In Flames – Sounds Of A Playground Fading

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Sometimes there is entirely too much hype surrounding the release of an album and then everybody is disappointed when it doesn’t live up to those expectations.  In Flames definitely doesn’t have that problem with their release, Sounds Of A Playground Fading. It’s been months of tireless insults all over the metal world about ‘Sounds Of A Career Ending’ due to the distance In Flames has put between their Swedish death metal roots and the departure of original guitarist Jesper Strömblad.  That should only mean they can go up from the expectations set for their tenth album.

With the addition of Engel guitarist Niclas Engelin there were lots of questions to be answered about the sound of this record.  Engelin was always a fill-in member of the band and also a member of Anders’ side project Passenger.  So it comes as no surprise that parts of this album have an eerily similar sound to 2003’s Passenger. The die hard pre-Clayman fans are going to loathe this album with a passion; however the Passenger fans and modern day In Flames fans will probably enjoy most of this album.  Aside from ‘The Attic’ and ‘Jester’s Door’ being throwaway interludes that add little to the equation, the rest of the album is a new, more unique experience worth checking out.  It feels like the band draws from more different styles and bands than ever before which I happen to enjoy.  There is going to be endless griping about the band going soft and selling out which will overshadow and haunt this release.

The title track starts off with an ominous sounding intro before going straight back to the 2008 A Sense Of Purpose sound.  ‘Deliver Us’ is softer and much more melodic just like, you guessed it, Passenger was.  ‘All For Me’ begins as most other In Flames songs do before giving way to the spoken vocal sound that bloodsimple couldn’t get enough of on Red Harvest.  ‘The Puzzle’ rocks but to me feels like something is missing.  It slowly tapers off and leads into ‘Fear Is The Weakness’ which opens with the heavy metal and synth sound introduced on Reroute To Remain.  This song is also probably the highlight of the record due to the crafty guitar work intertwined here.  ‘Where The Dead Ships Dwell’ mixes their signature sound with a touch of electronic effects very reminiscent of what ifformer melodic death metallers Callenish Circle used in 2006 on their final album, [Pitch.Black.Effects]. ‘The Attic’ is the first of two spoken word interludes with a haunting sound to them that brings the mood of album down a bit.  It does effectively give the catchy and mildly overproduced next track, ‘Darker Times’, more balls however. ‘Ropes’ should definitely be a Passenger song in all honesty.  If it were placed anywhere in that album, most listeners wouldn’t notice a difference.  It’s bouncy with clean vocals and the synth driven sound that is nothing like anything that has been labeled In Flames before.  ‘Enter Tragedy’ is solid and picks the tempo back up reminding you of which band you’re listening to.  ‘Jester’s Door’ sounds like the opening of a movie where the black screen appears and a partial list of the cast rolls through while you have no idea what the hell is going on.  It goes from what sounds like an actor narrating his life to a full on Linkin Park sounding sample to lead into ‘A New Dawn’.  It starts off pretty straightforward and then goes into a very nice solo with a violin tossed in there as well that is the most retro sounding that the band goes for the Lunar Strain fans.  The album closes with ‘Liberation’ which is another song better suited for the Passenger moniker.  It’s soft, clean, overly melodic and would be even more horribly out of place as anything but the closing track.

With their tenth release, In Flames have effectively distanced themselves from every other Swedish melodic death metal band out there.  While bands like Soilwork and Dark Tranquillity both came out to kick ass and reestablish their trademark sound, In Flames has leaned more towards the hard rock sound that isn’t tethered to a particular blueprint of how to create a song.  Sure, they’re going to lose even more of their devout ‘followers’ who want to hear ‘Pinball Map’ 14 times in their setlist, but they might very well pick up a lot of new fans who aren’t quite ready for something as heavy as something like the new Arch Enemy album, but still crave metal with more balls than Disturbed.  Personally, this album feels a lot more like the long awaited release of Passenger’s second album than it does a band 18 years and ten albums into a career.  When looking at it from the musical standpoint of something different and more or less imagining it as a Passenger album, I can give this album a 6 out of 10.  I’m not madly in love with this by any means, but I don’t object to it and will be in the mood to hear it every so often nonetheless.  If you’re a diehard old school In Flames fan who doesn’t want to hear anything remotely melodic, you’re just going to bitch about it nonstop.  In which case you should probably look elsewhere, instead of wasting precious bandwidth whining about In Flames’ new identity.

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