With the departure of Jesper Strömblad from In Flames in early 2010 the band lost their primary song writer. The ‘Making Of’ DVD for A Sense of Purpose records a band truly going through the motions of creating an album, perhaps not ironically capturing the bands wide selection of whiskey on display in IF Studios. They seemed tired, and lacking in inspiration. With their new material largely sourced from guitarist Björn Gelotte, Sounds of a Playground Fading sees new life in In Flames.
From the very beginning of the album, the listener is greeted with a blend of beautiful acoustic sections and heavy riffs. The opening title track displays such a trend, with almost a minute of harmonies introducing the album. These sections, appearing in tracks such as ‘All For Me’ and ‘Fear Is The Weakness’, bring back memories of phenomenal tracks like ‘Moonshield’ and ‘Jester Script Transfigured’. Whilst not equalling the quality of career highlights such as these, such pieces show the band recognising their past, and amalgamating influences from all of their albums. Indeed, all throughout SoaPF are tracks that would feel at home within the bands’ previous works. With less glossy production the meandering riff of ‘Ropes’ reminds the listener of Clayman, whilst the first single ‘Deliver Us’ could have been a track from Soundtrack To Your Escape. The continuation of ASoP is very obvious in places too, with ‘Enter Tragedy’ and ‘The Puzzle’ sounding like better moments of the previous album. Even with such a wide collection of sounds, the album still flows without hindrance and sounds like a complete work.
Of course there isn’t a complete reliance on the past in the creation of the new album. The sounds that began with A Sense of Purpose have been continued, but with far more exciting results. The band have finally begun utilising the use of electronics present in Reroute To Remain and Soundtrack properly, with it no longer sounding awkward or unnecessary. The music is no longer too heavy for it to work, as in the aforementioned Soundtrack, and is what makes album highlights ‘Where Dead Ships Dwell’ and ‘A New Dawn’ so memorable. Whilst vocalist Anders Fridén’s voice has divided many In Flames fans, his aggressive style of singing rather than screaming suits the music well. The ability for the listener to sing along to the music, particularly the fantastic choruses of the title track and ‘Where Dead Ship Dwell’ add a great deal of enjoyment to the music. His performance is not entirely consistent however, with tracks like ‘Deliver Us’ showing why many consider him a hindrance to the band.
Unsurprisingly therefore the album still lacks in several areas, most notably in guitar work. With Come Clarity there was must focus on the twin guitar solos that were so prevalent in the bands earlier works, and to a large extent they managed to recreate the sound very well. In SoaPF however, much of the guitar work seems much simpler, with riffs often being repetitive as with ‘Darker Times’ and ‘All For Me’. Such examples make it difficult to differentiate between tracks on the first few listens. Additionally, in many cases the solos do not flow from the chorus, leading to awkward sounding transitions. ‘Deliver Us’ and ‘Where Dead Ships Dwell’ in particular suffer from this.
Instrumentally, the main let down is Daniel Svensson's drumming. Whilst not bad in any particular way, there are few exciting moments where he showcases his talent as in Come Clarity. Instead, he seems content to do the bare minimum, making sure that he does no more than seeing each song through to the end. It is the only area where the production fails also - the guitars and bass are all perfectly balanced, with the vocals not overshadowing the music. However, the drums lack any real impact in terms of both performance and sound.
Finally, for those who are fans of the bands softer tracks they seem to include in their albums, there is nothing really here to satisfy that desire. Although the album is ‘softer’ as a whole when compared to Colony or Reroute To Remain, there is no track like the beautiful ‘Jester Script Transfigured’, ‘Dawn of a New Day’, or in this authors opinion the semi-endearing ‘Chosen Pessimist’. Instead there is ‘The Attic’ and ‘Jester’s Door’, which serve more as interludes than proper songs, and album closer ‘Liberation’. This track sees In Flames leaving their dignity at the door and producing an almost pop-metal song with cringe-worthy lyrics, unfortunately ending a very good album in a lacklustre way.
In conclusion, for those who are willing to accept that In Flames has moved on, then Sounds of a Playground Fading finds the band finally sounding comfortable with themselves for the first time in a while. With new inspiration and a much polished new sound, the album exceeds expectations and proves that In Flames can still put out material of worth.
Sounds of a Playground Fading
Where Dead Ships Dwell
A New Dawn