Review Summary: Extinguished.
In Flames were once the innovators of melodic death metal. No In Flames means no celebrated metalcore bands around today. After releasing their first album in 1994, they then proceeded to release 5 genre-defining albums, 4 of which are universally considered classics. Established as a force to be reckoned with, they then released “Reroute To Remain” in 2002, but it differed from their trademark Gothenburg Metal and introduced cleaner vocals and more accessible harmonies. To most of their fans, this was a fantastic album and took the band to the peak of popularity; others feared they would never again hear an album in league with the 4 preceding classics.
Now in 2016, we have observed In Flames spending more time abandoning their melodic death metal than they have producing it. We could forgive them in 2011 when they released “Sounds of a Playground Fading” because, even as middling as it was, it was still better than In Flames’ first proper misfire: “A Sense of Purpose”. However, few could defend what followed in 2014: “Siren Charms” sounded like In Flames were a different band. Gone were the growls -- and the notion of any form of death metal was just a dream. Nowadays, the flames are naught but embers. Their growing radio-friendly accessibility is no longer a joking matter: “Battles” is marked as the album that decides the ultimate fate of In Flames.
It’s great for bands to evolve their sound, but it generally helps if the change is actually advantageous. Kudos to In Flames for progressing their sound, rather than engage autopilot, but it truly has not worked out well. While listening to tracks such as ‘Drained’, ‘The Truth’, ‘Save Me’ and the sickeningly cheesy ballad, ‘Here Until Forever’, one must wonder what the band were honestly hoping to achieve after creating such mediocre songs. Each of these tracks features insipid riffs and inapt techno elements that bring absolutely no sense of rejuvenation to the band’s newer direction. During ‘Like Sand’, Anders Fridén repeats: “I believe the whole wide world is against me”. With equally infantile lyrics scattered throughout Battles
, they are against you Anders, they really are.
Fridén’s presence over Battles
is substantial. He’s always had a subdued singing approach, but there’s a difference between sounding subdued and strained. There are a few moments on Battles
where his vocals don’t sound as sore. The title track is notably heavier with a sweeping chorus and ‘Through My Eyes’ evokes a negligible return to 2006’s “Come Clarity”. And yet, the issue with these better moments is that they just sound tediously safe in contrast to what we know the band is truly capable of.
Whatever battle In Flames have been fighting, Battles
signifies the resounding sense of defeat. The guitar work is so far beneath the level that was set a decade ago (let alone two decades ago), the singing and lyricism have never sounded so angst and segments of the album sound like they were recorded underwater. The worst factor: it’s not even an album that you can grow into and appreciate.
How veteran musicians like In Flames appear so blind their own devolution is tragically bewildering.