There are not many bands around that have been forced to swallow as much crap from (former) fans like Swedish metal band In Flames. Starting out as a melodic death metal band, the band has gone more and more soft with each album and today, with no original members left at all, there isn’t all that much left of the sound that made them popular back when in the 90’s. There are old fans that actually calls them a pop band today which is preposterous even though signs of pop has been sneaked in on later albums. On the other hand, In Flames has always had songs based on strong melodies and catchy choruses which is pretty pop to me. Since I am not a death metal fan, it’s one sub-genre in metal I have a hard time coping with, I’m not one of the crap throwers – in fact I’m the kind of guy who embraces a more melodic sound instead of growls and screams. I became a fan of In Flames as late as back in 2002 when I first heard the single “Cloud Connected” from their brilliant Reroute To Remain, an album I still hold as their best and when it comes to liking their old material, I don’t go farther back than its predecessor Clayman (2000). Before that album, In Flames were too death metal for my taste.
But I can understand their old fans’ criticism. As a fan, I like my favorite bands to change musically along the way and not make the same album over and over again, but when the identity is changed completely, well that can get on my tits too. The three following albums Soundtrack To Your Escape (2004), Come Clarity (2006) and A Sense Of Purpose (2008) still kept their death metal past present even though they became more and more melodic with each release, but it was with their 2011 album Sounds Of A Playground Fading that the really big change came, a step away from their death metal that was even bigger with their last album Siren Charms (2014). There was still some metal left, but the death was gone without a trace and the band jumped right into slow ballads, pop, rock and even some gothic sounds which made many old fans see red. Now, I liked those albums but even I prefer their older, more groovy stuff and the fact is, In Flames have changed so much ta a name change wouldn’t be completely out-of-order. But the pre-release talk was of the nature of a hardened sound and even though no one spoke the words of back to basics, I guess many In Flames fans hoped that that the new record would be a step back to the old days – at least some.
The album’s opener “Drained” starts quiet and with a spoken word from singer Anders Fridén but it turns heavy pretty soon. The song contains a very strong melody throughout the whole song and the chorus is a plethora of catchiness. Fridén mixes his old screaming with clean vocals which suits the song well – a very good way to start. First single “The End” is really a pop song but it lies on a foundation of heavy metal and aggression. There is a groove that is infectious and the song takes some really rhythmic turns. Add a refrain catchy as can be and voila, we have a winner. “Like Sand” is as much as a ballad that we’ll probably ever get from these guys but since it’s not exactly top 40 radio we’re talking about here, but rather a heavy, dark and quite sinister one, it works all the way. The chorus is almost impossible to let go of once listened to – good job! But when “The Truth” comes along I admit I will eat my words of In Flames not being pop because pop is exactly what this song is. It kicks of like some kind of electronica song but there’s also some metal guitars on it and the mix makes it sound like modern radio rock. It’s not bad at all but it doesn’t sound like In Flames one tiny bit. “In My Room” is a lot harder and the aggressive and screaming vocals brings older In Flames back, but unfortunately, it’s a mediocre song that doesn’t stand out at all. With “Before I Fall” it sure sounds as they are aiming for the air waves, at least at the more modern rock stations. This is total pop-metal and the catchiness is effusive. It’s a really good song with a very strong melody. Things get really heavy again with “Through My Eyes”, a riff-happy metal monster with a saturnine groove and on top they give us a huge pop chorus that you couldn’t get off your brain even with surgery. A favorite on this album.
The title track hits big with a slamming metal groove and a refrain to die for. Sure, it’s pretty radio friendly but to these ears it sounds like a real anthem and my guess is that it will go down like a storm live in the near future. “Here Until Forever” is a rocker but comes with a more ballad-like arrangement and again, the chorus is very much a pop one. The whole tune brings a band like My Chemical Romance to mind and since I really like that band, I also like this song. However, this is In Flames and not MCR and I want In Flames to sound like In Flames. It’s a song that will be under discussion among fans, I guess. “Underneath My Skin” takes a more hard rock road and leaves the metal behind. There’s a pop laden melody throughout the song and even though I find the song ok, it kinda fades into oblivion quite fast. “Wallflower” is another piece that might raise an eyebrow or two. It’s slow, dark and comes with a quite gothic arrangement. There’s also a lot of synthesizers that gives the song a touch of electronica. Again, this is a really good song, but I really don’t hear much In Flames in it. “Save Me” is an uptempo hard rocker that has a striking melody and the chorus is hitty and very catchy. The song is a mix of old In Flames riffing and the latter-day more mainstream metal and it works like a charm. Some editions comes with bonus tracks and the first track, “Greatest Greed”, turns out to be real killer. It’s fast paced. aggressive and hard, but it also has this very catchy chorus and even a “whoa whoa” chant in there which is pretty unexpected – like mixing late 90’s In Flames with a Bon Jovi influence or something. It might sound like sacrilege, but it really works. That last one is called “Us Against The World” and to me, this is a real winner. It’s very In Flames sounding, but the hit laden refrain really sticks and somewhere along the way, it feels like In Flames has found the charm of late 80’s melodic hard rock and brought it into the mix. To me, this is more a future single than a bonus track. It sure is a great way to close and album.
For fans that have hoped that this album would be a big step back to their roots, all I can say is forget about that because it’s not. What it is, though, is a step back into metal and this album is, as far as I’m concerned, the most In Flames sounding record since A Sense Of Purpose. That said, I think the more death metal version of the band is forever gone. Sure, there are quite a lot of times that you can recognize In Flames as such but they have found new ways to go now and I think that is the way they will continue to go in the future. Also, the people they have chosen to work with here are people with no death metal connection at all. Producer Howard Benson, for example, is known for his work with bands such as Bang Tango, My Chemical Romance, Skillet, Daughtry, Kelly Clarkson and Seether – hardly any In Flames like bands and there are also song writers credited on the album such as James Michael (Sixx A.M.) and Bob Marlette (Union, Black Stone Cherry, Alice Cooper and a million others) which gives a nod to where In Flames are musically today. For the more die-hard and conservative fans, this album is just another throwaway, but I do believe that older fans could find a lot of goodies on this album as it is the best album they have released in many years. I looked back on my review for Siren Charms and saw that I gave it a seven which is a t least one point too many. See, I haven’t heard the album in ages and I have no desire to either whereas this album feels much more genuine and I really enjoy the tunes every time I hear them. I’m pretty sure that I will stand by my rating for this album when I start the review for their next record.
Other In Flames reviews:
2. The End
3. Like Sand
4. The Truth
5. In My Room
6. Before I Fall
7. Through My Eyes
9. Here Until Forever
10. Underneath My Skin
12. Save Me
13. Greatest Greed (Bonus Track)
14. Us Against The World (Bonus Track)