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The truth that hurts the traditionalists - 72%

kluseba, November 20th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Eleven Seven Music (Limited edition, Digipak)

In Flames is without a doubt one of the most controversially discussed metal bands. The Swedish quintet has changed, fine-tuned and progressed its sound on each studio record and shifted away from melodic death metal to electronic alternative rock over the years. While many traditionalists see the band as traitors who are trying to be commercially successful by any means necessary, the group is still playing sold-out shows in front of several thousands of old and new fans alike. I have been a fan of all phases this band has gone through and thoroughly enjoyed each of the last three albums because they had consequent, diversified and energizing tracks that always offered something new.

This isn’t the case on the band’s latest record Battles. It’s not a bad album by any means and on a purely subjective level I listen to this record quite regularly. From a more honest and objective point of view, one must admit that the band offers quantity instead of quality on Battles. Among the fourteen new tracks, only about half of them manage to stick out and offer something interesting. The other half is solid but ultimately exchangeable and repetitive at times. The band offers catchy electronic alternative rock with minor melodic death metal elements but a true evolution compared to the last effort that felt more courageous is missing here.

The band convinces during its more concise tunes. The single ‘’The Truth’’ was controversially discussed because it is dominated by simple guitar riffs, rhythmic electronic elements that are almost danceable and a catchy and mellow chorus you won’t get out of your mind. The saccharine clean vocals and the juvenile anthemic backing vocals only add to the controversy. I really like this song because even experienced alternative rock and pop bands don’t come around with such a precise, melodic and addicting track all the time. The lyrics are also quite interesting and the lines ‘’We are the truth that hurts the most; it hurts when your denial’s exposed’’ might as well be addressed to the closed-minded traditionalists that have kept criticizing the group in a most nonconstructive way for far over one and a half decades by now. It fits that this message is delivered in the band’s most commercial track ever and that this song has been chosen as a single. This earworm is one of the few moments on the album where the band really takes some risks. Another great track is the other single ‘’The End’’ that convinces with a balanced mixture of a harsh vocals recalling the band’s roots, a melodic pre-chorus in the key of the group’s more recent material and a powerful chorus supported by a children’s choir that offers something completely new.

This album also offers several songs where the band either rehashes ideas that have worked better in the past or where the group experiments in an unsuccessful way. An example for the first category is the uninspired power ballad ‘’Here Until Forever’’ that reminds of several mellower tracks on the last studio effort with calm verses and emotional choruses. This song doesn’t have the uplifting lyrics of ‘’Dead Eyes’’ or the emotionality of ‘’Paralyzed’’ though and sounds more like a pop punk ballad that could have been released by Blink-182 or Good Charlotte one and a half decades ago. The chugging ‘’Wallflower’’ falls into the second category with its overlong build-up and a total length above seven minutes. While previous epic tracks of the band such as the menacing ‘’Your Bedtime Story Is Scaring Everyone’’ or the emotionally driven ‘’The Chosen Pessimist’’ had a clear evolution from start to finish, ‘’Wallflower’’ disappoints with simplistic riffs, uninspired electronic background sounds, vocals that are more breathed than sung and weird atmospheric breaks that break the flow over and over again. All those elements are never going anywhere and dragging on for far too long.

The main difference between Battles and Siren Charms is that the predecessor sounded dark, mysterious and pressured at times while the new album is more catchy, melodic and uplifting. One reason for this might be that the new album was recorded in California while the predecessor was made in Berlin. Since I usually prefer albums that are a rather dark, experimental and profound over more positive, traditional and repetitive efforts, it might not come as a surprise that I prefer Siren Charms over Battles.

In the end, Battles is a good alternative rock record but only an average release in In Flames’ varied discography. Aside of this record’s more uplifting atmosphere, the band fails to explore new territories or to deliver a consistent return to something it had explored before in the different individual tunes. Overall, the record sounds like a mellower version of the group’s previous five studio outputs. Faithful fans should purchase the record while occasional fans can skip it without any regrets and traditional fans will still be stuck in the past and blindly despise the group’s new style anyway.