In Flames – Sounds of a Playground Fading (2011)

Posted: June 7, 2011 in Music

Since their inception in 1990, In Flames has been the topic of plenty of conversation over the years. Formed in Gothenburg, Sweden the band – along with neighbor bands Dark Tranquility and At The Gates – created the unique sound and genre known as melodic death metal. As pioneers of the sound, they have released nine studio albums, with their tenth album – Sounds of a Playground Fading – hitting store shelves and online music retailers June 21, 2011.

The “Gothenburg sound” is mentioned frequently in metal music, and set the tone for many of today’s modern and popular metal subgenres, most obviously metalcore. Modern acts Trivium, As I Lay Dying, Omnium Gatherum and Killswitch Engage all cite In Flames as their main musical influences, with tons of other bands mentioning the group in long lists of inspirations.

Yet with so much name-dropping and respect given from the metal world, In Flames has fallen upon an enormous amount of criticism over the last few years. With such legendary status and a deep catalogue of albums, you would think the naysayers would be silenced by the millions of fans the band has amassed, but for some reason the criticism keeps coming.

A large faction of metal “purists” (read: assholes) constantly berate the band for ruining the melodic death metal scene by constantly changing their sound from album to album and disregarding their original fan base by altering the approach and construction of their earlier work. These rantings have spread into the music-critic world as well, with the bands last few albums being absolute slaughtered by metal’s main writers. So what exactly has the band done wrong to garner such vile attacks in the media and metal community?

Absolutely nothing.

Granted, Sounds of a Playground Fading is the next step in the band’s slow departure from the sounds of Lunar Strain and The Jester Race, but the transition over ten albums has been, at least for me, subtle and natural. If I want to listen to Whoracle, I’ll pull out the CD and give it a spin. What I think In Flames has given metal over the years is a slightly new take on the genre each and every album. When I read a book, I like each chapter to be a little different, slowly building to a triumphant and poignant finish – and that’s exactly how I feel about In Flames. The first album sucked me in, and each album after has been a new chapter in the band’s legacy.

Now I’ll agree that this “story” has taken a couple of dramatic turns over the last few albums. Starting in 2002 – with Reroute to RemainIn Flames shifted the focus on their albums to a much more accessible, single-friendly sound. It was still In Flames, but the cries of “sell-out” were resonating among the metal community. The albums that followed only added fuel to the purists fire, as the vocals were becoming cleaner, the production tighter, and the overall feel of the band was much more commercial than was probably expected.

My opinion? So fucking what. The band had always written personal lyrics that were very introspective, and with age comes a stronger sense of understanding and intelligence. Not every song was going to be a head-on collision of metal brutality. The albums were becoming smarter, more cohesive, and far more artistically done – but try telling that to a head banger stuck in a time warp.

“Sounds” continues the maturation of the band on all levels. There’s still plenty of metal, but the quiet nuances of yet another transition echo across this entire disk.

On the opening title track, the band slow-plays their aces with a soft, acoustical intro that falls by the wayside to a chorus of thick, heavy guitars and ferocious energy. The guitars, in fact, sound better than they have over the last couple of releases – which is a confirmation immediately that In Flames can still be, well, In Flames.

The first single of the album comes in the form of “Sounds” second track, “Deliver Me.” A little heavy on keyboards, this song is as strong of an effort as I’ve heard lead singer Anders Fridén deliver in a long time. The track also carries – as do many of the tracks – absolutely solid fretting and solos from axemen Björn Gelotte and recently returned Niclas Engelin. This two-headed guitar dragon breathes an overwhelming fire all over the album, producing what I dare say is In Flames best guitar sound ever.

“All Of Me” is a more drone-tempo number, but drives the album forward with solid bassline gut punches and a marching tempo throughout. “The Puzzle” is a frenetic, almost thrash metal sounding tune that is quickly becoming one of my favorite tracks on the album. The solo is top-notch, but the vibe steals the show here. Heavy as heavy gets, led by a monster effort from drummer Daniel Svensson.

“Fear Is The Weakness” is an absolutely epic track. If this is new era In Flames, I’ll take it, Everything on this track is majestic and perfect, from the vocals, to the chorus, to the ever-shifting instrumentals. I would have bought this album on the strength of this track alone, and am honestly surprised that this wasn’t the first single.

The rest of the album continues with the same level of style, quality, honesty and workmanship that the first half produced. If this is the post-In Flames era version of In Flames, I’m glad I stuck with them through all the hatespeak and media bullshit.

As an interesting side note, I discovered a ton of nuances in the forms of subtle sound effects when listening to this album as loud as my ears could tolerate. A credit to the production of the album, and a different listening experience altogether.

So the purists will still bitch and moan about how In Flames has lost their edge, but I feel that Sounds of a Playground will not only attract new fans, but should get plenty of older fans and critics alike back to talking about the band in a positive way. Honestly, I don’t think the band could have made a better, more perfect record at this point of their career if they tried.

After listening through the album, all I can say is I can’t wait to read the next chapter, as it’s obvious this book is far from over…

8/10

Tracklist:
01 – Sounds Of A Playground Fading
02 – Deliver Us
03 – All For Me
04 – The Puzzle
05 – Fear Is The Weakness
06 – Where The Dead Ships Dwell
07 – The Attic
08 – Darker Times
09 – Ropes
10 – Enter Tragedy
11 – Jester’s Door
12 – A New Dawn
13 – Liberation

http://www.amazon.com/Sounds-Playground-Fading-Flames/dp/B004ZLBUUO/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1307496761&sr=8-4

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