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Not even much of a struggle. - 11%

Dullahan, July 8th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Nuclear Blast

Nowadays, reviewing an In Flames album seems more like an exercise in writing than anything else; something to keep your fingers sharp, since you can be sure there will be nary a surprise or, God forbid, a few heartstrings pulled whatsoever. Having long ago given up on taking these Swedes seriously, "Battles" all but flew under my radar, thus my finding of its existence was nothing short of an accident thanks to former axeman Jesper Stromblad himself, who commented about a new release by his ex group, thus prompting yours truly to yet again sit through a post 2000s In Flames record out of morbid curiosity and, to be honest, a little boredom. Considering these guys' recent track record and the apparent discordance between the minimalist title and the hipsteriffic cover, I smirked as I pressed play, knowing exactly what lay before me.

If you're one of those who also took this journey, then it's no use reminding the leads and catchy melodies are all but afterthoughts, replaced by waves upon waves of unremarkable riffs, soloing that feels more like a contractual obligation than a form of expression, and, to my perpetual chagrin, navel-gazing lyricism ranging from cringe worthy to awkward. "Battles" is filled with words trying their damnedest to just be there because they need to (since an entirely hummed album would seem too experimental, I guess), hardly conjuring up any images or feelings at all, instead - much like the rhythm guitars and drums - existing inside a factory-esque void of generic self-loathing aimed at... whom? Scene kids still gobble up stuff such as "I can't wait to hear your voice again\I am far from lonely but without you I'm a mess"? In the future of In Flames' catalogue, there will never again be anything like the expressionistic, eye-catching verve of "Artifacts of the Black Rain", the implied horrors of abuse of "Dead God in Me" or even the halfway clever wordplay of "In Search for I". Now, there is "You killed the part of me that kept us alive", so get used to it.

On a general note, the entire thing consists of an overlong series of heavy rock songs laced with forgettable keyboards, with the only elements distinguishing it from a run of the mill alternative or groove album being the eventual throwaway guitar harmonies, an overall lack of a self-conscious swagger that would maybe paint it with a comical tinge akin to Adrenaline Mob, and the breathy vocal performance from Anders Friden, who, despite having stepped beyond his early disastrous attempts at clean singing, is still annoying in his nasal inflection, which displays a squeaky, desperate character to it that is less akin to his better adapted contemporaries like Stanne or Strid, and more to a deeper take on Jared Leto.

Even the hooks, which are the only thing In Flames still have left, are hit and miss at best, leading us to the only worthwhile track: "Wallflower". Biding its time, this curiously well arranged song flirts on and off with Katatonia's slow-cooking electronic proclivities, oppressive groove riffs and downbeat, ghostly urban vibes, leading up to (and creating the right atmosphere for) a sorrowful chorus which gets the job done without fuss, bells or whistles. Faithful to that climate, Anders weaves a short tale of solitude and aging which feels, contrary to the rest of this album's cut-and-dried approach, oddly sincere and elegant in its restraint. Now, contrast that to the glossy, faux-aggressive messes of "Save Me", "Through My Eyes", "The Truth", "The End" or "Here Until Forever", all complete with a shriekfest of a vocal performance enhanced by wonky effects like clapping, a kid's choir (thanks, Evergrey) and, shock of all shocks, not a whole lot of metal.

All in all, "Battles" is another misfire from a band that has thoroughly repackaged itself, despite lacking the honesty to just get rid of the trappings which it once helped popularize, instead choosing to walk around wearing them as a rotting second skin. Check it out for "Wallflower" or if you're craving nondescript alt-pop choruses. Also, Anders pronounces "dark" as "dork" somewhere, which never fails to be amusing and thus gets an extra 1%. Otherwise, skip this dud.