IN FLAMES – I, The Mask

Since the last ten years or so, In Flames has turned into one of Sweden’s biggest music exports and when such things happen there’s always a whole lot of talk of selling out and being commercial. Those accusations have been coming In Flames’ way ever since they decided to take their already melodic Death Metal further away from pure Death Metal and adding other influences into the mix. I can understand that a move like that rubs old fans the wrongs way but does that mean that In Flames are selling out? I don’t think they have done so. Commercial? Well, sure but on the other hand, if you sell a lot of records and sell out stadiums, you’re commercial. Genres are never commercial by themselves – if you sell you’re commercial no matter what kind of music you play. Personally, I don’t give a rat. Mostly because I’m not a Death Metal fan to begin with and to me, if a (former) Death Metal band becomes more melodic, thumbs up from me.

So do I dig In Flames “new” style then? Well, both yes and no, I must admit. When it comes to the last three albums Sounds Of A Playground Fading (2011), Siren Charms (2014) and Battles (2016), I thought they were really good at first but that said, I haven’t had any urge to play those records for years now and quite frankly, as I’m writing this, I don’t remember much of them. I guess they’re good while listening but then easily forgotten and I find myself going back to the brilliant Reroute To Remain (2002) or Come Clarity (2006) and A Sense Of Purpose (2008) instead. So the 7’s I gave them at the time might have been a point or two too many. But to my defense, that’s what they felt like at the time and how could I know that I would lose interest in them so fast? With the release of the new album, there was talk of a heavier effort which suits me fine and I’m guessing for old fans of the band, it probably brought on some hope.

On a heavy note, the album opens with “Voices”, an uptempo stomper with a ballsy groove and a punchy rhythm. With guttural growls mixed with clean vocals and fierce guitars this is clearly the heaviest In Flames have sounded in quite sometime. Still, with hooks enough to sell and an in-your-face refrain that catches on immediately, it do holds much of latter-day In Flames as well. A great start without a doubt. The title-track and second single follows and it is a fast, robust, heavy and aggressive one. The growl/clean voice stays on and the powerful and thunderous rhythm brings a ferocious nod to In Flames’ past but there’s also a huge, enormously catchy chorus with a more modern sound. In my world, the two marries brilliantly here. Very good. Latest single “Call My Name” is fast, upbeat and straight-forward Metal that contains a big, radio-friendly pop-refrain that hardcore fans might cringe to. I dig it, though.

To use “I Am Above” as the album’s leading single is understandable – and a good choice. It’s a heavy and rough tune with verses in a fast paced, kicking and robust way – something I guess will please older fans. The chorus, though, goes into a more arena sized arrangement with a striking and catchy refrain that visits Melodic Rock territory, still heavy all the while. It’s a blistering track that’s memorable albeit not in a Pop way – awesome! “Follow Me” is a more straight ahead Hard Rock tune in a mid pace, very hook-laden with a big Melodic Rock refrain with an enormous hit-potential. It’s a smoother kind of tune and a far cry from the classic In Flames. In fact, it’s hard to grasp that this actually is In Flames. That said, I think it’s damn good song no matter how little In Flames it sounds. “(This Is Our) House” is even further from the classic sound, despite the somber riffing. This one’s a hit-friendly, straight-forward melodic hard-rocker with a pop-twist over a heavier arrangement. It’s a great track but not very In Flames-sounding.

“We Will Remember” is a mid-paced groover, heavy and dark and Metal rhythmic with a melancholic main melody, quite in par with the sounds of In Flames’ later-day releases. It holds some crunchy guitars and a massive refrain very big on hooks and pop-laden melodies – very good. “In This Life” is more of a mid-paced pop-rocker on a heavier ground, again miles away from classic In Flames. It’s pretty much a modern radio-metal tune and quite standard which made it forgettable and mainstream. Skip-button alert on this one. “Burn” on the other hand, is fast, aggressive where the verses do bring back fragments of old In Flames. The tempo is upped, it’s simple and effective and even though the refrain is on the catchier side, it’s still heavy albeit not in the old-school In Flames way – very, very good.

“Deep Inside” is big on grooves, it’s upbeat and holds a strong main-melody. It holds a punchy rhythm, some eastern influences in the background and a chorus so infectious it’s ridiculous – melodic Metal with Pop arrangements here and there. The softer, laid-back and acoustic middle-break also changes the dynamics – for the better. In my book, this is a hit – and a great tune. “All The Pain” is a bit laid-back and slow in pace with dark and melancholic verses. The big, catchy chorus is in the tougher regions of modern radio-metal and it’s punchy and striking with melodies that stick right away. Yes, I do like this despite the radio-metal comparisons. Closing track “Stay With Me” starts off as a folky, acoustic ballad, stripped with a somewhat spacey and peaceful melody. It gets darker and heavier as the rest of the band joins in but it keeps the folky and laid-back structure and atmosphere. A very good official closer.

You want some more music? Then get the digi-pack or vinyl and you’ll get a bonus track called “Not Alone”, a straight-forward Melodic Rock track on a foundation of heaviness. It holds a big Pop-vibe, going back to the 80’s and holds a prominent synthesizer, not very In Flames-like at all. It’s a very catchy track with an amazing chorus and it’s perfect as a bonus track. So will this album be a pleaser for all then? Well, I guess not. The old IF shows up here and there but for the most, this album follows the route of their last few records style wise. But if you don’t care about that there are lots of goodies to be found here because this record is their best in many, many years and no, I don’t think I will lose the urge to play it anytime soon like I did with the last three albums. If you accept the fact that the old, Death Metal version of In Flames are probably gone forever and listen to this with an open mind, there’s a good chance you’ll find lots of stuff here to dig because quality-wise, this is a damn good record.

8/10

More In Flames reviews:

Siren Charms
Battles

Tracklist:

1. Voices
2. I, The Mask
3. Call My Name
4. I Am Above
5. Follow Me
6. (This Is Our) House
7. We Will Remember
8. In This Life
9. Burn
10. Deep Inside
11. All The Pain
12. Stay With Me
13. Not Alone (Bonus Track)

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