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Nobody has a reputation and following quite like In Flames. Jesper Stromblad formed the band with a vision of blending death metal with Iron Maiden-style harmonies, brought it to life by borrowing members from other bands, created a unique sound by writing with the band as a third guitarist while playing drums live. Their first album was as disorganized as the band's lineup at the time, but it was an interesting and revered combination of harmony-filled death metal, with folk songs and passages and the odd inclusion of a violin at times, several steps closer to mastering the inclusion of that instrument than At The Gates, who reportedly only included violinist Jesper Jarold on their debut when a public image campaign in Sweden required all metal bands to have a member named Jesper.
From there, band underwent a transformation from side project to full-time band, creating an EP that even naysayers of their style often admit to enjoying - these sessions utilized two drummers and five vocalists who weren't on the debut and would be out of the picture by the next album. Tired of the revolving door, the band established a stable lineup in 1995.
From there, the band pinned down their classic style, a heavily layered, extremely melodic version of heavy/power metal with low tuned guitars and a growling vocalist. For their next album, they stripped down the sound to be more aggressive and rely on fewer layers, with more string skipping like their peers At The Gates. Following some lineup shifts, they took a turn back towards their 80s roots with some keyboards and a hammond organ on their next release, starting to give the vocalist a bit of room to expand from a monotone. From there, they successfully reinvented their style one last time, aided by a legendary production job with one of the thickest guitar sounds on a palatable metal album, and ushered in a new Swedish sound, something that would come to be hated as it was never as good as the first time, only a bastardization of those serene songs that those bastards from Gothenburg once played.
While the band had not completely reinvented itself from one album to the next, they took so many of the right steps to stay close to home but offer a different outlook each time. This reputation followed them for years to come, knowing that a band who had so much great material to fall back on could always revisit portions of it and come away with something good. As Nuclear Blast signed In Flames clones from Germany and bands flocked to Studio Fredman for "the sound", In Flames opted for a change of wardrobe, building makeshift studios in a rented house overseas, and most fans these days refer to a spiritual change known as "being dead inside".
The band phased out their old material citing the need for songs that were written for two guitarists, and they stripped down their once elegant arrangements to the point where the chugging and grooves were unaccompanied by melodies most of the time, only the increasingly wretched shrieks of their vocalist, who was born again at the turn of the millennium and believed that he could sing. The band did not abandon their old sound, rather they used its elements sparingly and spoke of them as a touch of the old stuff.
The band's legacy followed them in an odd way. With each coming album, their older fans appeared increasingly delusional about the band having some sort of return to form. They donned all-white outfits along with fellow Swedes Soilwork as they both released breakout albums in 2002. When they began rotating normal clothing back into their wardrobes on the second round of touring in support of this album, fans thought they were going to take a turn in direction. The frontman got his nu-metal out through a side project, Passender. Like the title of a song on their previous record, the band started a free fall and their next album was even more atrocious.
Then the band announced their intent to self-produce their next album. Surely they had tired of the synths dominating their sound, and with two guitarists producing, they would put out something like a catchier version of Clayman. Nope. It wasn't as bad as the last one, so that must be an upswing, right? The keyboards were used a bit more sparingly (much like fats, oils, and sweets are used sparingly in the American diet) so that meant they wanted to write more guitar-oriented music again, right? The guitarists even mentioned that they wanted to focus on the guitars more, more like the old stuff. For some reason, the band continued to suggest, here and there, that they had "the old stuff" in mind, which meant something very different to them and to the fans of the old stuff, some of whom still had hope in the band.
Their next album was more guitar-oriented, the music backed off the keyboards, and it was a lot better than the few before it. It was still nothing like the In Flames of days past, but they were headed in a better direction. Following this album, the last remaining founder of the band, Jesper Stromblad, announced his departure. Cue wild speculation. Perhaps losing him was the kick in the ass the band needed to get out of this awful groove, in more ways than one. The band wouldn't add another guitarist for the next album, though we all knew that perennial fill-in Niklas Engelin would get the job. Not welcoming him into the fold immediately suggested that they wanted something other than the nu-metal stylings of his other band, Engel.
...and then they announced the title of the album, and the whole world thought of the cover of Korn's self-titled debut.
A child runs through the playground pulling an unusual balloon by a ribbon. The ribbon, wrapped tightly around the child's hand, is also wrapped tightly around the lips of a frog, inflated with helium until it is round and buoyant in the air. The child climbs a ladder, still clutching the ribbon. Upon reaching the highest point on the playground, the child falls to the ground and pulls the ribbon so hard that it comes off of the frog. The helium-filled frog begins croaking, droning as it flies around like a deflating balloon. No, this is just an illusion, a wish that a once mighty band did not fall from the top and roll around in the dirt while their vocalist crooned like helium-filled frog. A dream that the band's once amazing logo had not been replaced by one with text written inside monkey bars, replaced by a stock font, replaced by some scratch that looks like a child's handwriting. Oh, the writing was on the wall, the writing was on the album cover before this one, we should have known.
Three major problems arise amidst a myriad of problems that constitute the problem that is this album. The band tried to make a vocal-driven album and they don't have the personnel to manage it. There are too many keyboards for a band without a keyboard player, and they write songs that use them as a crutch or a veil. I know the band are huge fans of Rush, but I no longer have the faith that In Flames can return to form from their crappy keyboard albums. Finally, the bread and butter of In Flames, the guitar riffs, have ceased to be, replaced by a descendant, the derivative of a derivative of the real In Flames.
In Flames stated that they intended to make a vocal-driven album. In theory, that could work if their vocalist could sing, but Anders Friden's croaky crooning can only work as a percussive counterpart to melodic guitars. Long gone are the emotive monotone growls with three guitar parts layered over them. The third guitar is long gone too, and the guitars often lay back with power chords to leave room for vocals and keyboards. Their past success stories were largely in part due to great guitar work giving the vocals a narrow range to work within. The sliding half-growls worked for a while, finding a compromise between a monotone and attempting to carry a melody. It just doesn't work here.
If there was a time for In Flames to make an album with lots of clean singing, it was around 1994, when they had a vocalist who could actually sing.
The keyboards are another problem. Örjan Örnkloo has been playing keyboards on every In Flames album for the past decade, with the keyboards becoming increasingly involved in the music, minus a slight dip on the previous album. Although the keyboards are a huge part of the modern In Flames sound, they don't have a keyboard player in the band, and they seem to write songs without a keyboard player being involved. The result of this are synths filling the space, trying to compensate for the inability of the vocals and replace the melodic driving force that the guitars stopped providing a while ago. The synths never take the lead, they don't have their own place in the music like their counterparts Dark Tranquillity integrated quite well a bit earlier than In Flames. Synths fill out the wall of sound as an afterthought to compensate for what the rest of the music can't do.
There was a time when In Flames used keyboards well, fitting them into the music of Colony, giving them some of their own sections as well as some backing time, while still keeping the focus of the album on melodic guitar riffs.
What happened to the guitars? In Flames appear to be in a constant battle to reduce the role of guitars in their music. In the early days they had three guitarists, down to two while using three guitar tracks per song, sometimes with additional harmonies. Over the years they stripped the guitar parts down to rarely include a third, then began to use both guitars in unison while adding keyboards over the top. The departure of Jesper Stromblad did not help at all, with the guitars only pulling out of power chord mode to play harmonies as the tail of riffs, or as a fill. I understand that the point of this record was to leave things wide open for the vocalist to take the lead. That was a poor choice.
Rather than the complex layers of melodies and harmonies that most people knew as the In Flames sound, the occasional leads here are thin, basic harmonies that sound more like throwaway riffs of the In Flames wannabes of a decade ago - those that earned unkind-sounding labels like "Gothencore". The melodies and harmonies are no longer an integral part of the riffs, and the riffs are no longer the style that everyone with two ears loves the band for. The guitar playing is a bunch of mid-paced chugging interspersed with unimaginative harmonized leads.
In Flames used to write great guitar riffs and let them carry the music. Apparently they are content to leave that behind even if it means that they put out a laughably bad album.
This same band once had vivid lyrics of their fantasy world, cryptic hymns of astronomy and mythology. Anders Friden crafted those concepts and the lyrics were penned by Niklas Sundin. Once Anders had a stronger grip on the English language, he moved on to writing introspective, personal lyrics. While I prefer the earlier lyrics, the latter of those were acceptable and helped shape the concept of the Clayman album. Some of the lyrics on this album aren't as bad as others, but it doesn't get much worse than the childish prose of "The Attic":
"There's someone in the attic / Building a strange machine / Never really seen him / But I think he works all day
Blinded by the world outside / I stay inside / Hardly know my name / But it's getting better by time
I saw something in the mirror / Someone's watching me / If I hide in the attic / They will never get to me
Found some rope on the floor / I have to build a trap / So I start on my machine / I am never to be seen
This album also continues a practice that the band begun when they named an album "Reroute To Remain" - they started by leaving a not-so-subtle hint that their shift in style would be be reverted while penning songs such as "Dismiss the Cynics" - and on this album Anders penned his least eloquent lyrics since "lost my visual 'cause all you fucks are in my way":
"I say goodbye to you all at once / (I) don't dare to face you all alone.
I went from wreckage to world class / With a box of t-shirts and some records to sell,
But times have changed - I have to defend my actions. / The foundation crumbles and I have to leave.
Thanks for everything - I couldn't ask for more... / I say I love you all... as I vanish through the Jester's Door"
If these lyrics hadn't been so honest and straight forward, spoken over some awful new age techno, I would think this was the wreckage. Thanks for defending your actions, I am honestly glad that you made a good living for yourselves after you put out some great albums, and I have some lyrics to suggest for the next In Flames album:
"First five were world class / Next five sucked ass
Couldn't make it on hard work / So we dressed up with Soilwork
Stopped writing metaphors / Instead wrote a song called Metaphor
Our last founder tired of songcraft / So he quit the band to play World of Warcraft."
Even though moments of In Flames’ back catalogue are very close to my heart, I’ve never felt like a typical In Flames fan. I’m not blind to their mishaps, and I don’t feel fervently compelled to act as an apologist to their detractors. More to the point, though, I’ve never understood how virtually the entire metal community is comfortable in drawing a line directly down their discography (almost always between Clayman and Reroute to Remain) and insisting on a split between “old” and “new”, as if there were actually such a clear signifier. I can understand how easy a dismissal this is for most of the metal community, but I call it unfounded horseshit. If an album like Reroute to Remain completely caught you off guard then apparently you weren’t paying attention to begin with. Their sound was synth-drenched and poppy before that and Only for the Weak still probably remains their most jump-da-fuck-up song, and if you don’t jump-da-fuck up for it then you don’t know what’s good for you.
In reality, every single In Flames release sounds quite singular. Despite having not listened to a whole lot of them in the past few years, if you played me a three second clip of any In Flames song I would instantly be able to tell you which album it comes from, even if I couldn’t name the song itself. The fact that people so listlessly dump Reroute to Remain and Come Clarity into the same bucket as Soundtrack to Your Escape, and, even the possibly more abhorrent, A Sense of Purpose, truly baffles me. Come Clarity, which essentially sounds like later era At the Gates playing Blink 182 power ballads; a combination which looks hideous on paper, is somehow compelling in execution. No, it’s not an artistic achievement worthy of worship, but why should it be looked as such? It’s mindless fun, and when you keep in mind that In Flames is playing for their target audience of fourteen year old Ozzfest kids, it makes total sense.
Unfortunately, for their tenth endeavour, Sounds of a Playground Fading, they’ve opted to simply continue where they left off with A Sense of Purpose and put out another album that sounds like if Simon Cowell manufactured a Hollywood boy band and told them to play heavy metal. I can get behind albums like Reroute and Come Clarity because, despite being pop albums, at least you can tell that the band kind of is, or at least once was, metal. The kind of shit we’re dealing with on albums like this, though, try to pass off metal as something that it’s not; and in doing so, disgrace the genre they’re cashing in on. It’s a disaster of the formula with a guitar tone so flaccid it’s simply depressing. You’d think it would be pretty easy to churn out sappy techno-metal hits when you wrote Cloud Connected ten years prior, but the attempt here is pitiful. Deliver Us has a quirky little synth intro that leads to nowhere except mindless chugs. And to think I used to really like Bjorn as a guitarist. Why In Flames have taken this lamentable route for the second album in a row is beyond me, since they’d already nailed their pop-metal formula ages ago. A New Dawn manages to be the only song that sticks out with its surprisingly memorable guitarwork. It’s kind of a testament to the fact that even at their most haphazard and uninspired, they’re still able to get it right by coincidence.
What I won’t do is give you a lengthy account of how Anders Friden ruins a potentially good album, because every scathing In Flames review you’ll read will focus much too disproportionally on his performance. The picture painted of him by most people is essentially that of a demented dictator, the sole figure in In Flames’ sellout. What can I possibly say about him that hasn’t been said already? Maybe this: he isn’t the problem, though of course he’s part of it. Even if Friden was at his best, there’s no saving what’s already not there. The lyrics, however, are the aspect that’s come to surprise me most him. Is this the same man who penned the poems of Colony?
We're running out of time
Can't seem to recognize
What put us here in the first place
Counting down the days
beginning of the end
Ugh. I thought In Flames would be content in finding their niche as the metalhead’s Killswitch Engage, but I can’t even guess what they’re trying to get at now. It really sounds as though they’re scared of playing metal, but are being forced to by an outsider.
Many years ago I had some interest in this band. For good or bad, these times are long gone. I did not have the intention to write such a review since I don't tend to be offensive to other fans, but this left me speechless in the worst of ways. I have not checked in depth the last records In Flames put out, because as I already stated I have lost absolutely all my faith in them long ago, but with "Sounds of playground fading" these guys went too far even for the lousy direction they took so far.
So here we go. I was sitting in my chair, watching a metal show on TV and they played "Deliver us". I could not believe my eyes and ears. My first thought was 'ugh, disgusting'. Then 'Is this Avril Lavigne cover band'? Or what, new experimental pop metal? These are all rhetorical questions to which you don't have to answer. This is blasphemy. This is Satan pissing on Christianity in terms of death metal. In Flames literally piss on their debut album and the intention they might have had some time ago - to play "death metal". This is not even melodic death metal. Melo death bands, Dark Tranquility for example, as much as I despise them at least have some pride. I don't know what these guys were trying to do, but as I watched an interview with their lead guitar player I have some ideas. He said that they wanted to be as popular as Iron Maiden. Holy Christ, Oden and Thor! This is what happens when someone intentionally tries to be popular and to sell songs.
Okay, let's stop on the music. It is obvious that these guys can compose music. Yes, they apparently know how to put a song together and they sure as hell know how to make it sell out. Most songs on this album have cheesy lyrics, Nickleback meets modern Machine head sounding riffs that are so polished and electronically sounding as if made to be played in the mall. The difference between the last band mentioned and In Flames is that In Flames have wiped out all the raw material. The guitar sound is so fake that at times I wonder if humans are playing real guitars or the whole thing is electronically produced. The drumming is lame and in perfect harmony with the sleeping agression of the record. Most choruses would be okay I guess if this was supposed to be female fronted gothic rock. The one in "Deliver us" can even make you cry - especially if you like soap operas.
You see, I wouldn't be that disappointed and offended if this was not supposed to be metal. After I heard this thing called "Sounds of a playground fading" I played "Lunar Strain". And this is where it gets really bad - when you make a comparison and see where these musicians where musically and where are they now. As good and righteous as the debut was, this is how impossible and absurd the new release is. All the amazing emotional soloes, the perfectly matching harmonies are gone. The metal spirit is gone. If you enjoy heavy music, just forget about this and try to forget about this band.
It’s no secret that In Flames have been on a downhill slide. Soundtrack to Your Escape was a horrible depiction of a band selling out, although things have gotten progressively better, with Come Clarity being a decent enough album in its own right. The music just does not contain any interesting passages and the added electronica has been more detrimental than entertaining. The main event that will change the aspect of this album was the departure of Jesper, whose influence arguably drove the band in their current direction as he was the primary songwriter.
That being said, Bjorn Gellote has taken on more of a role in writing in their recent ventures, with this album being the first time we hear pure, unadulterated Bjorn. For the most part, this album serves as a step in the right direction. SoaPF has that unfortunate modern and slightly nu-metal sound, but when you take away the production and really listen to the riffs, the old school Gothenburg comes through. At least on some songs.
I’m sure that you’ve heard this before, but I can’t stress this enough with this and many other ‘experimental’ albums and bands; the songs that are actually metal on the album are the best. If it sounds elitist, too bad; it’s the truth. The less-epic-than-intended single Deliver Us, closer Liberation, and dubstep spawning Where the Dead Ships Dwell are all decent songs in their own right, but the synthesizers cannot replace the guitars, especially when they are not even written by the band members.
That being said, some of the keyboard sounds are pretty cool. The shades that pervade during some rougher sections of Where the Dead Ships Dwell and Ropes add some much needed atmosphere to otherwise bland songs, and they supplement the fact the Anders does not quite have the most melodic singing voice. The band also uses other techniques to change the sound throughout the album. Trademark In Flames watery guitars provide the intro and breaks on the title track and All for Me, and The Attic is a hauntingly simple ditty that lets the vocals show off for a little. As a massive orchestra nerd as well, the string sections on A New Dawn proves to be the most refreshing and emotionally evocative moment on the album.
Still, the rockers are what make this album passable, and Bjorn certainly ups the aggression from the emo-core catastrophe that was A Sense of Purpose (don’t deny it). Fear is the Weakness features some of the most kick-in-the-teeth riffs IF has put out in a long time, the title track delivers on a moderately intricate but rhythmically sound riff, and Enter Tragedy creates enough of an atmosphere for the vocals to really rip out a strong track. And I truly feel that if you reworked the production, A New Dawn could have been pulled right off of the classic The Jester Race.
Still, the drums suffer the [second] most (bass isn’t even relevant, except for a solid groove on Darker Times and The Puzzle). When Svensson starts to hit the double bass, it only turns head banging passages into breakdowns that one can only shake their head at. I swear, there isn’t a single time that he actually gets his stuff together and throws something higher tempo at us. Were it not for his part, the songs might have varying tempos, but by the end of the album, you can pretty much predict with solid accuracy the pacing and drum patterns. By far the drums have fared the worst over the years.
The vocals are actually pretty solid, but that has been something that Anders has been improving upon since their original fall from grace. He is actually a decent singer, and despite the chorus heavy arrangement of the songs, he can actually throw some nice hooks around. Ropes is the only song on Sounds of a Playground Fading that features nothing but clean singing. Pretty much everything else is kind of a grizzled mild singing voice. By no means is it the classic vocal duty given in the Clayman and earlier era, but it suffices, and it has a decent edge to it, so the songs feel varied between metal and hard rock.
The best vocals are on the interlude called The Attic, with soft whispered lyrics that feel almost dystopian in their musings. The title track also is notable for its vocal delivery, which feels very inspired and real, for lack of a better term. Fear is the Weakness also has Friden slamming down the gauntlet in anger. That being said, the vocals can feel boring and totally generic in places, especially on All for Me and Liberation.
Lyrically speaking, this is not a concept album, but there is a general sense of coming of age ethics in all of the songs. The title track and Darker Times speak of the changing world and moving with or against it, while tracks like Fear is the Weakness and Enter Tragedy express disgust with conformity and the like. The final two tracks, A New Dawn and Liberation, talks about leaving lives behind and moving on, although it doesn’t sound nearly so sappy when it is sung. The rest of the tracks fall under this umbrella for the most part, although Ropes and Deliver Us seem kind of like cheesy and dressed up love songs (please, contain your rage. This isn’t anything you didn’t see coming.).
Still, there is not any large stylistic change going on here. Bjorn didn’t solve all of their problems, but he’s moving the band in the right direction. I don’t foresee any change back to the classic melodic death metal sound, but I doubt they will fit all of the nu-metal generic bands of whatever day of the year it is. To put it bluntly, this is as good as its going to get. Of new age In Flames, this is best album they have produced, with Come Clarity a moderate second. If people were at least a little bit open to more modern sounds, this album will provide a few enjoyable listens, but this is not the old In Flames, which still gives me much woe. But give it a shot, as there are still some good tracks and I still can’t give up on the band (so long as they try and get better with the synths). I was always told that I was stubborn. Best tracks: Fear is the Weakness, The Attic, Enter Tragedy, and A New Dawn.
I personally think SoaPF is an improvement over A Sense of Purpose. While I did enjoy ASoP it was still a rather weak release. On Sounds In Flames seem to go for a little heavier approach and while its nothing like their old school melodic death metal albums its better than the last album.
First, either I'm getting used to Anders' vocals or he is actually getting better at his singing and growling. Where as post Colony his screams seemed almost too forced and like he was trying to copy Jonathan Davis from Korn. Here I don't even cringe while listening. This is a big deal since in the past Anders Friden was probably the weak link of the band. I'm interested to see how those who disliked his style in the past feel about what they might hear here. I have to admit though on Ropes his singing voice kinda falls flat and sounds a bit weak, probably because his accent is so obvious.
The lyrics are still a mess. Its not even necessarily the subject matter (personal struggles which has been done to death), but the lyrical make up itself. Old In Flames always had interesting lyrics about science fiction and future issues. But on the last 3 or 4 albums they switched to inner turmoil. But Anders must still not have a good grasp on english or something because the lyrics just don't flow properly in a number of places.
One of the big things about this record is how guitarist (and the last founding member) Jesper Stromblad left before the recording began. But as soon as you go through the album once you can tell that with the last few releases Jesper played a smaller and smaller part in the writing process. This sounds like a proper progression of A Sense of Purpose and what you would expect the band to sound like even if Jesper had stayed. So Bjorn and Niclas Engelin pull off the same sound you know and love (or don't) from the past few albums.
In Flames continue adding a little more of a progressive/experimental edge to their sound. The Jester's door is a mix of electronic and instrumental music but is very quiet and soft. The title track is soft guitars for about the first minute before shooting off into something resembling what you might hear from Come Clarity. There are really no bad tracks on this album save for maybe Jester's Door which is basically a throw away/filler track. The band really hits the melody strong here though with tracks like Deliver Us, All For Me, The Puzzle, ect ect. As always there is a big emphasis on the guitar harmonies, one of my favorite things about IF.
There album hits on a darker tone though as well. Along with Jester's Door there is The Attic which is like this albums shorter version of The Chosen Pessimist. The last minute or two of Liberation isn't quite as dark but the clean guitars going on with the drumming sticking to the background as the song finishes give it that sort of feel.
Sounds of A Playground Fading is an excellent album if you take it for what it is, a modern metal album. It's a sort of mix between A Sense of Purpose and Come Clarity with a little more progressive/experimental frame of mind to it. As always Daniel Svensson's drumming is a joy to listen to and the melody makes this an easy, fun album to get into. The riffs stand out as being easy on the ear without crossing into alternative/rock territory. And with Anders vocal improvements I think In Flames fans who enjoy their discography as a whole are in for a treat.
Originally reviewed @ http://abaddonsmetalshop.blogspot.com/
This album is exactly what you've come to expect from In Flames if you've listened to more than one post-Clayman album. This is essentially Reroute to Remain part V. The previous album, A Sense of Purpose, was in some ways a slight departure from this sound – indeed sound being the keyword here – but they have returned again to making replicas of their grand sellout album, Reroute to Remain. Each such replica has its own definitive characteristics, and for this album such a characteristic is increased softness of sound and very prominent synth.
It appears even less effort than ever before was put into writing this new album. In Flames has reduced itself to the level of the most generic metalcore-infused alternative rock bands. The songs repeat themselves nauseously, and the music jumps from wall-of-sound esque grand wailing choruses – that are, mind you, the most saccharine thing you've ever heard by a metal band that isn't a group of fruitcakes from Italy playing ”power metal” – into the most generic possible groove metal riffs that I frankly once thought In Flames would never resort to. As I said before, this direction should come as no surprise to anyone who has listened to In Flames's records from the last decade or so: from this band we've come to expect downtuned guitars that spit out obnoxious groove riffs, a singer who's mainly capable of emitting whiny half-screams and writing lyrics that would make an angsty teenager blush with embarrasment, uninnovative drumming and simple pop rock songwriting. This is nothing but metalcore in its most radio-friendly form. In Flames has went quite far in making this as plastic and soft as possible. No instrument – not even the downtuned occasionally fast guitar chugs, or the drum sounds, or even the so-called harsh vocals – has any edge to it, and it's all further softened by the wall-of-sound effect created by possibly hundreds of layers, as well as the soft, mellow synth sounds so very prevalent here. The melodies and harmonies are all fluffy, nice, soft – what the album's audience probably consider to be beautiful, but what only to the ears of one whose musical taste is largely defined by what MTV plays is anything but ridiculous – and only counterpointed by the post-chorus groove metal riffs, that may sound brutal, again, to the MTV audience, but what are incredibly tame and weak to the ears of anyone else.
There is little reason to listen to this album, not even for the sake of morbid curiosity, for even in that department this album will leave you disappointed. The music is mostly inoffensive; it's not as such a fuck-up from In Flames in the way St. Anger or Amoral's Ari Koivunen album are – it's professionally made, it's well calculated and considering it's prime function (money) it's pulled off quite well, if very lazily (as the self-repeating never changing drum patterns portray) – but the effect it makes it possibly even worse. For any real metal fan this is just as toxic as St. Anger, or even worse, for it's a hideous mutilation of the elements of metal that once influenced In Flames.
So if you are a Gothenburg fan and have not been lying inside a cryogenic sleep chamber for the last couple of months, you know the utterly impossible has happened and Jesper Stromblad has quit In Flames. Sure, this is not as alarming as if Steve Harris had waved The Beast goodbye, and Jesper hasn’t been exactly writing everything for the group lately, but not every band can survive the departure of a key songwriter easily. The interesting thing is that In Flames has. You'd be hard pressed to actually tell the difference.
If you know the band, you know they work around a formula for almost every album, and this one is, obviously, ASOP's more eclectic brother. The blueprint is laid down the same way: moshing palm muted riffs, “wall of sound” production, clean sung hooks, acoustic stuff to create a faux back-to-the-roots feel and all that stuff. I was hoping for the input of newcomer Niclas Engelin, but the man brought nothing new to the table (as Bjorn pretty much wrote the entire album) and Peter Iwers keeps on holding to his “Bassist that could not give less of a shit” trophy for dear life, so we don't get that much of a change.
However, once again In Flames falters when it comes to songwriting. It might sound like nitpicking, but the listener will soon notice how the first seconds of “Darker Times”, “Enter Tragedy” and “The Puzzle” sound almost the same, while the title track and “Darker Times” have the same chord progression for the chorus. Check it out, you can safely sing the former’s chorus into the latter and vice-versa. Again, I don’t mean to be a nitpicking asshole, but that reeks of lazy work and shouldn’t be present on an album by a band that is hailed by their new fans as being so adventurous and ever-changing.
The most unsettling aspect, at least for me, was the existence of “Liberation”, which is the perfect example (not to say proof) of how this band desires to be Sweden’s heavier answer to 30 Seconds to Mars. A dreadful pop/alt rock song that features brain-dead instrumentation and probably Jared Leto himself, because Anders comes up as a pretty convincing sound-alike, except for his inclination towards nasal singing. Let’s make things simple: If you’re aiming to play on the radio, just release a pop album already and stop pretending to be some kind of revolutionary modern metal band. I don’t know what is worse, actually; if it’s the actual song or the myriad of fans that will applaud this piece of crap, declaring the band to be oh so open minded.
Well… Lyrically, for the first time in years, Anders seems to be showing sparks of the poetic stuff from the old days amidst the whole adolescent ennui. I for one can see a stark difference from the lyrics of the title track (which seem to claim the film “Children of Men” as an influence) and stuff like “You'll never understand me/and I don't care what you think/or maybe I do” from “The Puzzle” or maybe “I'm tired; I'm fed up of this life!” from “Enter Tragedy”. Tracks are also plagued (again) by the "You and me" lyrical dead end, and another awful cliché rears its ugly head here, the “I need your help/I need you to help me somehow” idiocy. This way of writing romantic/tragic lyrics often degenerates into a cheesy, emo-ish pastiche when used in a shallow way like this. Check it out at tracks 4, 6 and 10 and you’ll see. Summing up, pretty much every lyric here, (except for tracks 1 and 2) would perfectly fit on Come Clarity with its glaring emo sensibilities. And I don’t mean it as some kind of cheap insult, seriously. Maybe it is just me. I just find it damn hard to take a bunch of old guys (only one, actually) writing about pre-pubescent affection seriously, just as much as I take Rhapsody and their dragons, sorcery and enchanted swords.
Not much can be said about the singer’s performance either. This album contains way less screams and more cleans, though; "Ropes” features mostly clean vocals, and I mean CLEAN, without a hint of any distortion whatsoever. On this particular track, I don't find Anders’ voice particularly grating, but he desperately needs vocal coaching to teach him how to control things, because his voice cracks incessantly and that hiccup that has been plaguing (in my opinion) his voice since, I don’t know, goddamn Skydancer is not a good sign. Seriously, get some coaching to help you get a grip on what remains of your cords. The cool tricks and layers of backing vocals will never be able to fully help outside the studio doors.
As per usual, In Flames sometimes sheds off the trash and comes up with some interesting stuff. Just like “My Sweet Shadow”, “The Puzzle” ends with a memorable and beautiful atmospheric guitar/keyboard line, while Daniel (who is inexplicably formulaic here) finds himself some space to write an attention grabbing pattern in the really good intro of “All for Me”, on which the bass drum adds a measure each time the power chord soars. Props also go to “A New Dawn” with its tasteful middle break and a feeling that should please Colony/Clayman fans a lot, and I found myself really enjoying the duo between the orchestral elements and the electric ones nearing the end of the song before the last chorus.
While Bjorn shows signs of weakness at writing good rhythm guitar riffs, his leads come up as pretty rocking overall. Oh, and the majority of the choruses is surprisingly catchy, probably being the album's best asset amidst the sub-par songwriting, for “Sounds of a Playground Fading” acts just like a pop album; if the songs are getting a little bit boring, the choruses will probably pick them up, and it is up to you if this is a good thing or not. I particularly don’t mind chorus-driven, straightforward albums, IF the other parts of the songs manage to catch my attention as well. Unfortunately, most of the songs here are boringly uneventful until the chorus comes to keep the skip button away from you.
In Flames took another step into the future, but it seems like they’ve finally opted to be the icon for the legions of bands that desperately try to be the link between modern metal and accessible melodic rock music. This is a catchy but badly disjointed album, dragged down by an uninteresting vocal performance and an over-reliance on hooks instead of competent songwriting to keep the listener’s attention.
I don’t despise the music here for being “easy to listen”, but even then, there is a difference between competent and pedestrian. The Swedish quintet, unfortunately, still lacks the ability/vision to distinguish both and ends up stranded in a line between them.
Highlights; A New Dawn, The Puzzle, and the chorus of the title track.
Well, times sure have changed since the true Gothenburg days. The 1990's in the Scandinavian metal scene was a time of courageous song writing and originality. Bands like In Flames and Dark Tranquility were completely different from anything forged from the depths of the earth. Melodies, raspy vocals, double bass, harmony, and progressive song writing were just beginning to be morphed into one genre. In Flames helped pioneer the genre of Melodic Death Metal much like the Beatles did for rock n' roll. The truth is, In Flames had their time. In my opinion this time was between Lunar Strain and Clayman. The albums that followed sounded like something shifted dramatically within the band. It could have been the influence of Western popular culture, or it simply could have been that the band was bored and tired of writing the same material over and over again. Mike Akerfeldt from Opeth has stated in interviews that the reason Opeth shifted their writing style was partly due to the fact that everyone was now writing melodic, dual guitar, harmonizing metal. In my mind, their transition was much more original than that of what In Flames made. My personal heart lies deep within their Gothenburg style writing when the melodies and progressive song writing was at the essence of the band.
I don't care much for In Flame's newer material and much of that is due to the vocals of Anders. I am a death growl kind of guy. I do appreciate clean vocals once in a while but for some reason Anders does not reach a clean quality worth praising about. It sounds whiny and desperate. To me, it seems that he tries too hard. NU Metal, or Americanized metal according to me, is much more prominent in their music these days. I personally get very irritated by the American influence and think that much of the Metal-core is a bunch of junk.
As far as Sounds of a Playground Fading goes, I don't care for it. A few of the songs tease past riff writing, more like something off of Clayman, but the emotions seem very absent. Yeah, here and there they put in epic guitar melodies and ripping drums, much of what old time fans originally loved the band for, but they don't stick and are very brief. The songs are bland and just sound like every other Metal-core band out there these days. I wish I could tell the band, "Hey guys, aren't you the ones who developed an original sound? Aren't you the ones who defied possibilities in metal song writing?" My disappointment is clear when listening to this record but because of my dedication to the band, I will always try to find something to enjoy, even if it is only a couple of songs. But you know what, that is the beauty of music. Even when things seem like they have hit rock bottom, there are often things that seem like a candle is still burning. A few of the songs are a joy to crank up. I can still find myself head-banging and groovin'.
I don't think In Flames will ever return to their melodic death metal past. The trail they have taken is just too different and as they have grown, their music has evolved with them. This is something that happens to all bands whether we like it or not. I will always buy IF records until they can't spit anymore out. That is just the kind of fan I am. Though, most likely what will be playing in my cd player will be a Lunar Strain, Jester Race, Whoracle, Colony, or Clayman album.
In a maneuver that surprises no one, the first post-Strömblad album from In Flames continues to polarize the band's fan base and tread ever closer to the pop rock orientations that have been hinted at for almost a decade (beginning around Reroute to Remain). The modus operandi of the previous album returns: big hooks, emotional vocals that alternate between happiness and despair, traditional/power metal inspired solos, and plenty of modern metal grooves to sate the festival audiences whose moshing aspirations include anything with a guitar mute. If anything, it pushes well past A Sense of Purpose into the terrain of pure, mainstream heavy rock, with the faint traces of the band's 90s melodic riffing structures the one thing anchoring it to any semblance of the band's backlog.
Now, I happened to enjoy A Sense of Purpose, much to my shock. There were about 7-8 songs there that mustered memorable guitar patterns, overly whining but effective vocals, and a nice variation in grooves and tempos, and the rest of the record did not fall far behind. I'm honestly not opposed to In Flames doing whatever the hell they want with themselves, as long as the music entertains, and even if it wasn't perfect, that album seemed to strike a good balance of their modern elements and the songwriting skill of the prior decade. Sounds of a Playground Fading builds upon similar aesthetics, only heavily favoring the slower to mid-paced fare and cleaning up on the processing of the production. There's much more clarity to the rhythm guitar and a lot of positive punch to the heavier sections, yet the lion's share of the new tracks seem to lack that same level of explosive energy that had my ears buzzing with the most bliss I had for the band since Whoracle. Some even feel like neutered, cardboard cutouts of previous tunes.
For example, the 2nd riff in "Puzzle", my favorite song on this album, is strikingly similar to a number of patterns used in "Disconnected", "The Mirror's Truth", and so forth, but at least it compensates with a passionate momentum and some uplifting atmosphere. The title track has a lot of the rhythmic bounce that dominated Reroute to Remain, with pleasant but predictable fills that don't inspire much hope for the rest of the fare. There are mild electronic influences (as in the intro to "Where the Dead Ships Dwell") and acoustic intros ("All For Me", "Fear is the Weakness"), but these are all par for the course after the previous set of albums, and they aren't writing anything so sugary here that this diversification brings strength to the song structures.
Then there are a few songs that feel plain weak. "Jester's Door" is this self-referential, spoken word piece which had me gagging up my lunch. I'm not sure if it's a metaphor for Jesper's time with the band, or refers to the constant criticism leveled at the band for their ever morphing sound strategy, but its cheesy and should have been left on the cutting room floor. "A New Dawn" feels like an attempt to channel back to the times of Clayman or Whoracle, but the dual melody is simply too familiar, the grooves entirely lackluster. "The Attic" and "Liberation" see the band more directly in pop/modern rock terrain, the former a moody piece with atmospheric guitars and mostly whispered vocals, the latter radio rock with echoing guitar lines redolent of Amorphis on Tuonela...
Yeah, sure, great. So you can write mediocre rock songs that abandon the metal of your youths. Are these anything more than emo exercises for Anders? You can write them. That doesn't mean you HAVE TO, and such pieces serve only to the detriment of this record, unless In Flames are trying to land a spot on the soundtrack to the latest season of The Hills. Again, I'm not in opposition to such branching out, but the Swedes will always be the best at their heavier material, and Sounds of a Playground Fading ultimately needs a lot more of it to choke by. There are some decent cuts here ("The Puzzle" and "Ropes") that adapt and refine the tactics of the last album, but where I found myself unexpectedly in step with that effort's blaze of glory, I just kept drawing blanks this time. Sounds of a Playground Fading is hardly their worst, and I got more out of it than, say, Soundtrack to Your Escape, but its not about to win them many new friends.
With the release of this record, In Flames continue in the style of their great and diversified predecessor "A sense of purpose...". That means that they do further experimentations and get away from their death metal roots. Anybody that is waiting for the band to dig in its own past and come back to where they were might be disappointed by this release and should bury its hopes. But anybody that liked the more experimental tracks from the last album such as the modern and diversified single "Alias" or the overlong psychedelic ballad "The chosen pessimist" will adore this album. The modern electronic sounds of the single "Deliver us" should be a good idea for anyone if he or she should really check this album out. The great opener and title track that opens with a calm and spiritual melody that could also fit to a ballad by "Dream Theater" or "Metallica" and surprises with a heavily addicting chorus also gives a good hint at what we should expect to come further on this release.
I know that most metal maniacs won't like this. The ratings for this album might be very low in the near future and anything else would be a surprise to me. Those reviewers will tell you that the band forgets about its roots, sounds more like an alternative rock act, tends towards too commercial melodies, lacks of heaviness and writes strange lyrics about inner struggles and all those things are eventually right. But the band fact that this band tries out something new, does some great experimentations and continues its way even if a long time band member quit them and many fans were rather disappointed by the last records proves that they do what they like and don't do what we expect from them or what would be a commercial success.
The thing that changed in comparison to the last record is that the single tracks are less outstanding but that the album as a whole is very coherent and strong and no song sounds too similar to any other on here. I must also underline the diversified vocals that are more powerful and yet more diversified as before and don't sound as whiny as on the last record.
At some points, the band heads into an as experimental direction as the surprising last album from "Linkin Park" with electronic sounds in "Deliver us", atmospheric sound collages in "The attic" or the psychedelic experiment "Jester's Door". Clean vocal passages in the potential next single hits "Ropes" or the stunning closing "Liberation" where the band sounds as melodic and commercial and free from any metal boundaries as never before remind me of modern alternative rock acts such as the emotional "Thirty seconds to Mars", the more and more interesting "My Chemical Romance" and even the more progressive "Muse". Especially the second part of the album heads into such a direction and makes me think that the band could even go further into this direction on an upcoming record.
That doesn't mean that there are no more heavy riffs or scratched vocals like in "The puzzle" or "Enter tragedy" that should please to all fans of the band and that remind more of the songs of the last records. Some tracks also mix melodic death metal passages with surprising alternative rock passages and even orchestral arrangements like in the amazing "A new dawn" where the title indicated the style and direction. The changes are progressive on this record and not done in a radical way like "Linkin Park" did it. Anybody that listened to the last record should have been mentally prepared for this next step which is "Sounds of a playground fading". But any purist metal head that doesn't care at all about progressive alternative rock will have many problems to get an approach to this record.
In the end it really depends on how open minded you are if you are able to accept and eventually adore this record. Accept that you don't have a melodic death metal album in front of you but a potpourri of modern metal music with some major progressive metal and alternative rock influences that follow the style of the last record. As i liked the last record, I adore this album and this is a thing I never expected from a band like In Flames a few years ago when I was rather into heavy and power metal music. I have opened my mind and musically grown up and I think that this is a very refreshing piece of music that isn't comparable to any album I have in my collection until today. "Sounds of a playground fading" makes now a true In Flames fan out of me and I recently discovered their whole back catalogue which is different from what I hear here but very great in a different way. This record is a solid candidate for my top ten album list of the year 2011 and better than all those boring old fashioned bands such as "Saxon" or "HammerFall" or the revival groups such as "Hell" that bore me to death with their new nostalgic releases. But I let them live in their past while I listen to some modern music from time to time such as In Flames do with this record where I can't find one single filler. After a great last decade I'm now sure that the new decade will be musically as interesting and modern metal music must not hide in the shadows of the legendary eighties. I don't need to be wrongfully nostalgic as I feel happy to grow up in a time where music like this is made. This album is more than music, it's a statement and only a few chosen ones will follow In Flames on their way towards future records and I will surely be with them.
In Flames we trust!
After the release of A Sense of Purpose, In Flames had appeared to have gone down in mostly everyone's opinion of them. From back in the hey day of Clayman and Whoracle, In Flames have appeared to have lost all touch with their Melodeath roots, and would need to re-reoute to remain, the irony, but this record showed a definite sign that things were picking up for Anders and co.
From the first record they released off this record, Deliver Us, they appeared to have veered for the better away from ASOP more so towards the previous 3-4 releases - more along the lines of Take this Life and most of Come Clarity. Half of this album is of a musical style previously seen since Clayman, the other takes after "Your Bedtime Story is Scaring Everyone" in that it feels like it shouldn't be on one of Melodeath's finests' albums, at all.
Whilst this album shares many properties with ASOP, it's more likeable for any diehard fans, largely due to In Flames' retraction back onto their heavier albums. A few solid riffs throughout makes this a mainstay for 2011 metal records, Anders is clearly enjoying this record as he makes it as he's covering topics and song themes that he hasn't been covering over his 20 or so year career with In Flames and Dark Tranquillity.
This album shouldn't be bought if you're looking for In Flames returning to their roots, but to complete the collection, as whilst it's not bad, it's not In Flames as most of us have loved them. This record shows real influences from metalcore from most of the recent bands, but very little influence from any of their Gothenburg bretherin which IF have sorely missed in the past 2 records.
The highlights to this album for me were definitely Liberation and Deliver Us, both are definitely something worth listening to as songs, but never compared to anything IF have released before; Liberation being their most commercially accessible song they've released to date bordering on pop rock, and for some reason is my guilty secret off this album as it's very simple to listen to, both musically and lyrically, not a masterclass in either. Deliver Us is perhaps the heaviest song off this album, and the first release, so it had more plays as it was out a month before the rest of the album, it's more technical, but again, no masterclass here.
For me, this album isn't too bad, but as an IF release? It's pretty poor, It's not something that'll be a mainstay in my Ipod for an extended period of time. It probably won't even get half the plays as an album that Clayman got as a single, but it will get listens mainly because It's IF. But definitely them at their worst, as ASOP had a clear theme that made it listenable, this is just strange...A clear downhill progression from ASOP, and definitely from anything prior to that.