For Fans Of
20 years ago, other than Dark Tranquillity’s output and that one At The Gates record everyone and their dog rightfully loves, In Flames released one of the best melodic death metal works of the 90’s: ‘Colony‘. Then, just over ten years ago, in 2008, the Swedish metal legends released their most consistent later-day record, and my own personal favourite In Flames album, ‘A Sense Of Purpose‘. Since then, a mixed bag of releases has followed. First, we had 2011’s solid ‘Sounds of a Playground Fading‘, armed with awesome tunes like ‘A New Dawn‘, ‘Deliver Us‘, ‘Where The Dead Ships Dwell‘, and ‘Fear Is The Weakness‘. What followed was a rather forgettable LP in the shape of 2014’s ‘Siren Charms‘, a record that at the time of release I enjoyed, but is an album that I couldn’t tell you a single defining thing about now. And then we had a not-so-good In Flames album with 2016’s severely mediocre effort, ‘Battles‘.
The interesting thing about this Gothenburg group is that many fans are vehement consumers of their new content, whereas many other fans won’t listen to anything beyond 2002’s ‘Reroute To Remain‘; when songs like the massive ‘Cloud Connected‘ helped break the group into the mainstream metal realms. And I’m not sure exactly how much of that will change now with new album, ‘I, The Mask‘. Produced by the prolific Howard Benson, and mixed by Waves’ favourite plug-in marketer, Chris Lord-Alge, ‘I, The Mask‘ has enough sonic polish on it that you can clearly see your own reflection staring back. Smooth production or otherwise, this isn’t a bad or even poor listen, it’s just yet another In Flames LP. Meaning that it’s fine at best, mixing old and new ideas and sounds that they’ve traced out across a lengthy, storied career. In that sense, ‘I, The Mask‘ is serviceable and harmless.
Just like Soilwork’s last album, this year’s ‘Verkligheten‘, In Flames‘ 13th LP isn’t lucky nor unlucky; it simply keeps the cogs of the mighty metal machine turning. And I honestly don’t know what I could share about it that anyone who’s heard any of their past five records wouldn’t already know. Well, maybe other than it being the first In Flames album since 1997’s ‘Whoracle‘ to not feature longtime bassist Peter Iwers, with Bryce Paul Newman stepping up. (Though, not like anyone could tell just by listening.) Perhaps other than it being their first release to properly showcase newish drummer, Tanner Wayne. (Again, not like you could truly tell by only listening.) And other than frontman Anders‘ Fridén clearly improving his signing abilities and having an increased vocal range, fleshed out during high-flying numbers like ‘We Will Remember‘ and the intimate ‘Stay With Me‘, this is purely another In Flames record. Another decent mixture of hook-laden, melodic metal with sizeable choruses and Björn Gelotte’s and Niclas Engelin’s duelling guitar harmonies, flashy leads, and tight melo-death riffs seeping themselves into the pores of each song. All with some death metal moments, harsh growls from Anders, and synths occasionally spliced in.
However, truth be told, In Flames don’t sound tired here, and in all fairness, that’s more than you can say about most bands just shy of a three decade milestone. Plus, ‘I, The Mask‘ does a good job of giving any type of fan some new bangers to soak up. For one, they put their best foot-forward with the riffy, urgent opener ‘Voices‘, which feels super-charged; a great new set opener if there ever was one. After a swelling intro and a low growl from Anders, In Flames let loose with reckless abandon, showcasing that they can nicely balance out their melo-death parts with their giant radio metal refrains; pulling you to the edge of the earth before shoving you off via chunky riffs, solid legato runs and Anders switching between breathless screams and soaring cleans. Next up, the album’s title track maintains this sturdy pace and energy, with galloping drums and racey riffs speeding along like a fuckin’ bullet train. All as a chugging mid-section groove neatly slides you back into a huge chorus before the end arrives. Say whatever the hell you want about In Flames, these guys still know how to write good, competent songs.
The same is also true of the strong and intransigent ‘I Am Above‘, easily one of the band’s best songs in years. It’s a gem built off the back of great riffs, great syncopation, a great chorus, and truly encouraging lyrical content. Here, the band don’t ease up on the gas-pedal, with Anders sounding full of conviction. Couple this with a striking music video featuring Mr. Robot‘s Martin Wallström staring straight through your soul and you’ve got a real winner on your hands. Following a brief snare roll and double kick pattern, ‘Burn‘ riffs away damned hard as Anders digs deep into his emotional, rougher growls that marked so much of In Flames‘ career highlights, all before switching into a powerfully sung, sky-scraping chorus. ‘Deep Inside‘ has this great Middle-Eastern synth intro, a motif the guitars later mimic, along with a great bridge section that sounds like something straight out of ‘Clayman‘.
These five standout songs are meant every part of their far and long reaching audience. Do you want something heavier and darker like the older material that you might love so dearly? These aforementioned songs are definitely for you! Or do you just want some new In Flames songs that have got some sick riffs and are full of life with massive hooks? These handful of killer tracks will scratch that itch and then some! All hope is clearly not lost for this band.
Yet there are some duds. Very early on, at track five, we get the acoustic-guitar driven ballad of ‘Follow Me‘. It feels kinda awkwardly placed, like it should’ve been saved for the album’s back-end. The real bench-mark that we should hold all In Flames song’s like this to is the heart-rendering ‘Come Clarity‘ titular track. And ‘Follow Me‘, as well as ‘Stay With Me‘ later on, don’t come close. While it’s great to hear Anders giving more personal vocal performances – tapping into the theme of masks, self-deception, and who we all really are – and the re-imagining their guitar melodies to an acoustic, these lighter songs here don’t go far enough.
It’s a little hard to describe, but there’s also songs here that just fall flat; “nothing” songs like ‘All The Pain‘, ‘Call My Name‘, and ‘In This Life‘. They don’t hold the album back per se, yet they also don’t bolster it up either. On top of that, bonus song ‘Not Alone‘ that closes out certain special editions of the record is superfluous melodic metal fluff that isn’t really needed. (Much like my reviews.)
Oh, and whoever in the band or at their label decided that the utter dumpster-fire of ‘(This Is Our) House‘ would be the lead single should be fired. The gang-vocal, child-choir intro – “this is the fight, the fight for our lives” – is pure cringe, and isn’t inspiring or uplifting in the slightest. If a hook like that can’t pump me up, then it’s failed. Because that’s the only reason shallow parts like that are included: to get people to sing. I just cannot see this one becoming an anthem at their shows, let alone at festivals. Not when In Flames have so many more memorable tracks waiting patiently in their discography to be brought out. When jaded fans criticise this band for becoming a bland metal act, ‘(This Is Our) House‘ is exactly the song that confirms that opinion. If I was one of those individuals, who only listened to their first few records, and this was the first song I heard from this new record, I sure as shit wouldn’t bother hearing the full thing.
With a career on the cusp of the big 3-0 mark, In Flames still have plenty of gas left in the tank. Huge songs like ‘Voices’, ‘I, The Mask’, ‘I Am Above’, ‘Deep Inside’, and ‘Burn’ prove that fact, without a shadow of a doubt. Yet this is the current In Flames dilemma: too many records, too many songs, some of them just there merely taking up space. Essentially: not all of them are terrible, but not all of them are great either. So that all situates ‘I, The Mask’ smack dead centre in a decent yet still average middle-ground. It keeps the machine alive, it keeps things moving forward, and it offers a few new bangers and some cool new riffs, but that’s about it.
While I was never one of those weirdos who commented things “In Flames We Trust” on their YouTube videos, I love this band and much of their output. But I’ll be the first to admit this isn’t a new classic for In Flames, nor is it the most consistent metal record you’ll hear in 2019. Still, it’s better than ‘Siren Charms’ and ‘Battles’, and that’s a win I’ll happily pay out.
- I, The Mask
- Call My Name
- I Am Above
- Follow Me
- (This Is Our) House
- We Will Remember
- In This Life
- Deep Inside
- All The Pain
- Stay With Me
- Not Alone (bonus song)
‘I, The Mask’ is out now – stream it below: