When you review an album from one of your favorite bands, you're torn in a couple directions. In one sense, your passion for them motivates you to be very critical, while in another you still want to give them the benefit of the doubt. So let's get the obvious crap out of the way shall we? Yes, Sounds of a Playground Fading is much better than A Sense of Purpose, but is that really saying much? And while In Flames’ signature sound shines through much of this record, the band fails to use it in a very memorable way.
With the title track, Sounds gets off to a promising start, sounding very reminiscent of 2006’s Come Clarity, their last great album in the minds of most fans (including this one). It takes the strength of a heavy groove, some great guitar work, and a good balance of screamed and sung vocals that makes the listener want to hear more. Unfortunately for the listener, the generic and tired sound of Deliver Us characterizes much of the rest of the album. At so many points throughout the album, my pulse jumped in excitement, only to be let down by either the plodding and meandering song structures or some less-than-inspiring lyrics (“You’ll never understand me, I don’t care what you think, or maybe I do”).
Of course Sounds isn’t all shrugs and yawns. All for Me is a well structured and melodic piece and I especially like the dueling drum and guitar solos on Darker Times, one of the best songs on the record. But these gems tend to get lost in the tar-pit of electronic-tinged, alt-metal. Anders has toned down his vocals to such a dull blade that it only exacerbates the awkward and unnecessary spoken word sections on Jester’s Door. While I don’t think In Flames should go on re-writing songs like Moonsheild over and over again, they don’t need to keep recycling The Mirror’s Truth either. That said, hearing a song like A New Dawn was such a tease. The dueling guitars reminded me of their classic Gothenburg material, even if the song as a whole doesn’t quite reach those heights. Oh, and they probably should have ended the album with that song. Liberation could easily fit into any early 2000’s alt-metal playlist, making it an easy throwaway. In fact, shortening the album by a few more tracks might have made a real difference as the glut of filler tends to crowd out the stronger bits.
While some of the criticism leveled by fans is a little ridiculous (“They sound like Korn Now! They’ll never make a good album ever again, I can be absolutely certain of it!!!” blah blah blah), In Flames’ new album is a disappointment. As musicians, the band has no shortage of talent and technical skill, but that does not always translate into great music. It might do them well to focus on touring for a few years while gathering up more memorable riffs and some more varied song structures. Better lyrics wouldn’t hurt either. If this was the first record from some lesser known band, perhaps my evaluation would be a little more easygoing. But it’s difficult to give that much ground to In Flames, especially when you know what they are capable of.
Favorite tracks: Sounds of a Playground Fading, All for Me, Darker Times, A New Dawn