In Flames

Battles

Written by: AP on 28/12/2016 22:21:52

As one of the two gateway bands into more extreme forms of metal for me, the transformation that In Flames have undergone since the early ‘00s, has been difficult to swallow. Once a leading actor of the melodic death metal movement, the Gothenburg-born outfit has long since shifted into a more mainstream, arena-catering sound, with just 2006’s “Come Clarity”, and perhaps also to some extent 2008’s “A Sense of Purpose”, providing nostalgic glimpses into past glories. The changes have of course all been part of a quest to stay relevant amidst the rise of metalcore and, more recently, the resurgence of nu-metal, but especially on 2014’s “Siren Charms”, it has felt as though In Flames were running on fumes, lost for ideas on how to create lasting value from their increasingly poppy songwriting tendencies. With this latest outing, “Battles”, however, the band seems to finally have settled into their new, arena-rocking selves and rediscovered their penchant for writing a catchy tune.

In order to find some enjoyment in the record, it is, however, imperative to have an existing appreciation for metal that relies on dramatic effects and bombast, rather than complexity and depth, to make its mark. “Battles” was not just produced, but also co-written by Howard Benson (famous for his work with Grammy-league bands like Halestorm, Papa Roach and Skillet), and as such you will find the full spectrum of production techniques deployed across the effort — yes, including the usage of auto-tune on Anders Fridén’s vocals at times — to create a grandiose, almost orchestral atmosphere that Bring Me the Horizon, too, has grown fond of in recent years. And incidentally, if Fridén was swapped for Oliver Sykes on the opening track, “Drained”, there would be little to distinguish it from a ‘Horizon piece off “That’s the Spirit”, especially during the towering, melodramatic chorus. The comparison is further, though less favourably evoked by “Here Until Forever” — a sickening, syrupy ballad responsible for the most cringeworthy moment on “Battles”, as Fridén ‘muses’: ”I can’t wait to hear your voice again. I am far from lonely but without you I’m a mess.”

Balladry is found in a more edible format, too, with “Like Sand” emerging as an unexpected highlight early on. Once again, the track exposes Fridén’s poverty as a lyricist, but here, the prosaicness is rendered moot by a mixture of his own technique (the pitch-stepping of the pronoun I in the verse, ”I, I, I believe that the whole wide world is afraid of me”, works remarkably), elegantly laid quiet/loud dynamics by guitarists Björn Gelotte & Niclas Engelin, and a booming, super-sized chorus guaranteed to roar over festival plazas for years to come: ”I want the whole world, the whole world, the whole world in my hands. But it’s just slipping through like sand.” Not since the title track to “Come Clarity” have In Flames so irrefutably commanded the art of penning a huge anthem — and instances of that savvy pop up in the likes of “The End” and “Save Me” as well, both of which offer the additional straw to fans of “Clayman”-era ‘Flames, of featuring those distinctive, dual-harmonised riffs that should be familiar to any connoisseur of melodic death metal.

The most intriguing piece of “Battles” comes in the form of the Tool-esque “Wallflower”, however. Dark, evocative and awash with electronic references, the song harks back to and then trumps the experimenting that took place on “The Chosen Pessimist” (the odd one out on “A Sense of Purpose), sending In Flames into uncharted waters that one hopes they might expand upon in the future as they continue to establish their new identity. For although “Battles” is a welcome step in the right direction, the record still contains its share of anonymity and misfires — particularly within the middle portion. The rest, one has trouble forming a meaningful emotional connection to, yet even so, the material has a kind of life-affirming characteristic, and at the very least, it sticks. In Flames have seldom felt so comfortable in their ‘second era’ as on “Battles”, and if one is willing to look past the obvious shortcomings (the streamlined production, soulless lyricism and heavy reliance on gimmicks), the handful of gigantic arena-rockers that are on offer actually make for a pretty satisfying listen. And who knows, maybe you will join the sweeping sing-songs when the Swedish metallers play at a festival near you next summer?

6

Download: Drained, The End, Like Sand, Wallflower
For the fans of: Bring Me the Horizon, Linkin Park, Raunchy
Listen: Facebook

Release date 11.11.2016
Eleven Seven / Nuclear Blast Records

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