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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.