(Note: this is my first review I write under the status of approved reviewer! :o)
For In Flames, this must have been a tough album to write. Having released four generally well-received albums in a row, perfecting the art of the melodic death metal style they play, the Gothenburg way, the question was where do these guys go next to prove their musical worth? Obviously, they wanted to hit the mainstream and finally earn some bucks with what they were doing, tour the US, you know, get some international fame for the things they did for metal in a musical sense. Obviously, they couldn't stand still and write an album that sounds like "The Jester Race Part V", neither did they want to. The result is their 2002 album Reroute to Remain.
R2R may single-handedly have split their fanbase right through the middle. Not afraid of taking risks or experimenting with new sounds, the guitars are more than ever focused on delivering a barrage of riffs to please the metal headbanging ears, rather than the technical highly valued solos. The solos are present, but nevertheless they take a back seat to the choruses and riffs on this album. This trend continued onto Soundtrack to your Escape, which proved that In Flames without twin guitar melodies is like a dog without teeth.
Another transitional state in this album was the more frequent use of keyboards, to give the music overall a slightly more industrial feeling than melodic death metal. Check out the intro to "Free Fall" for example, or passages of "System." The good thing about this is that the keyboards never steal the show from the guitars and drums, they serve to augment rather than create.
Another good thing is that Anders, while on some tracks still delivering a couple of notes that can decidedly induce nausea, finally is learning how he should sing and how he should not sing. Most of the vocals consist of the usual frantic screaming, which he does pretty well. Yeah, sometimes it sounds like he's lost a nut. But hey, if the guy could actually sing, I don't think he'd be working for In Flames now, would he? Anders also manages to pull out some clean vocals, but the problem with those is that his voice is rather thin and nasal, unable to carry songs. The screamed choruses, however, backed up by some evil riffs, provide for the best moments of the album.
One highlight songs I noticed from the first time I played this album is the kickass Drifter. This, my friends, is how you do songs. The intro riffing is loud, forceful, and damages your eardrums while being played at speeds breaking sonic boundaries. Anders screams out his vocals perfectly to go along with the song, leading to a singalong (or screamalong) chorus which surely will have every metal fan shouting in the pit. They throw in a well-executed solo, short, but effective, In Flames aren't like Dream Theater in that sense, they don't feel a need to elongate and extend solos until the solo takes up more of the time than the rest of the song, and they return with another rousing chorus. This is a perfect example of how In Flames should do their tracks more often, with a catchy hook. Unfortunately, it only works a couple of times, and keeping it up for the full length of the album is impossible.
Songs like Minus, Transparent and Dismiss The Cynics are easily the worst songs on the disc, and for good reason: if anything sounds like regurgating a previous song, these three take the cake with ease. All three fail to grip and to catch, exactly what In Flames tried here, and are therefore nothing more than superfluous filler, none of these tracks belong on here at all.
Of course, apart from Drifter, there are other tracks with extremely catchy hooks that go a long way to showing that next to being technically proficient, In Flames also know how to write songs, something most other bands tend to forget. Trigger and Cloud Connected are both metal monsters designed to rip you off your lazy chair and make you sing along and bow to metal gods. System has a similar effect. Heavy riffs, screamed choruses... basically this is In Flames "hit single" album. This isn't a bad thing, as the songs are nevertheless well-written...the attempt at broadening their fanbase is just a little too obvious. They gained a lot of new fans (so it kinda worked), but a lot of other fans scolded them for their new approach, which is also understandable seeing as the technical metal elements are fading away from their music.
Then of course, because you can't keep on going smashing your instruments for the duration of a whole album, two mellow songs were included so as to let you catch your breath. Dawn Of A New Day is like a modern version of Whoracle with Anders trying to sing some clean vocals. Anders falls flat as his lines fail to carry the song, but the acoustic guitars make up for much of the displeasure that his vocal lines are. Metaphor makes me goggle and stare at my cd player in amazement, leading me to question myself what the *** this is supposed to be. The harmonica is totally out of place, as if the song was ripped straight of a country album, Anders' vocals make me want to punch penguins and there isn't a single proper guitar solo to back this up. Quite possibly the most extraordinary and also dumbest song In Flames have ever done.
Overall, I don't know how to characterise this. It's not like In Flames' more industrial-edged death metal period, or period of suckdom (read: Soundtrack To Your Escape), nor does it have that completely old school Gothenburg sounds: it can be pinpointed to be somewhere in the middle. The good and the bad balance each other out almost on here, as a whole album, this isn't In Flames' best by a long mile. There are definitely good moments on here, and flashes of their former self and possibilities, but it's not consistent as a whole, and despite the truly excellent material that constitutes some part of this disc I would advise caution before buying this, In Flames has done better and the four albums preceding this are better bets to get into this band. If you've been a fan of the band all along, obviously you can't do any wrong, same if you're a collector. However, if you're new, it's buy-at-your-own risk.