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Life After Jesper,
This review is from: Sounds Of A Playground Fading (Digipak) (Audio CD)
In Flames has become perhaps the most popular band from the melodic metal genre that came out of Sweden. The band is also largely responsible for a lot of the trends found in that genre which so wonderfully blended elements of Death and New Wave of British Heavy Metal styles. The most defining, and often most celebrated, part of In Flames was the twin guitar attack of Jesper Strömblad and Björn Gelotte. Not only was the duo celebrated, but Strömblad was the creative force behind the band's sound. In Flames has gone through many changes over the last 15+ years, but the biggest change for the band was dealing with the departure of Strömblad following 2008's "A Sense of Purpose."
As In Flames has grown in popularity it has found more criticism from metal insiders and the fan base as well. Some of it has been warranted as the last album and "Soundtrack to Your Escape" were low points for the group. There's also been moments of brilliance along the way as well, and 2006's "Come Clarity" was a return to form in some ways, though for a certain sect it was more of the same with little resemblance to an albums past like "The Jester Race."
"Sounds of a Playground Fading" will not bring back the old fans who departed after 1999's "Colony" or its follow-up, "Clayman." It will, however, satisfy those who have stuck with the band and found tracks to enjoy on the more modern records. Vocalist Anders Friden was quoted as saying more attention was paid to the vocals with this release, which makes some sense as one would expect Friden to fill in a majority of the creative void left behind by Strömblad's departure. Friden maintains the same vocal style he's employed since "Come Clarity," which is to say he opts for a high rasp most of the time and likes to layer his vocals on the chorus with both clean and distorted screams. His natural singing voice continues to evolve from a Swedish Jonathan Davis to an almost poor man's Maynard James Keenan with this one. The closing number, "Liberation" is sung almost entirely with Friden's natural voice over a mostly gentle pop rock foundation. It's a polarizing track for sure, and one that works on some levels and not on others.
"Liberation" likely won't be a favorite for many, but "The Puzzle" will which contains a frantic guitar/drums attack and some of the harshest sounding vocals the album possesses. It's a bit of a throwback, though parts of it remind me of "Reroute to Remain." In fact, a lot of this album reminds me of "Reroute" in that it seems the band went back to some of the things it tried with that album, but weren't able to pull off. The production is slick, but not sickeningly so as I felt it was with "Reroute." One of the more experimental tracks that works occurs towards the end, "A New Dawn," which features orchestral strings throughout woven into a tapestry of quick-tempo metal. When this album wants to be fast, it does a mostly good job, where as some of the faster tracks on more recent albums seemed like the ones without much inspiration, as if they only existed because the band felt like it had to include some fast numbers.
There are some low notes though. The album's first single "Deliver Us" is rather pedestrian by the band's standards with a bland verse. "All For Me" is one of the slower tracks that comes across as boring and I find it disjointed. "The Attic" tries something different, I think the band was going for a creepy, slow-brooder but didn't quite capture the imagination needed to pull it off. "The Jester's Door" is just filler.
In the end, if In Flames proved one thing with this release it's that life goes on. The band lost its creative backbone but still managed to put out a quality release. What does impress me is that the band didn't just fall back on what got it here and try to imitate Jesper's style. I'd like to think he's rather impressed with what his old mates have created without him. This album won't win over the fans that have lost interest, but it's also far from the worst thing the band has done and is a nice bounce-back from the blandness that marred "A Sense of Purpose."