I say this though with relevance as taking this seriously now, Gothenburg as we all know it is, for want of a better description, a Mecca for all things melodic death metal. Everyone from AT THE GATES to AVATAR have emerged from this epicenter of Swedish metal, which bring us to today’s band, and arguably one of the biggest of them all; IN FLAMES. Over their near thirty-year career to date they’ve delivered some of the finest melodic death metal albums to ever puncture our ears, from their seminal work on “Colony” which paved their way back in the 90’s, through to the Billboard bothering successes of “Reroute To Remain” and “Come Clarity” especially, In Flames have always been a reliable source of maelstrom…until recently that is. Back in 2016 the band released “Battles” and despite being a decent record generally, it irked many fans with its sense of pop-record production. Can they redeem themselves in the eyes of those same fans? 2019 sees them return as they channel their inner Stanley Ipkiss on “I, The Mask”…let’s check it out.
The album opens up with “Voices” and after the brief, slow build of a repetitive guitar fill that gradually rises in pitch and key, we find ourselves immersed in the familiar sounds of their heavier riffs and subtle synth elements. Vocalist Andes Fridén delivers a particularly run of the mill performance, switching from his usual raspy snarls into a more melodic vocal for the chorus. It’s a fairly standard affair, textbook In Flames in 2nd gear for the most part though Bjorn Gelotte’s solo is a nice inclusion; it’s a safe start. The title track follows up and to be fair this picks up the pace aplenty and there’s a lot more urgency here; with it’s almost thrash-based musical approach coupled with a hook-laden chorus it provides the listener with a truly up-tempo, enjoyable track and gets the album underway properly.
Elsewhere highlights include “(This Is Our) House” which combines anthemic gang vocals and a hard rocking rhythm with almost prog-inspired key changes, which includes Anders vocals; ranging from soaring melody and an emotive clean delivery to a sudden baritone, giving the track additional character. The band haven’t completely left behind the accessibility of the more pop-orientated production from their previous record however…”We Will Remember” despite its crunching hard-rock riffs carries with it a predominantly euphonious tone and it’s really easy listening, before the sudden surprise that is our closing track “Stay With Me”. This is essentially a power ballad and totally juxtaposes the album altogether…with the acoustic guitar, sweet harmonies and Anders surprisingly impassioned, heart-wrenching vocal display; it’s unquestionably a beautiful track and is in its own unique right, the best thing on this record.
Overall over the course of these twelve tracks, the album itself isn’t poor; it’s just for the most part In Flames by numbers. The Swede’s have always been able to deliver the goods over a 13-album discography now and I guess you could say there is the safety of familiarity within their brand of metal, which they do well…but it’s when you’ve got tracks like the aforementioned ballad, it makes you wonder why they haven’t done MORE of that? This is exactly the kind of track that builds bridges between not just genres but audience demographics, and dare I say it, mainstream success? The idea of a 30 year old melodic death metal band delivering such a genuinely sweet song is a mind-blowing concept, but In Flames have ALWAYS been a quality outfit…if anything just genre pigeon-holed. If the likes of BRING ME THE HORIZON can switch from death-core to getting a number one UK album in a country run by chavs and TOWIE outcasts, then on this evidence, In Flames are EASILY capable of being a lot more successful in the eyes of the wider mainstream audience. It’s just a shame it’s preceded and ultimately weighed down by the middle of the road metal before it.