Last time out, In Flames did not impress me. In fact, I believe that I proclaimed “Battles” being the ‘death of the melodic death metal pioneers’.
In some lights this is true. In Flames, most known for being one of the three influential Scandinavian melodic death metal bands haven’t been a melodic death metal band for a significant period of time now. Whether you believe the transition started with ‘Clayman’ (2000), whether you believe it started when Anders decided to sport dreads and they released ‘Soundtrack To Your Escape’ (2004) or like me, you believe it was in 2008 with ‘A Sense Of Purpose’. Either way, it’s been well over a decade since they put out anything which significantly resembled the melodic death metal they were famed for. So why would I be giving them another once over after they have fallen from grace in my mind? Curiosity? Sentimentality? Masochism?
“I, The Mask” is the band’s latest offering, and instead of looking at this as another offering from the melodic death metal titans, I’m approaching it from the stance that In Flames are now a melodic metal band. It is a better term used to describe their musical shift over the past 11 years and it fits more appropriately. There is still a MDM influence and feel in their sound, but it can’t be defined as that anymore. So with that lengthy introduction now out there, lets gather round and do a ‘Scooby Doo’ style unveiling and see if in Flames can get away with it if it wasn’t for this pesky writer!
Straight off the bat, “Voices” sounds a lot like the post-Clayman era In Flames we have become accustomed to. The building and surging riffs loaded with hooks, the raw edge to the vocals with plenty of expression and inflections which turn singing to snarling in a split second and a steady rhythm section create a well-structured song and the quality of the soloing, something which In Flames have become known for over the years is spot on, with the leads screaming out yet retaining a tight melodic structure. “I, The Mask ” is a buzz of activity and to be honest, I’m not sold on it. Chaotic and intense it may be, but to me personally, it just doesn’t have the kick or the hook to really sell this album. A poor signal of intent with this being the title track? Quite possible, but it does show a side of the band we haven’t heard since tracks like ‘System’ (2002, Reroute To Remain).
There’s plenty of moments on this release which have me nodding in agreement and there’s plenty which have me shaking my head. “(This Is Our) House” is clearly designed as a live track. Crowd chant intro, simple and repetitive mantra… It’s just made for the band to have a big spot to get more participation. It’s an average track which is supposed to be ‘rousing’/’inspiring’, but hey, at least in a live setting In Flames will deliver it the way they wanted to on the studio version!
“Call My Name” and “I Am Above” (the floating head video) are more of a call-back to the ‘Come Clarity’ era sound, the last album which prominently featured a melodic death metal sound and these tracks, like the majority of the course, are a good indicator that this release strongly resembles the 2006 album, it just lacks in the ‘death metal’ edge. “Burn” is a track which is highly energetic, loaded with memorable hooks and a significant amount of pace behind it. Raw and rough but having a cutting edge to it, this track is one of the high points of this album. Another high point is the pseudo-ballad “Stay With Me” which closes the album. A haunting acoustic guitar dominated start which gets heavier as progresses; this song brings memories of the early In Flames material with its significant acoustic moments and rich melodic structuring. When this is combined with some very expressive and emotional vocal delivery, it works rather well and closes the album on a strong note.
In all, “I, The Mask” is yet another release which will divide fans of In Flames.
We all know that In Flames won’t go back to their 90’s sound. They’re not a Melodic Death Metal band and they haven’t been for a long time. My love for them has faded over the years and their releases since “Come Clarity” have been disappointing, but with “I, The Mask” I have been able to enjoy one of their newer releases. Heavier and more familiar feeling, it pays tribute to their earlier work but keeps the band going in the newer direction they have taken, seemingly mixing ‘the best of both’ and giving a decent finished product.