20 years ago, In Flames released ‘The Jester Race’, a highly significant and hugely influential album on what became referred to as ‘The Gothenburg’ sound, a styling of melodic death metal made notable by In Flames, along with Dark Tranquillity and At The Gates. Such a majestic release deserves mention, because it has stood the test of time and remained a true classic of the melodic death metal genre. Sadly, the band haven’t. It’s no secret that adapting to the current musical sound can lead to more recognition and success and slowly but surely the harsh but melodic edge became heavier, synths began to creep in and then the death metal styled vocals gave way to more singing, to the point where in 2008, there was a schism in the In Flames universe. ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’ marked the birth of the new In Flames. The death metal vocals became less prominent and by the time the disappointing ‘Siren’s Charms’ landed in 2014, the band had near enough abandoned their melodic death roots and settled firmly in the melodic metal sound, bordering on the metalcore genre at times. With this history lesson out the way, the battle rages on once more and with what has already been revealed by the band, it is one an old school In Flames fan will not win.
If the above didn’t give it away, then this is what you can expect from the album in one paragraph or thereabouts. Bjorn Gelotte’s wicked guitar tones thunder in the verse and riffs and wail with power and that unmistakable but now bordering on stale and all too familiar sound in the leads. Anders’ whiny lyrics which may reflect some hardships he could have endured being belted out like a 2006 emo-metalcore vocalist, melodic refrains and harmonies which tease at something good but ultimately fall short and moments which promise some older fire being stamped out before they can even get good. To shorten this even more, one word can sum it up even better – underwhelming.
With more focus on big sounding, hook laden choruses which may go over better live than on disc and a severe lack of spark in the harmonies and riffs, something the In Flames of old were known for, this album is below standard in almost every aspect bar the production and finishing touches. Whilst this may seem like I am just bashing on the band because I want them to release something with more backbone, all this is, is simply a heavier variant of ‘Siren’s Charms’. The two singles in circulation, “The End” and “The Truth” are terribly bland examples of melodic metalcore with some real cringe worthy vocal performances and some alright riffs and melodies in places but nothing spectacular, and this is looking past the vocals as much as possible, because face it, bringing up In Flames (of now) always results in the vocal discussion. Yes, Anders has the right not to do his old vocal stylings anymore, he wishes to preserve his voice so he can prolong his musical career longer and this is something we have to (reluctantly) accept… Unfortunately it’s not doing him any favours.
Over all, this was a battle I knew I could not win. For the few moments where the In Flames of old flickered to life, the In Flames of now smothered the embers almost like they didn’t want that to come back. Gone are the days of the cutting death metal melodies and big vocal roars which put them on the map and now all that remains is a band trying to milk their name and prestige for all they can with substandard melodic metalcore.
Mark it down, Friday 11th of November, the day a melodic death metal titan died.