The umlaut report

Sacramento hasn’t caught on to the power-metal wave that includes Iced Earth and In Flames. Perhaps that’s why this colossal package tour skipped the Valley and chose San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall as its only Northern California date. Even on a cold Monday night, bad tour routing couldn’t keep the throngs of metalheads from traveling from the South Bay and Sacramento to catch the night’s headliners.

Although Göteborg, Sweden-based In Flames was second-billed to Iced Earth, the band clearly was the night’s draw. Not only did it debut tunes from its latest studio effort Clayman, but rarities from its 1997 album Jester Race made their way into the set list too. What separates In Flames from its metal brethren is its ability to blend melodic vocals with fierce, commandeering screams. From the opening track, “Bullet Ride,” to the night’s pinnacle, “Colony,” this five-piece showed why it’s the Nuclear Blast America label’s biggest priority. My favorite track from Whoracle, the epic “Episode 666,” even made it onto the set list, which spanned In Flames’ 12-year history.

What In Flames serves up is a sonic bath that falls somewhere between Iron Maiden and early At the Gates. On this night, frontman Anders Fridén resembled a younger Bruce Dickinson as he paraded around the Great American’s highly decorated stage. Much like the Iron Maiden configuration circa Number of the Beast, drummer Daniel Svensson and bassist Peter Iwers have become quite the capable rhythm section underneath the heavy-handed dual-guitar leads of Jesper Strömblad and Björn Gelotte.

Headliner Iced Earth, which hails from the United States, began its set with a special tribute to the U.S., with vocalist Matthew Barlow holding the American flag high. With patriotism and reverence in effect, Iced Earth launched into material from its Century Media catalog, playing for an hour and 45 minutes. But an hour into such Jon Schaffer-penned staples as “Horror Show,” “Dark Saga” and “Burnt Offerings,” it was time to take a breather.

Outside, members of Dragonlord, who live here in the Sacramento Valley, coerced me into In Flames’ tour bus, where the Swedish band played nine tracks from its forthcoming album, due in August. Surrounded by Fridén, Svensson and their label reps and touring entourage, my friend and I were able to experience the unmixed versions of the next chapter in the In Flames saga. Fridén talked about the recording process, his band’s upcoming U.S. tour with Slayer, Soulfly and Killswitch Engage, along with various bullshit.

Clearly, In Flames’ undertaking of the U.S. was proof positive that the band does have staying power, and will become the inheritors of the metal crown come 2003.