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Why?! - 5%

Troodon_metallicus, November 26th, 2017

Really, why do In Flames even bother anymore? They haven’t put out anything worth a listen in ages, so why did I bother to check out this album when it appeared as a suggestion on Youtube? I knew it was going to be frustrating at best, but I played it nonetheless. Seriously, fuck my curiosity...

If you’ve heard anything starting with A Sense of Purpose, you know what to expect, alternative rock with scattered traces of melodic death metal. Regarding those traces, all I can say is ‘for fuck’s sake, In Flames, stop throwing us bones!’ And those traces are the least bad part of this album. I say ‘least bad’ because none of them are worth mentioning, they exist, nothing more. Someone could’ve made an actually listenable song out of those, but not In Flames, it's well-known they don’t give a shit anymore. The bass is next to impossible to hear, while the drums are just there, because they have to be present, I guess. As for the sections played on keyboards, as before, they serve no purpose whatsoever and are completely out of place, so why did they bother writing those in the first place? I won’t make examples, there is simply nothing worth taking out.

Anders Fridén is awful, as has been the case for years. When he tries to sing, he moans and wails, but what did anyone expect anyway? When he tries to growl... Oh, actually, there is nothing that deserves to be called a growl, so no use talking about that. He does use 'harsh vocals', however. And there’s a reason why I wrote it between quotation marks, because, believe it or not, they sound like he needs laxatives due to serious constipation problems. Yes, I wrote that, he sounds like he’s taking a shit. And I wish I could stop at that, but there is one new element when it comes to singing on this album... children's choir. That’s right, they dragged some children to provide backing vocals in a few seconds. How pretentious can musicians get? Dragging innocent kids into whatever crap you came up with? In Flames, you scum, you are not Pink Floyd and you will never write Another Brick in the Wall, so don’t drag kids into this! (huff) Sorry for this tirade, I had no choice... I feel sorry for those kids; one day, at least some of them will wake up thinking, ‘My god, I actually agreed to that? Yuck...’ And... no, I’m not talking about the lyrics, no way, angst this band’s become known for is too disgusting for me to even think about. (shudder)

When it comes to song structure, there are no surprises, In Flames try to emulate alternative rock and pop. But it’s even more frustrating now that it was, because it’s obvious they don’t give a shit anymore for whatever they write, how disjointed the end result is... I mean, nobody can combine pop, alternative rock, emo, melodic death metal and mallcore and come up with anything worth a damn, no matter how hard anyone were to try. Winds of Plague’s Decimate the Weak was very disjointed, but it’s, at the very least, way more coherent than this shit and they at least tried to combine genres that have connection to metal. Singing a slimy singalong chorus over riffs old In Flames would’ve rejected outright and would’ve been ashamed to write, while supported by drums that may as well have been programmed, with keyboards that make random sounds that are, aside from being pointless, also often hard to hear? This sounds like a recipe for disaster, not for writing songs. However, the band obviously doesn't think so. And the result is... (sigh) MORE WORTHLESS SHIT!

I cannot believe I’m about to say this, but, all things considered, this is worse than Soundtrack to Your Escape. That’s it! As far as I’m concerned, In Flames died with this album. And Anders really needs to take his laxatives. As for me, I need a good album to wash away the bad taste this... foul thing leaves behind.

They Had Lost Both The Battle And The War - 13%

felix headbanger, October 29th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Nuclear Blast

I was once a fan of the classic works of one of the pioneers of melodic death metal, In Flames. The band's debut album "Lunar Strain" and their sophomore "The Jester Race" had all the goods that you can find in a melodic death metal record. EP's like "Subterranean" and "Black-Ash Inheritance" were also both decent releases that are worthy of adding into metalheads' album collections. And then along the line, after finding success in the mainstream metal scene, the band's musicianship and overall song writing declined. They became boring and less interesting.

A band who once broke new grounds, and helped introduced a new sub-genre of heavy metal, is now just a mere shadow of its former mighty rank. The band suffered a great decay for selling out their music to the popular audiences. Those who knew the band well and had heard their earlier crafts can totally understand what I am talking about.

The band's contemporary released "Battles", which went out last November 11th of the year 2016 under the banner of Nuclear Blast, is a living proof of In Flames's continues descend to mediocrity. This release appeared worse in quality like the previous seven records, starting from their new millennium release "Clayman" up to "Siren Charms", that they had put out. Gone are the memorable melodies, remarkable riffs, and powerful and catchy drum work that was once strongly present in early In Flames offerings.

The guitar work here is really lousy and pathetic. The riffs are at a bottom level than of that what the band had provided decades ago. And the drums are very generic. I think even modern deathcore drummers can do better than what Joe Rickard had provided behind the kit in this offering. The lyrical content also showed the band's deteriorating song writing ability. Björn and Anders came out like little wankers trying to write lyrics for teenage girls just to score a pussy. I still can't believe that the creativity of a group who released the highly praised "Subterranean" had totally collapsed.

This album is entirely made up of continued sequence of mainstream heavy alternative metal tracks plaited together to form an insipid record. And yes, like the other modern releases that the band had produced, Anders Friden's formerly impressive growl cannot be found in this offering. This whole album was clearly fabricated to catch the attentions of scene kids and trendy hipsters. After listening to "Battles", I had come to a conclusion that In Flames are not willing to go and finally make a new album that would contain a pack of punch and would amuse their old school fans.

I really cannot find any more reason to still listen to this trash of an album again. Fellow extreme music connoisseurs, stay away from any new release that these guys are going to put out. The band had made it clear to us that they are having so much joy in producing run-of-the-mill metal music. This whole thing is just miserably inadequate in every way.

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.

Middle School Melodic Death Metal - 21%

Karrebarre98, November 25th, 2016

There are bands out there that change so much in their career they essentially abandon their original sound (Such as Opeth, Cynic, etc) but manage to craft a new sound for themselves that still shows their focus remains on the music. Opeth chose to go down a progressive rock path, embracing strange 70s retro modulation effects and delays that scream ELP, Pink Floyd and King Crimson. I personally don't care as much for their newer stuff, but will still admit they're not selling out by any means. Same situation with Cynic. They got tired of playing tech death metal, so they slowed down and softened the base of their music while still keeping their identity with the vocoders, scientific riffing and soloing.

That's not really the case with In Flames' new album.

If you're well acquainted with In Flames first 4 albums or so, you understand where they came from. They're one of the founding three bands of Swedish MDM. They helped pioneered the dual-guitar harmony structure of the genre itself, as well as some more intricate riffing than what Swedish bands had been doing up until then.

So, not knowing what their newer discography was supposed to sound like, I listened to "The Truth" seeing it was just released. All one can think about when being audiologically assaulted with that terrible "we are, we aaare!" is, "WTF was that!? Was that an elementary school choir?" Who does that? Put a little kid's choir into a metal song? It gets worse. They put it in THREE songs on this album. It makes you wonder if they put them in there to induce a listener's experience that mimics that of "hipster douchebag" pop music. You know, the kind that uses acoustic guitars, pianos, violins, and any other acoustic instrument they can get their hands on so it boosts their appeal to folk fans? Its called a "gang-shout." It makes people want to sing along. In Flames never needed to do that before, fans seem to sing along despite not knowing what the vocalist is growling about.

How about the vocals? Anders Friden used to have a pretty awesome death growl back in the day that rivalled nobody. Now it just sounds like he's purposely trying to shred his vocal cords by attempting to sound like Dani from Cradle Of Filth. Or how about those cleans? They wouldn't suck so much if he didn't breathe so excessively like he's on the pot figuratively "crapping" out the new In Flames album. There's this line in "The Truth" that goes, "Are you just gonna turn around and walk away?" Listen to it. What the heck was that? An emo chick? Why the moody whimper? When is that ever appropriate for an amazing band like In Flames?

The production is the only thing that seems half-way decent about this album. Except for the mixing on "Through My Eyes", that guitar solo is WAY TOO LOUD. Turn down the wah-pedal there, it sounds like its stuck on the "Kirk Hammett" setting. Not a fan of the "stuck wah" sound that Bjorn is using for his leads.

General consensus is, it sucks. In almost every way. What the heck happened guys? They've adopted just about every facet of mainstreaminess they could find.

Simplified and standardized song structure? Check.
Replace death growls with breathy, whiny cleans and Dani Filth screams? Check.
Replace good guitar tone with crappy "stuck wah" sound? Check.
Add in some children's choir to make it sound more friendly? Check.
Remove double bass and blast beats? Check.
Add in dubstep noises into random parts of the song? Check.

At least this album is bad enough to make for a hilarious Christmas present. Right?

Lingering declension - 18%

Lissart, November 24th, 2016

Every metalhead who has a bit of knowledge about what In Flames have done since the beginning of the new millennium can easily predict what this album is like. Although die hard In Flames fans still hope for a return to good old days, this seems unlikely. After the heart of the band (guitarist Jesper Strömblad) left in 2010, Swedish band delved into alternative metal territory with their 2011's album Sounds of a Playground Fading. The once innovative melodeath band used to be one of my personal favourites; unfortunately, the decline of a once great band is becoming clearer with each release. The newest output by Swedish band is nothing more than a continuation of a path the band took with two preceding releases.

Starting off with Drained, a listener can found himself really surprised as the album opener differs from what In Flames accustomed us to. The song begins with a bleak melody, then whispering vocals come in. However, this is the only innovation I found in the opener; the rest of the song is a typical post-2000 In Flames song with a simple verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure. The chorus is weak and uninspired, during the verses a listener can have an impression of listening to a screamo band.

The opener is followed by perhaps the most known song on the album, a track called The End. It was released as a lead single prior to the album's release and received fairly lauding responses, it was even compared to older In Flames material due to its opening guitar riff. The song itself also marks an innovation in the new In Flames approach - appearance of children choir.

The band incorporated even greater usage of electronics than they did on previous albums, it's especially noticeable on the album's second single, The Truth. The track is probably the most radio friendly song In Flames have ever produced, with the prevalent presence of children choir in the chorus.

Halfway through the album, a listener can feel a bit weary of all these flowery choruses and impeccable song production. That's it, my friends - every song on the album is structured in the same way I mentioned at the beginning of my review, a verse followed by a chorus. This is what they have been doing since 2002. In Flames obviously aren't the most creative band around, huh?

Everyone wants In Flames to come back to their pre-Reroute to Remain sound, yet they firmly cling to their recent musical approach. With every album the expectations are growing - and in the end we get an album like Battles. On one hand it's laudable to do something irrespectively of the others, everyone has a right to pursue one's own ways but on the other hand - the way In Flames took is an easy way, a way of radio airplay and MTV auditions.

The separate paragraph should be devoted to vocals. Anders Fridén is a substantial element of the album, similarly as on Siren Charms and Sounds of a Playground Fading, his vocals fluctuate between agonising screams and nasal clean vocals. However, one can easily notice the presence of harsh vocals has decreased considerably in comparison to their earlier releases. Fridén's vocal lines are often cheesy along with his lyrics.

"I'm taking more than I can give
Is this the life I wanna live?" he sings on Underneath My Skin and it leaves me wondering whether I'm listening to a metal band or some kind of a pop-punk group.

To sum up, the band's twelfth studio album is almost a twin brother of 2014's Siren Charms, however, the latter was performed in a more aggressive approach. After comparing those two releases I can come up with a conclusion that Battles is a slightly worse album than its predecessor and probably the worst output of the band in their entire career. There are little to no redeeming features here. I'd rather be listening to The Jester Race instead.

Favourite (actually decent) tracks: The End, Like Sand, Wallflower

Least favourite tracks: The Truth, In My Room, Before I Fall, Drained

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.

Extinguished. - 29%

PassiveMetalhead, November 11th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Nuclear Blast

In Flames were once the innovators of melodic death metal. No In Flames means no celebrated metalcore bands around today. After releasing their first album in 1994, they then proceeded to release 5 genre-defining albums, 4 of which are universally considered classics. Established as a force to be reckoned with, they then released “Reroute To Remain” in 2002, but it differed from their trademark Gothenburg Metal and introduced cleaner vocals and more accessible harmonies. To most of their fans, this was a fantastic album and took the band to the peak of popularity; others feared they would never again hear an album in league with the 4 preceding classics.

Now in 2016, we have observed In Flames spending more time abandoning their melodic death metal than they have producing it. We could forgive them in 2011 when they released “Sounds of a Playground Fading” because, even as middling as it was, it was still better than In Flames’ first proper misfire: “A Sense of Purpose”. However, few could defend what followed in 2014: “Siren Charms” sounded like In Flames were a different band. Gone were the growls -- and the notion of any form of death metal was just a dream. Nowadays, the flames are naught but embers. Their growing radio-friendly accessibility is no longer a joking matter: “Battles” is marked as the album that decides the ultimate fate of In Flames.

It’s great for bands to evolve their sound, but it generally helps if the change is actually advantageous. Kudos to In Flames for progressing their sound, rather than engage autopilot, but it truly has not worked out well. While listening to tracks such as ‘Drained’, ‘The Truth’, ‘Save Me’ and the sickeningly cheesy ballad, ‘Here Until Forever’, one must wonder what the band were honestly hoping to achieve after creating such mediocre songs. Each of these tracks features insipid riffs and inept techno elements that bring absolutely no sense of rejuvenation to the band’s newer direction. During ‘Like Sand’, Anders Fridén repeats: “I believe the whole wide world is against me”. With equally infantile lyrics scattered throughout Battles, they are against you Anders, they really are.

Fridén’s presence over Battles is substantial. He’s always had a subdued singing approach, but there’s a difference between sounding subdued and strained. There are a few moments on Battles where his vocals don’t sound as sore. The title track is notably heavier with a sweeping chorus and ‘Through My Eyes’ evokes a negligible return to 2006’s “Come Clarity”. And yet, the issue with these better moments is that they just sound tediously safe in contrast to what we know the band is truly capable of.

Whatever battle In Flames have been fighting, Battles signifies the resounding sense of defeat. The guitar work is so far beneath the level that was set a decade ago (let alone two decades ago), the singing and lyricism have never sounded so angst and segments of the album sound like they were recorded underwater. The worst factor: it’s not even an album that you can grow into and appreciate.

How veteran musicians like In Flames appear so blind to their own devolution is tragically bewildering.

Originally written for http://www.sputnikmusic.com/review/72177/In-Flames-Battles/