Review Summary: Change is, for some a bitter pill to swallow. For those of us that are willing to listen however, this is one hell of a rewarding experience
Some bands are unwilling to change. AC/DC have stuck to the same formula for 30 years now, and it sounds laboured and tired, song after song blending into one. Other bands, such as Mudvayne, have devolved, taking generic riffing and shouting to the bottom of the barrel and anchoring themselves there as "has-beens". And then there is In Flames. Emerging as one hell of a propspect in 1996 with "The Jester Race", they have churned out one great album after another, blending the guitars of "Maiden" with the growling of "At The Gates" to devastating effect. And then, with "Clayman" they changed. For the worst? No. For the better? Quite possibly.
In Flames have always been able to open an album well, and they follow the formula with "Bullet Ride". The almost power-metal guitars roar into life, before a mellow verse and a great chorus. Quite rightly, an In Flames great right here. This is followed almost immediatley with the raucous "Pinball Map", that not only hints at the direction the group were going to take in the future, but also combines an effective chorus with a great breakdown mid-song. With "Only For The Weak", In Flames have quite possibly written the Death Metal anthem of the century, and never before has singing "Sell me the infection" sounded quite so good.
One song on this album that really does deserve a mention however in "Square Nothing". opening with some beautifully intertwining guitar harmonies, and sounding like the best bits of "The Jester Race" and "Whoracle" mixed together. Anders also recaptures his voice from these two albums, and never before has his "traditional" growl sounded quite so punishing. But with "Satellites and Astronauts" In Flames have truly written one of their best songs ever. A sonorous guitar opens proceedings, before building into a riff with undeniable groove. In fact, the whole song is a swirling whirlpool of sound that simply drags you in more and more with each listen, twirling and swirling through the motions. In fact, the whole album continues in this vein, producing top-notch song after top-notch song, from the power metal guitars of "Swim" to the thunderous drums of "Another day in Quicksand".
Perhaps the only complaint with the album is that Friden's voice as of yet hasn't truly made the jump and developed into something truly spectacular. Some of his crooning parts don't sound quite right, and sometimes the growls perhaps whaver a little too often. It would take two years, with "Reroute To Remain" to prove that Friden is the bands secret weapon, yet even on this record he sounds, put simply fantastic at times.
And there we have it. "Clayman" is not so much of a jump ship affair as some might fear. In this album, the classic guitar lines, Friden's growling, thunderous drums and atmospherics remain, and perhaps even shine through clearer at times than "Colony" from the year before. This fact only makes this record all the more impressive, for so few bands can turn a record round in such a short time span, slightly change tune and still come up with a true modern great. Highly recommended.
Tracks to listen to:
1. Bullet Ride
2. Pinball map
3. Only For The Weak
4. Square Nothing
5. Satellites and Astronauts