Album Review: In Flames - Sounds of a Playground Fading
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
Origin: Gothenburg, Sweden
You probably won't find a whole lot of metal reviews on this site, but understand that once in a while we have some inner urges to want to crank the volume to 11 and headbang until the neighbors feel the need to complain about a possible domestic disturbance. This is definitely one of those occasions. Today we have In Flames' tenth (tenth!) studio album, Sounds of a Playground Fading.
Melodic death metal probably wouldn't have happened without In Flames. The boys from Sweden have arguably been the starting force behind said genre, and they have turned it into what is known as the "Gothenburg Sound" with other artists At The Gates and Dark Tranquility (a potential "Big Three"). While the band has forged through some pretty major line-up changes, including the recent departure of founder Jesper Strömblad, they've still managed to get through ten records without a hitch.
But seeing as Sounds of a Playground Fading is their tenth record, you'd probably think that they'd make an album worth celebrating. Well, it simply isn't. It's another shoot in the barrel, following a direction first admittedly seen on Reroute to Remain, five albums ago. The genre for this band has been questionable since this isn't the In Flames that brought the intricacies of The Jester Race or the hugely enjoyable sounds of Colony, but rather an alt-metal In Flames for the 2000's and beyond. And even though this isn't the same band fans cherish for creating such a sound, it's still hard to deny that the new direction is still pretty good in its own right.
In the pantheon In Flames have created for itself, Sounds of a Playground Fading does justice by a thin margin. As has occurred on their past four albums, the band takes a decidedly different path that more or less strays away from their older, more "true" melodic death metal material for a cleaner and more-produced sound. That sound is no different from this record, utilizing the same structural technique from vocal arrangements and processed effects to the evenly paced guitar harmonies. It's even tonally in familiar territory, playing like a Soundtrack to Your Escape 2.0. The pulse pounds and the rhythm takes some tight turns, but it doesn't necessarily separate itself from its contemporaries. For those fans continually expecting a "return to form," there is no question that they will once again be let down.
However, for any newcomers or fans of this newer direction, they can expect to be quite satisfied. Tracks like "Deliver Us," "All For Me," "Ropes" and "A New Dawn" keep in the same ballpark that has worked for In Flames for some time now. They don't present anything new, but they bring a fulfillment like chocolate does for a sweet tooth. You could say these are "singles," but they admittedly work to the point that they themselves around what makes these kinds of sounds accessible to any metal listener. Sure it's a little close for comfort, but they still rock to their hearts' content. The 13-track record displays Anders Friden's now growl-less vocal style that's just as clean as it's been the last few albums, though Björn Gelotte's writing leaves little to take away with.
I must note that as the last track, "Liberation" is strange and relentlessly poppy, perhaps the pop-iest construction In Flames have ever belted out. Instead of really summing up what the album sonically goes after, the sounds sort of plead with us that the band wants to deviate from themselves and it somewhat throws you off. Whether or not that's implied by the title, the echoed guitar strumming and revelatory choral section come off like a spoof of the genre in the vein of Russell Brand's Infant Sorrow or a borderline alt-rock band such as Cold. Repetitious and too serious for its own good, we can only be so thankful that the twelve tracks prior do enough to leave this track off any playlist.
Sounds of a Playground Fading does nothing for the In Flames canon other than to exist in it, and that's really okay. Like the four albums before it, Sounds continues to follow in the same musical direction that has more or less branded In Flames for the foreseeable future, but even without the band's founder in the realm, the music still streams along. It may stick a little too close to formula, but with some fine tracks and continuing trends, Sounds rarely fades as its title implies. For those listeners getting their first taste of In Flames, the album will come off as appealing, but for those clamoring fans out there, don't get your hopes up.
Tell us what you think of In Flames and Sounds of a Playground Fading, now available from Century Media Records.
In Flames - "Deliver Us"
In Flames - "Ropes"