Talking Metal Gear with Björn Gelotte of In Flames

Swedish metallers In Flames blend high-power brutality with more tuneful elements, all centering around the songwriting instinct and soaring guitar playing of Björn Gelotte. The five-piece melodic death metal band will release its 11th studio album, “Siren Charms,” on Sept. 5, and on it, fans will find an imaginative collection of songs that epitomizes the classic Göthenburg sound.

On tour, Gelotte keeps things simple, rig-wise. He takes just a few of his beloved Les Paul Customs on the road, coupled with a Marshall JCM800, a VooDoo Lab Ground Control Pro and a few key extras.

Amid a busy press day, Gelotte chatted with about the new album, In Flames’ onstage setup and why his guitar playing comes straight from the heart.

Reverb: Is your go-to guitar still a Gibson Les Paul Custom with the EMG 81/85 combo?

Björn Gelotte: Yeah, totally. My Black Beauty. Actually, the first one that I got, I retired it. It’s done 1,500 shows plus, so it’s very banged up, so I’m sad about that. But, I have other Black Beauty guitars, as well. I think there’s a ‘57 reissue and a ‘59 reissue. Really, really nice ones. I have those EMG pickups in there, so you’re always going to know what you’re going to get. Even if there’s bad power onstage or you don’t really know what atmosphere you’re going to get, you can rely on that: EMG 81/85. It’s a very classic setup. I think it’s the same setup that Zakk Wylde uses, and most guitarists that I know who play the same kind of music and tour a lot prefer that.

R: What’s In Flames’ amp/cab setup onstage?

BG: I use a Marshall JCM800, and it’s got an extra circuit in there with extra distortion, a built-in gate and built-in delay and reverb. I usually have that for the leads to boost them a little bit. I want to keep it very simple. The fewer things you have that can mess up when you’re live, the better. It’s easy and manageable for my guitar tech, so I think he likes that about me! For a pedalboard, I use a VooDoo Lab Ground Control Pro with a MIDI foot controller, so it’s very easy to program and sturdy, so it’s good for live use. I have a Dunlop 95Q Wah in there that’s always connected and a Carbon Copy delay.

R: What constitutes good guitar tone?

BG: I like a lot of mids—not the high mids but the mid-mids, because that’s where most of the tone is, I think. I don’t know about frequencies, but I don’t like the really high mids, because it creates a glassy crunch that I don’t like and eats away from the sustain. I like it a little bit softer, especially when I do the leads. I like the Wah, because I can control the mids, when it comes to leads. When it comes to distorted rhythm parts, the less gain, the better, but you still need to have sustain. You can’t die too soon. You need the sound to be fat. Since we tune down so much, it gets muddy with too much distortion or gain. You need to sound like a guitar, not like industrial equipment.

R: What was the catalyst to get In Flames together to release your upcoming album, “Siren Charms?”

BG: It’s the same lineup we’ve had now for five or six years, and we’ve tried to keep a steady pace when comes to touring and recording and have the same kind of length on the touring cycle. Most of the time, I feel like making a record is just an excuse to get out and be able to tour! That’s where we really enjoy ourselves, and that’s where we’re really the best: live. So, I just have some riffs and melodies and put together rough ideas for songs and show the other guys, and we start bouncing off arrangements, and everything goes from there. I think music is always in my head. I come up with beats and melodies all the time. For me, it’s a matter of catching those ideas and trying to rearrange them and recoding them quickly and putting some drums and bass on there and doing a simple arrangement and seeing if it fits. If a song sounds good when you put two or three guitars on there, then you might have something. I collect all that stuff and play it for the guys to see what they think, and most of the time, they agree.

R: In Flames are road warriors. Why do you guys love touring so much?

BG: I don’t know why we love it so much. I think it’s still fun to play live. It’s extremely fun. I think we have more fun the more we do it. I’ve become a better guitar player when I’m on the road, because I play every day. I play for an hour and a half to two hours before a show and then play an hour to an hour and a half during it. On the other hand, when it comes to songwriting, I don’t do anything on the road. I go play a show and kick it with friends; I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. But, I think the members who left the band mainly left because they couldn’t tour. So, we have a bunch of guys now who love touring.

R: Do you have plans to bring “Siren Charms” to the U.S. on tour?

BG: Definitely! It’s not set in stone yet, though. We’ll do the European tour fist, which starts the end of September and goes into November. Then, we’ll go over to Japan to Knotfest, which is going to be fantastic. Then, we’ll see. So, it’s not set in stone, but we plan to be back in the U.S. as soon as possible. I’m really looking forward to playing the songs off the new album live.

R: Do you think guitar playing comes more from your head or heart?

BG: It’s only the heart. I have no proper schooling when it comes to guitar. I play by ear. I don’t read music or know theory, so I have to say, for me, it’s only gut feeling and from the heart. It needs to feel right and good, and you need to get goose bumps and hit that sweet note. I can’t think my way through a song.

Photo by Patric Ullaeus

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