We Say :- It’s hard to know what music fans actually want sometimes. It’s doubly hard to work out what heavy metal fans want. Bands who turn out a slab of tunes similar in vein to those that twelve months earlier people were wetting themselves over and they get labelled “derivative” and “samey”. If they take a change of direction the same bands get slated for not turning out another slab of tunes that twelve months earlier fans were wetting themselves over.
Sometimes you just can’t win.
I can imagine that In Flames might feel a bit like this as they enter their second decade and release their tenth studio album, Sounds of a Playground Fading. Once universally feted, particularly after Whoracle and The Jester Race, things grew and grew for the Swedish outfit, their focussed delivery of a particularly commercial strain of melodic death metal winning fans and critics alike. The last few years things have, let’s be honest, gone slightly awry- critically and commercially. With the departure of founding member Jesper Stromblad following 2008’s “A Sense of Purpose” (which didn’t really have one) the eve of this new record has the feel of a band, if not in crisis, at the very least wanting to make a statement. To matter again.
Why In Flames ever doubted themselves is beyond me. They can do pretty much whatever they want and, indeed, they have. Sounds of a Playground Fading is a solid, no messing about commercial melodic death metal album- they are back doing what they do best.
Let’s start by saying that this album sounds fantastic. The record has a huge production- layered guitars, sweeping, epic vocals and big- no, massive,-dynamics. There’s some interesting developments too- Deliver Us sounds not unlike Avenged Sevenfold whilst The Puzzle is reminiscent of mid period Korn with its rumbling bass lines and nu-metal aesthetic. These things, my friends, are very good things. Perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, Sounds of a Playground Fading is perhaps a more downbeat record than you might have expected and that’s actually something of a recommendation. It is not a whinge-fest- far from it- but the band have taken out some of the harsher elements that you’d associate with death metal and replaced them with an assured introspection.
The playing is predictably efficient and occasionally thrilling; I’ve always been a fan of Ander’s vocals and here he seems in fine fettle; there’s a confidence in his delivery that sits well with the songs which are by turns focussed, catchy and incisive. Sounds of the Playground Fading is not going to be the album of the year; it may not even be your album of the month but it has enough chutzpah and invention to make you believe again in In Flames. Welcome back gentlemen, welcome back.