Ask your average Joe about Gothenburg and they wouldn’t have much to say. It’s a Swedish city that’s home to some 500,000 people and countless examples of piercing Scandinavian architecture. Ask a metalhead about Gothenburg and they’ll hail it as the land of melodic death metal: the genre that bridged death metal’s extremities with the guitar-god flamboyance of Iron Maiden, and ultimately inspired world-conquering titans like Killswitch Engage and Trivium.
“Gothenburg is a pretty small city,” says Mikael Stanne. “And the metal community there was tiny. Everybody knew everybody else. There were two record stores where you’d have to wait for them to import whatever album you wanted. Nobody knew, or expected, that anything like what happened there would happen.”
Mikael wasn’t just there when the genre got off the ground. He pioneered it, both as the vocalist of scene idols In Flames and the guitarist, later also frontman, of Dark Tranquillity: a band he’s now led for more than 30 years.
Mikael’s new band, The Halo Effect, is an unabashed celebration of the scene he grew up in. Every member – Mikael, guitarists Jesper Strömblad and Niclas Engelin, bassist Peter Iwers and drummer Daniel Svensson – is a Gothenburg veteran with a tenure in In Flames and their debut album, Days Of The Lost, is no-frills melodeath. Over 10 songs, it flaunts all the shreds and growled yet infectious choruses that these men used three decades ago to put the world on notice.
“We are a band of our own in a world of our own,” declares Niclas. “When we started [The Halo Effect], we knew we wanted to do this, but what kind of music do we have in us? Should we go prog-ish and weird? Then Peter came up with the riff for Gateways, which I developed into a song, and we went, ‘Hey, this is quite familiar.’ We didn’t overthink stuff; we just went with the flow and didn’t stop that train of inspiration.”
Individually, The Halo Effect’s members have known each other forever. Mikael met Niclas in 1991, when the singer was in an outfit called Septic Broiler and supported the guitarist’s teenage band, Sarcazm, at a local club. Niclas and Jesper started their first band together in high school, Mikael and Daniel were classmates, and Mikael met Peter through his older brother: ex-Dark Tranquillity bassist Anders Iwers. However, this band didn’t kick off until 2019. Peter and Daniel started jamming together in their downtime, before inviting Niclas to join them. Niclas then got Mikael involved.
“We started talking, like, ‘Hey, we should do something together,’ like you do after a few beers,” smiles Mikael. “Then you realise that, of course, you don’t have time for anything like that, but it still sounds fun. But I was in, because I was really in writing mode. I was just finishing all the lyrics for the latest DT album [2020’s Moment]. I was sitting here writing anyway and screaming into a microphone, so I was like, ‘Yeah, send me some stuff and I’ll see what I can do.’”
Lyrically, Mikael took inspiration for Days Of The Lost from the other members of the band. Throughout the album, he roars about the collective’s near-lifelong relationship with metal. Themes range from the moment heavy music first inspired them as teenagers to the throes of band in-fighting and line-up changes that they’ve had to endure to keep the dream alive.
“It’s everything we’ve talked about and experienced over the years,” he elaborates. “What was it about this subculture and this community that was so attractive and meaningful to us? We were just weirdos trying to find our way and, eventually, metal found us. But then the album also deals with when communication breaks down: when two parties want the exact same thing, but you have totally different ideas on how to get there. That’s happened to all of us, butting heads with another creative person.”
With every member of The Halo Effect having left In Flames, it’s an idea that they’re all familiar with. It’s freshest for Niclas, whose status with the band is still up in the air. He took a leave of absence in February 2019 and has yet to return, with ex-Megadeth guitarist Chris Broderick replacing him first on the road, as well as on new single State Of Slow Decay.
Niclas refuses to clarify whether or not he’s still in the band when we ask him. In fact, talk about In Flames whatsoever seems to be keenly avoided. Watch the YouTube video for Shadowminds and underneath you’ll find a torrent of comments comparing the two bands.
“More In Flames members than In Flames themselves. Incredible,” one writes. Another says: “Finally! An album by In Flames! We haven’t had one since Clayman.” “Everybody has an opinion,” Mikael diplomatically responds, “and that’s awesome! I have no problem at all, as long as people are civil. All the negative comments on Blabbermouth and YouTube, I don’t like those.”
The Halo Effect’s stock is already sky-high, with Shadowminds boasting 2 million streams and the band smashed a UK run with Machine Head and Amon Amarth in arenas earlier this year. Mikael insists, “We’re gonna make this band work.” Good. Thanks to a mix of pedigree, stellar songs and a supersized tour on the horizon, The Halo Effect are the most talked-about melodeath band since the golden age of Gothenburg.
Days Of The Lost is out now via Nuclear Blast