Review Summary: Playing the maximum out of their current sound, In Flames have created yet another excellent record
When Jesper Strömblad revealed his plans to go into rehab and quit In Flames, a lot of old school fans of In Flames thought that it was the final nail in the band’s coffin. But what many failed to see is that Jesper had been a major contributor in the songwriting department from the band’s get-go as well, meaning he was also, at least partly, behind the band’s shift in sound after Clayman
– a shift the fans of old disapproved of. While it is indeed sad that the last founding member of In Flames has left for good, a change like this may have been for the band’s benefit. I will make no secret that I enjoy every release In Flames have put out, but it was evident that on A Sense Of Purpose
something was missing, and I'm not talking about the dual guitar harmonies of The Jester Race
, forget about them, they're not coming back. What was wrong was that the album sounded kind of dishonest. Not throughout, but at various points it did seem to lack passion or a certain persuasive element to it, something that was never missing from an In Flames album before. A Sense Of Purpose
was then current Jesper Strömblad in musical form – still fighting, but at the same time, weary and uncertain. So in hindsight, Jesper’s departure after that album was good for both parties: he himself is now focusing on getting his life back on track, and In Flames once again sounds assertive and, well, back on track.
From a musical standpoint, Sounds Of A Playground Fading
features both expected and unexpected elements. The music has the same effervescent undercurrent that A Sense Of Purpose
had and the added synths mellow out the sound of the band even more, meaning that In Flames continues the trend of becoming less heavy with each release, but the good thing is that by this time, everyone (should have) expected it anyway. Another upside is that on Sounds Of A Playground Fading
, the band plays this lighter sound much more convincingly than they did on A Sense Of Purpose
. Straight from the start, the title track sets the whole album’s mood perfectly with its lovely acoustic beginning which is followed by melodic riffs and an infectious chorus that is greatly supported by atmospheric keys. This proves to be a theme for the whole album, with strong choruses, catchy guitarwork and well-used synths being the keywords. The acoustics, which pop up in a few songs, are also a nice touch (as always with In Flames) and to have more of them the next time around would very much be appreciated.
What has changed though is that the verse riffs are much more groove-orientated on Sounds Of A Playground Fading
than they have ever been before. Strömblad and Gelotte have always been known as masterful melody crafters, relying heavily on melodic riffs and leads, but now that Gelotte had the chance to write the whole album all by himself he has added a notable groove aspect to the album that is missing from previous In Flames albums, the sole exception being Soundtrack To Your Escape
, which had some of those thick, American metal-styled riffs. This brings some extra variety to the guitar department, as Gelotte grooves through the verses but adds some crafty leads on top and finally reverts back to his profoundly melodic ways in the choruses. Don’t be mistaken though, as the whole album is filled to the brim with melody incessantly. If it isn't Gelotte producing the melodies then the synths carry their load and Anders Friden also steps in to add some much needed crooning. Speaking of which, Friden has improved a lot from A Sense Of Purpose
. He has never screamed as little as he does on Sounds Of A Playground Fading
but the truth is his singing is currently in better shape than his screaming, although, to Friden’s credit, he has learned to use his high-pitched scream more effectively. He has restrained it and toned it down, and while one may think why that should be a positive, seeing as In Flames is a metal band after all, then gone are the ear-grating shrieks that have found their way into In Flames' newer material. Like a smart general knows how to use his troops to full effect, a smart vocalist knows how and when to employ different vocal stylings and Friden has definitely taken a step further in that aspect.
Where Sounds Of A Playground Fading
really shines is in consistency. Actually, this is where In Flames as a band always tends to succeed. Many of today’s modern metal bands incline to release highly successful singles and pre-release songs, only to quietly and safely plod their way through the rest of their corresponding albums, but not In Flames. Of course, the band has had exceptional singles in "Artifacts Of The Black Rain", "Trigger", "Ordinary Story" et al., but In Flames has always followed up on them with great albums filled with single-worthy material. While I think that Sounds Of A Playground Fading
’s single, "Deliver Us", is one of the weaker tracks on show, this only adds to the album’s charm, seeing as both sides, those who liked the single and those who didn't, can (still) enjoy the full record.
Like every album though, Sounds Of A Playground Fading
does have its own highlights. The title track packs everything good about the band in this era into a 4.43 long song and "A New Dawn" is the best blend of old and new In Flames yet, boasting driving, perfectly harmonized melodies, a great clean guitar break and an excellent, emotional chorus. Also worth mentioning is "The Jester’s Door", which proves to be a great atmospheric break before "A New Dawn" with its rather mysterious but calm melody/message. And then there’s "Ropes", a track that sounds rather distant from classic In Flames (be it old or new), but its ascending chorus, light feel, shimmering synths and catchy guitarwork are impossible to resist. It’s simple, but boy is it tasty.
At the end of the day, Sounds Of A Playground Fading
is another excellent album from In Flames and a good bounce back from A Sense Of Purpose
, but it’s not an opinion changer. Those who crave for the old golden days of The Jester Race
are still going to after this album, and those who have accepted In Flames’ new direction and acknowledge that the group is never going back to its old melodic death metal ways will most likely enjoy this album a lot. While, as far as ferocity goes, In Flames has cooled off a lot, the band is still producing quality music and is unquestionably one of the flag carriers of modern metal. The loss of the last remaining founding member Jesper Strömblad hasn't affected the band’s quality one bit, and if Anders Friden’s vocals don’t bow out, the guys in In Flames have still got a few good records left in them.