Review Summary: In Flames: standing ablaze? or a simmering dumpster fire?
There are conflicting mythologies surrounding In Flames. The band have been making mediocre alternative metal for so long that devotees of their melodeath heyday are now a minority in their fanbase; what counts as their ‘good era’ has devolved into a matter of personal taste
. The particulars of this discussion have lost much of their relevance: since after Sounds of a Playground Fading
, In Flames have been sounded outright awful for long enough that it’s a moot point to ask where things originally started to go wrong for them. Few would dispute the direness of their position, with the likes of “Battles” and “I, The Mask” setting the benchmark for once great bands plumbing fresh depths of mediocrity like a drunk giant that has lived long and unhygienically enough to keep itself alive on an exclusive diet of its own fermented excrement.
Now, one of the other things all In Flames fans can agree on is that their 2000 album Clayman
was something of a triumph. In a rare gesture of self-awareness, the band have acknowledged this by commemorating it with a 20th anniversary re-release. This package comes with a bonus disc of re-recordings of classic tracks that are brought low under the weight of every misguided trope that made their contemporary LPs such a chore to get through. We’re treated to gratuitous synths, misplaced beats, brittle production, and, above all, Anders Friden’s horrendous vocals, at this point a case study of why sandpaper worn too thin should be thrown in the nearest refuse container without regrets. He attempts melodic vocals on the formerly enigmatic “Bullet Ride” verses with disastrous consequences; he tries to bellow “Pinball Map” like he hasn’t spend the previous twenty years shredding his voice on bad Jonathan Davis impersonations; he affects earnestness on “Only For The Weak” with the calculated strain of a bad YouTube cover.
All of this is hideous, but the re-recordings’ failings aren’t entirely Anders’ fault; the instrumentals churn out timeless melodies with more listlessness than your average idol-pop backing track. “Clayman” suffers especially badly from this, and Anders’ performance on it actually comes off as an unexpected bright spot. Other highlights include the fireworks display of expanded riffage in "Bullet Ride", and the string medley “Themes and Variations in D-Minor”, which proves that the band can at least remember what their best melodies are. Unfortunately, this disc’s best qualities are also confined to the realm of memory; the band fail to bring the joy and energy of the originals into the present. What this means for their future is uncertain; perhaps they are irrecoverably lost, perhaps they are looking for inspiration in the right places. Who knows. The story of In Flames will contin