Metal fans, while ostensibly quick to resort to hyperbolic verbal displays of cynicism, also have the strange tendency to temper that jadedness with a sort of fairy tale sense of longing that refuses to give up on the dream. So where certain oft-criticized bands that changed their sound drastically long ago – and have since been known to "suck" for far longer than they were allegedly "good" in the first place – continue to exercise the fruits of that early fan betrayal on album after album, there continues to remain a simmering hope in the fan base that any day now the band will see the light and recapture that former glory while there's still time.
Entombed, Sepultura, Dimmu Borgir… the list goes on, and most certainly includes In Flames, whose 2002 mainstream about turn on Reroute to Remain is to this day a shortcut to many fans' blown fusebox. Most will agree that it only continued to get worse from there, although this guy right here would argue that 2011's Sounds of a Playground Fading was a far more sophisticated rebound than a lot of people give the band credit for.
Siren Charms continues the experimental nature of the predecessor, although certainly along a path that lines up pretty closely with mainstream interests… if you've fallen off the In Flames wagon in the last decade-plus, this won't be the record that gets you back into the fold. "With Eyes Wide Open" is a reasonably well-penned pop song – if a bit formulaic – but it's definitely got Warped Tour/Mayhem Fest written all over it. Anders Fridén's vocals have never been cleaner or less death-metallic than on the title track, and when he steps up his aggression on "When the World Explodes", it's in service of boilerplate metalcore that segues into a puzzling, completely out of left field female chorus that would have sounded more at home on a Nightwish album.
These three songs run consecutively in the middle of the album and represent the band's most mainstream aspirations. The more interesting parts come elsewhere, when Fridén and company let their hair down a bit. "Rusted Nail" is a credible stab at post-Marilyn Manson 90's industrial with a suitably anthemic chorus, as is "Paralyzed". "In Plain View" actually starts the record in a similar vein, relying less heavily on the electronic flourishes but even more so on the big, angry chorus style of much 90's mainstream metal that followed in the wake of Pantera, Prong, et al.
Such is the ire raised by a band like In Flames: they look backward in every direction but the one their fans seem to want the most, which is the melodic death sound that made them famous to begin with. It would all be admirable if it weren't so rote. This is not a band that is utilizing existing tools to fashion music in their own image; at this point they're just aping what they seem to enjoy listening to, which is at once not nearly as bad as many detractors would have you believe while also not being all that compelling on its own merits, either. Siren Charms reads like a greatest hits of 90's alt-metal with a bit of modern metalcore thrown in for good measure… a mixture that theoretically could yield worthwhile results, but in the case of Siren Charms only intermittently does so.
Stream the entire album here.