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"
Origin: Eau Claire, Wisconsin
As the lyrics to the first track on the album “Perth” go, Bon Iver is “breaking new ground” with their second full-length album, inviting us to join them in exploring new sonic territories. “Perth” summons our attention with its war-like drumbeat. Departing from extensive use of acoustic guitar, Bon Iver still offers us a dreamy and smooth breath of relaxation with this album. The first track alone is like waking up rested and ready to take on the day.
Bon Iver has grown from their first album and their development as a group is demonstrated through their eponymous album. With each song flowing effortlessly into the next, this album is guaranteed to satisfy, if not, surpass the expectations of fans, with a deliverance of more intricate song progressions, still holding onto their minimalist roots, such as in the second track “Minnesota, WI.”
With the refrain “never gonna break” repeated throughout the song, “Minnesota, WI” offers a struggle and overcoming, with delicate finger-picking and saxophone, coming together seamlessly. It sounds like water dribbling down a brook, celebrating the beauty of simplicity.
“Holocene,” the third, and longest track on the album is the perfect representation of what this album’s all about. It returns to the Bon Iver we once knew and cherished yet reveals a growth, a maturity that only comes with time and reflection. Listening to this song is like riding along a peaceful journey toward whatever the listener most desires, a quest for self-identity, peace of mind, love, stability, family and friendship, it all comes together in this song. This song is like realizing how small a person is in the world and letting the knowledge become empowering, as when Vernon croons, “and at once I knew I was not magnificent.”
This album is nourishing to the soul. It shows off what Bon Iver can do, even what you may not expect. With such tracks as “Towers” more upbeat and with a faster tempo most Bon Iver songs yet executed just as well. “Hinnom, TX” on the other hand might have took the experimentation a little too far, but it’s still better than the average crap we hear on the radio these days. “Calgary” chosen as the first single, does exemplify the departure to a new kind of sound for this album, yet other tracks drown it out in their power and magnitude.
And just when you think the album starts to lose momentum, “Wash.” saves it and once again, delivers what fans crave from Bon Iver. A stripped down sound, leaving the bare essentials, echoing, traversing through the inner workings of the mind, coming out the other side with a new perspective. “Wash.” is the ah-ha moment, when the light bulb goes off and one has a sudden realization, an epiphany. Just like “Bon Iver” plays on the French term “good winter,” this track hones in on the fragility of new life, renewal, among the desolation of a long winter, in a barren field.
Approaching the last song "Beth/Rest," listeners may be surprised at how out of place this track feels. This is the kind of song one could imagine playing at the end credits of a cheesy '80s or '90s romance film. In addition to and may be as a result of that, when the song/album ends, it leaves off on a question mark without much resolution. It kind of leaves you hanging and questioning if this is really the end of such a (for the most part) solid record. Despite this, when it ends the album and some of the more memorable moments linger in the mind leaving the listener wanting more. But don’t worry, fans and first-time listeners; if this is only the second album for Bon Iver, imagine what’s in store for the future.
Bon Iver - "Holocene"
Bon Iver - "Calgary"
Bon Iver's full-length second album is available now from indie record label Jagjaguwar.