showcases that Gothenburg sound in the verse and chorus. The aggression in the vocals, the guitar harmonies and dueling throughout it, and then the unique guitars with bouncing bass and drums behind it. "Midway Through Infinity" goes full speed with the opening drums and guitar. Jivarp's blast beats in the opening and throughout the verse section is top-notch. Johansson & Sundin bounce off each other really well. Sharing the dueling leads and not dominating one over the other with solos or over-soloing longer than needed. Jivarp's drum mix on the track is so good, and I love the double bass punching behind the guitar solo a little after the halfway mark. "Lethe" opens with a dark guitar passage. With heavy bass hums interspersed in the intro, it adds depth and a feeling of sorrow and loneliness. Then, the band kicks in before the halfway mark, and the energy turns to aggressive & anguish in the vocals and sound of the guitars. Stanne's vocals seems like regretful, emotional pleading in his delivery, which fits the aura and feel of the track so well. His vocals begin to almost become unhinged and unintelligible near the end of the track, which again adds emotion and dynamics to the song's already remorseful feel.

"The Emptiness From Which I Fed" starts off blasting with drums and faster up-tempo guitar playing. The fury and intensity in the playing is a stark contrast from the previous track. Sounding like the band went from the depths of depression of the previous song, to furious and pissed off with this one. Progressive elements being to show themselves again, especially during the spoken word section before the half way mark. The band's musicianship is strong when they dive into those progressive waters. A simple, but beautiful acoustic guitar piece, starts at the halfway mark. Building back into the burgeoning fury of the band. Bringing the aggression back to the front in it's intensity and pacing. This is my favorite track off the album, We get an instrumental track "Mine is The Grandeur..." next. A nice, dueling acoustic guitar opens the track with light drum accents behind it. The addition of a timpani drum being played behind it, adds a theatrical element to the track. Painting a picture of war with the driving and pound drum while also seeing the sadness and death of war with the acoustic guitars. We then get the album's closer "...of Melancholy Burning". With drum builds and ringing distortion, the riff is simple but heavy, with the accenting double bass and drum fills underneath it. I love the guitars dropping during the verse to let Stanne's vocals shine and show his vocal delivery off. Larsson returns on the track, but her vocals are more intense, delivering a call-to-arms vocal delivery before Stanne joins behind her. Creating what I call "harsh harmonies", his gravelly growling harmonizing with her clean vocals. A very strong closing track to a very progressive twist on the burgeoning melodic death metal sound.

In the opposite corner, we have fellow countrymen In Flames with the band's second album, 1996's The Jester Race. This would mark the debut of new vocalist Anders Fridén, the former vocalist of Dark Tranquillity and appeared on the band's debut album Skydancer. Kind of a fun fact that both vocalists made their debuts on their opponent's second album. With the dual guitar leads, growled vocals and acoustic guitar sections, it became a landmark release in the melodic death metal genre. Putting In Flames as almost the leading band of the genre. Does this album stack up against it's opponent in it's race to the finish line?

Album opener "Moonshield" opens with acoustic guitars and a pulsing kick drum. As the dueling acoustic guitars of Jesper Strömblad & Glenn Ljungström build, the song kicks in with heavily distorted guitars. Johan Larsson's bass brings a deep groove to the guitars as vocalist Anders Fridén's growls are deep. Deeper than what they would sound like in later releases. In the mix, his vocals are a little lower in the mix. With the band being more front and center. Drummer Björn Gelotte adds nice fills, adding on to the guitar harmonies at just the right timing. Especially adding some power behind the acoustic parts after the halfway mark. Following that track is "The Jester's Dance". An instrumental track, the opening bass with ringing clean guitar tones, sound so good drenched in reverb and chorus. The dueling harmonies and tone of the guitars sound so good when the song's heaviness and pacing picks up. "Artifacts of The Black Rain" opens with pummeling double bass and a driving guitar. Fridén's vocals are higher up in the mix so they aren't as buried in the mix, behind the band. I love the riff, it's very catchy and the double bass hits so good on the breaks between verses. The riff change into the bridge after the halfway mark, with the galloping guitar sound, is so heavy. Sounding like a chuggier Iron Maiden riff and I dig it.

"Graveland" starts with a pounding drum and lo-fi guitar mix before everything comes full energy. THIS is what classic In Flames does so well. Defining the Gothenburg sound in this track. From the simple but pounding drums, to aggressive and fast-paced, fretboard hopping guitars. The simplicity of the guitars in the chorus, along with the building that they do add so much. It is high octane and shows the evolution of death metal into its melodic form. "Lord Hypnos" starts with the same high-energy guitar tone. Fridén's vocals sound more unhinged, sounding deeper and more out of control as it goes further into the song. The sudden musical drop, around the halfway mark, into an acoustic section and then merging into the electric guitars, is a nice change of pace. The run to the finish line, with the lead guitars in the background hit so well. "Dead Eternity" rings with pounding blast beats, matched with up-tempo, fast-paced guitar. The ominous spoken-word, with underlying guitars, into the high shrieks, hits so good and gave me goosebumps when the growl started. Vocal harmonies are awesome on the track around the halfway mark and add more force and fury to Fridén's vocals. The riff instantly makes me wanna bang my head along, especially going into the faster, on-the-verge of blast beat drum section.

Now is the album's title track. With driving drums front and center by Gelotte, along with clean atmospheric guitars, the song kicks off with a chugging riff behind it, with accenting double bass. I love the pacing of the song, picking up as it goes along further. Larsson's bass beneath the guitar adds a gurgle and groove to the riff, in an almost counter-melody but works with the riff. Strömblad & Ljungström work so well on the track. Bouncing off each other with harmony sections and leads throughout. Fridén has more oomph in his vocals on the track, even in the guttural delivery. It still sounds strong and amplified in layered sections and along with the bounce of the riff. I also LOVE the guitar solo near the close of the track. My favorite track off the album. "December Flower" has that aggressive and pummeling drum opening. Matched with the riff machines Strömblad & Ljungström delivering that melo-death guitar tone and playing. A style that would inspire countless metalcore and melo-death bands following the release of this album. I love the guitar solo and the guitar tone on the track. Almost adding an 80's style sound, mixed with the harsher chugging guitar riff beneath it. A unique blend, which I dig on the track. Gelotte is just relentless on the drums.

With the instrumental "Wayfaerer", it has a more mid-tempo riff opening with a pulsing drum behind it. Larsson's bass adds depth to the guitar section and more power behind them. Strömblad & Ljungström lead the charge on the track, front and center throughout. I love the wailing keyboard section on the track with the chugging guitar riff beneath it. VERY early Children of Bodom feel to it. The riff turns to an almost 80's metal sounding track. With higher notes, pulsing bass and drums, and a more upbeat tone and attitude in the playing. It has a more lighter sound and tone to it, though different from the rest of the album, is actually really good. The song returns to the chuggy melo-death riff and ringing keyboards towards the close. Album closer "Dead God in Me" brings back that ferocity of early melo-death. Snarling, gritty vocals and a chugging guitar into dueling harmonies. The song has a traditional death metal sound around the minute mark. More tremolo-like, early death metal guitar playing and blasting drums behind it. I love the building drums behind the riff change. With almost arena rock sounding guitar playing, the song turns and goes into the melodic as the guitar solo begins. An aggressive track and a strong closer to a classic in melodic death metal.

After listening to these melo-death classics, which one stands on top of the mountain as the winner and Kings of Gothenburg? This is a real tough one. I love the progressive melodic death metal sound that The Gallery delivers. But, I also love the more straight-forward sound and guitar playing of The Jester Race. After deep thinking and a re-listen, I will pick The Gallery as the winner of this matchup in a VERY close margin. The Gallery is a stronger record. When Dark Tranquillity tried the progressive elements, they nail it and when pushing further into the song or the album as a whole, it was done perfectly. On The Jester Race, In Flames did deliver a good record, but I think there were issues with the mix with some examples where the band was louder then Fridén. The guitars were trademark melodic death metal and had a lot of catchy, earworm riffs. This is my opinion, but I think The Jester Race is not as a good as everyone says it is, maybe dare I say, overrated? I feel the following records were better and more perfected, more influential then The Jester Race. This album walked so Whoracle, Colony and Clayman could run. This was a close matchup and I can see the influence both band's had with this album, but I would choose The Gallery as the winner today.  

Dark Tranquillity would have a strong and successful career. The band would become more popular with successful albums Damage Done in 2002 and Character in 2005. Both receiving positive reviews and would become some of the band's best material since their early records. The band's most recent album is 2020's Moment. The band is set to release their thirteenth album Endtime Signals on August 16th through Century Media Records.

Stanne has a side project featuring former In Flames members Jesper Strömblad & Niclas Engelin on guitars, Daniel Svensson on drums and Peter Iwers on bass. Forming the melodic death metal band The Halo Effect. The band released their debut album Days of The Lost in 2022. They are currently working on a second album with a 2024 release date, but no title or release date has been announced at the time of writing.

In Flames would follow up The Jester Race with back to back successful follow-up albums with Whoracle in 1997 and Colony in 1999. With their sixth album Reroute To Remain, the band would begin to shift their sound to a more accessible sound. Infusing alternative metal, along with more clean vocals, into the band's melodic death metal sound. The band would continue this trend for many albums following the release of the album. The band's most recent record, 2023's Foregone, showed the band return to the melodic death metal sound they made famous and received critical acclaim. Making countless best of 2023 lists.

Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won? Cast your vote on the poll below, leave your comments on our social media, and list your suggestions who you think should step in the ring next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.

VERSUS: The Gallery vs. The Jester Race - Online Poll - StrawPoll
What’s your opinion? Vote now: The Gallery, The Jester Race…

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