In Flames

Sounds Of A Playground Fading

Written by: AP on 07/08/2011 13:51:04

Little can be said of In Flames which has not been said already, from the band's legendary role in shaping the Gothenburg metal sound to the wavering quality of their most recent outings, but one thing needs to be carved in stone, it seems: In Flames are no longer interested in rehashing their sound in order to please hardened fans of their more extreme early albums. Yet with every new album a hate choir emerges to denounce their long lost love affair with the band and portray them as sell-outs of the highest caliber. True In Flames have undertaken a more radio friendly, populistic sound of late - interrupted only by the retrospective "Come Clarity" - but what most people refuse to acknowledge is that with each album, they have also reinvented themselves and pushed their sound in ever stranger directions - a character trait usually seen in positive light except by the extreme metal crowd, who'd prefer for things to have remained as they were in the 80's and 90's.

In Flames are no longer the band they used to be, not least because the band's long-standing primary songwriter and guitarist Jesper Strömblad was ousted in order to deal with his alcohol problem. This change, however necessary, had serious repercussions for the band, who for the first time ever wrote "Sounds of a Playground Fading" as a four-piece, bringing their long time friend and substitute session musician Niclas Engelin of Engel to fill in for live appearances. And though it now seems Engelin's role has become permanent, Strömblad's songwriting prowess is a striking absence on the record. So what does it sound like? Well, for one, the electronic infusions perverting "Reroute to Remain" and "Soundtrack to Your Escape" are once again to be heard in the rear providing ambience, atmosphere and orchestral feel to the songs, while the vocals, now almost exclusively residing in Anders Fridén's clean range, have been promoted to the forefront. The result is the most pop oriented In Flames album to date, but thankfully not in the repugnant vein of Dead by April or Sonic Syndicate.

For whatever the stylistic decisions made, In Flames will always remain a heavy band at heart, be able to deliver a wealth of impressive instrumentation, and turn melodic death into a mass friendly affair. Songs like "Deliver Us" and "The Puzzle" are apt examples of this, combining the signature guitar tone perfected on "Clayman" with the ultra-melodic soundscape and engaging vocals of "A Sense of Purpose", and completing the impression with heavy sampling à la "Soundtrack to Your Escape", while the likes of "Fear is the Weakness" and "Where the Dead Ships Dwell" offer glimpses into the band's flair for balladry. Both introspective and rife with melancholy, these songs take the catchiest moments of "A Sense of Purpose" and turn them into the kind of majestic power ballads that are impossible to resist in a live setting. In general, the songs on "Sounds of a Playground Fading" are enormous in scope, the kind destined for grandeur in the arena size venues this band is used to playing.

But as professional, well-written and coherent as the band's current output is, it is also remarkably clear that somewhere along the line In Flames lost the sense of magic that used to define their sound. No longer the pioneers, "Sounds of a Playground Fading" is rather a consolidation of the band's signature sound, which, grandiose though it may be, plays a little too safe for my liking. While with "A Sense of Purpose" the band dared experiment with ideas that seemed very foreign for the band on the likes of "Alias" and "The Chosen Pessimist", "Sounds of a Playground Fading" engages the autopilot more often than not, resulting in songs, like "Ropes" and "Enter Tragedy", that are indisputably solid and indeed very listenable, but completely lack the element of surprise.

As such, there is no doubt that "Sounds of a Playground Fading" will appeal to the vast majority of In Flames' contemporary fanbase, while those more fond of pre-"Clayman" era material will shudder upon hearing it. The album is as professional and glitch-free as one should expet from a band of such experience and esteem, but at the same time, the sense of wonder that defined their early work is nowhere to be heard. Suffice it to say that In Flames are moving toward a more expansive sound, and at the very least, they've moved on since the unfortunate loss of its founding member.

Download: Deliver Us, The Puzzle, Fear is the Weakness, Enter Tragedy
For the fans of: Dark Tranquillity, Scar Symmetry, Soilwork
Listen: Myspace

Release date 20.06.2011
Century Media

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