Review Summary: The Jester that wants to be free
In Flames has done a lot over the years to alienate and divide their fanbase. If you’re on the outside looking in and seeing the way their music has been received over the years, you might deduce that consistency and overall stability is not exactly the Gothenburg quintet’s strong suit. For the most part, that much is true; their heyday is clearly behind them as far as creativity goes, so it’s far too tough of a task for them to attempt to revisit the glory days of The Jester Race
, no matter how much they’d want to. That hasn’t stopped them from trying to create enjoyable music, even if they’re not the melodic death metal giants they once were. Their rock bottom was 2016’s Battles
, a feat they’d want to avoid recreating given the scope of the backlash it got. Sans “(This Is Our) House”, the singles pointed to an effort closer to Sounds of a Playground Fading
and A Sense of Purpose
than the last two releases, and it's roughly what we got with I, the Mask
The idea that an In Flames album would signal a rebound hasn’t been this clear in quite a while. “Voices” is their strongest opener since “The Mirror’s Truth”, with its energetic instrumentation hearkening back to the heavier cuts from years past. The consistently-maligned Anders Friden sounds better than he has in a while, intertwining the powerful screams from his mid-2000s work with a more refined version of the clean singing found on albums like Siren Charms
. There’s a level of drive in songs like “Voices” and the likes of “I Am Above”, “Call My Name”, and the Come Clarity
-channeling title track that hasn’t been seen in an In Flames album since Sounds of a Playground Fading
at the very latest. “Follow Me” draws you in with a lighter acoustic introduction and simpler structure, building up to an anthemic hook that’s deceptively uplifting. On the other hand, “We Will Remember” offers a feel similar to a Hats Off to the Bull
-era Chevelle track that leads to another infectious, upbeat hook. Hell, even “Burn” has quite a bit going for it, despite being one of the more generic cuts.
There’s no shortage of moments on I, the Mask
that feel like In Flames are starting right where they left off prior to Siren Charms
. From the way this sounds, it’s possible that even they
were not proud of their post-Sounds
material and just wanted to pull a mulligan. Unfortunately for them, as has been the case for the last couple album cycles, consistency is an issue again. “(This Is Our) House” is arguably In Flames’ worst song, even when sat next to the likes of “Save Me” and “Dead Eyes”. The choruses have taken a small step back even in comparison to Siren Charms
’ strongest material, but they're mostly serviceable if a bit simplistic. The inconsistency of I, the Mask
is definitely on a smaller scale compared to that of Battles
and even Siren Charms
, but it’s still fairly noticeable when a downturn occurs, such as on “In This Life” and the aforementioned “(This Is Our) House”.
Like many prior In Flames albums, there’s a bleak quality to the lyrics, as if Friden and co. are pleading for life to deal them a better hand while at the exact same time acting like they don’t need help, such as on “I Am Above” (don’t need your tears, I don’t need your love / don’t need your sympathy, I am above)
as well as “Deep Inside” (holding out for something new / broken dreams and heartbreak)
. As stale as they can come off, especially when they’ve been done for years by this band, the truth is that even in old age, the human struggle continues rattling on; thus, it makes sense that they’d continue to address it. It's not done in the most thought-provoking way, but the lyricism does the job without being overbearingly cringeworthy in the majority of cases here. At this stage of Anders' life, he's beyond the point of what's considered a "midlife crisis", but clearly shows signs of emotional turmoil beneath the surface, and that shows in the lyrical content.
At this stage in their career, all the fans can really hope for is a step up from their previous two albums, which this most certainly is. For every blunder like “(This Is Our) House” or “In This Life”, there’s at least a few more cuts like “Voices”, “Call My Name”, and “I Am Above” to be found. Anders Friden is still Anders Friden, which has proven to be a contentious fact among In Flames fans for years. The music is still closer to their late-2000s output, so if you already wrote them off after Reroute to Remain
, there’s nothing here for you to hold on to. If anything, this is for the fans that are still hanging on after all this time and every change the band has gone through over the years. Were Battles
and Siren Charms
too blasé, generic, and just plain uninteresting for you？ Perhaps I, the Mask
will end up being the answer.