There is no disputing that In Flames was an instigator if not the creator of melodic death metal. Trendsetting powerhouses from day one and the inspiration for masses of subsequent bands over the years, their albums have set the pace and opened doors to many new ideas for numerous others. There is also no argument that recent releases have split opinion and probably disappointed as many fans as they have gained with the evolution of the Swedes sound. Not that any of their albums have been anything less than strong, it is just the increasing inclusions of more melodies and varied genre influences taking them further way from that original primal sound that marked their legendary status from the start, which is upsetting quite a few followers.
Their tenth studio album “Sounds Of A Playground Fading”, their first on Century Media, will be no exception, as the quintet continues with their use of more melodic and ‘lighter’ elements. Curiosity is also rife with this being the first album without guitarist Jesper Strömblad, founding and co-writing member; would the band dramatically change or noticeably lose something without him. The answer to both questions is no, though certainly the songs on “Sounds Of A Playground Fading” are different animals to those on the classic releases “Whoracle” or “Colony” but are only a few footsteps away in sound and substance from the previous album “A Sense Of Purpose”.
The songs themselves under the pen and guidance of guitarist Björn Gelotte continue the flow from the previous release with no real notable change other than a natural progression, no dramatic inclusions of sounds that possibly were restricted previously are apparent but certainly the songwriting itself is just as full and rounded as before.
The album starts with the title track, giving a satisfying and purposeful opening for what is ahead; with a clean guitar lead in, the track opens up to a blend of strong melodies, crisp rhythms and winding riffs. Not excessively heavy, more in the Bloodsimple style especially suggested by the vocals of Anders Fridén who often on the album sounds similar to Tim Williams from the New York band, the track is a promising if not a heart pulse racing start .
The new single ‘Deliver Us’ follows and shows the variation in sound the band has these days. Fuelled with old 80’s metal melodies and a decent electronic keyboard flow it is again satisfying enough, though whether it is the best choice for a single is debatable, certainly it is easily accessible.
There is a strong consistency to the album but three tracks stand out more than the others, the varied ‘All For Me’, its driven intensity switching from metal to hard rock repeatedly and again very Bloodsimple, ‘The Puzzle’ with its incessant and intense riff loaded groove and the controlled but all out drum attack from Daniel Svensson, and ‘Darker Times’. This is by far the best track on the album, an impressive mix of rampant energy and the darker elements the band are known for enhanced with integrated nu-metal hooks and riffs that work exceedingly well. It may not be throwing innovation out by the chunks but it does show a good use and awareness of the best elements of different genres of metal.
With the great guitars and bass sounds from Peter Iwers and Niclas Engelin respectively adding to the aforementioned contributions, “Sounds Of A Playground Fading” is a good, steady and enjoyable album. True, it is neither breaking down walls nor writing a new dramatic chapter in the history of In Flames, but it is solid and enjoyably littered with essential riffs and skilled solos as well as many added twists from other genres creating an album that certainly is very acceptable. The band has not gone forward but alternatively they have not taken steps backwards; nor returned to the days when they trampled all other bands into their wake, and that is what will disappoint many.