In Flames have taken a lot of shit over the years, and from time to time, I’ve been one of the dudes hurling it. But, to be fair, I waited until the very last minute. I got onboard with In Flames during the Clayman cycle, which pretty much involved me buying anything by bands I knew to be Scandinavian, and anything released by Nuclear Blast or Century Media (or Century Media Black… remember that?). I was still in high school, and I was blown away by the heaviness and complexity of bands like Emperor and Meshuggah. What separated In Flames from the pack at the time was that the music was still heavier than any American radio rock, but with even more catchy contagion. Like a lot of bands I got into who were already in their prime, I dug through their back catalogs and found even more to love. I followed the band loyally through Reroute To Remain, which I still think is one of their best records. I continued to stick with them up through A Sense of Purpose, which felt really lackluster and toothless, even by the more streamlined standards they’d created for themselves with romps into atmospheric and nu-metal territory. I never even bothered checking out Sounds of a Playground Fading (ugh, what a name) or Siren Charms until earlier this year when I was in dire need of something catchy, simple and safe for running music. And that’s exactly what I got.
To their credit, while taking the polished route to international commercial success, In Flames have managed to do something a lot of other bands who make the same decision have failed to do. They’ve essentially kept the core of what makes In Flames In Flames intact. Their sound may be more radio-friendly than ever, but they managed to do it without fully immersing themselves in rapping or dubstep, and just by focusing on writing solid, infectious songs. Where they’ll go after Siren Charms is anybody’s guess. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not (and for a long time, I didn’t), there’s some quality stuff hiding in the last few In Flames releases. And no matter what they do in the future, they’ll still be the band that gave us The Jester Race. Let’s take a gander.
1) “Become the Sky”
This is one of the extra tracks from various different special editions of Siren Charms. There are things this album gets right, but delivering solid heavy rock isn’t one of them. When In Flames are at their best on this album is in songs that are more pensive and exploratory, without becoming meandering or anticlimactic. “Become The Sky” excels there; it’s not just something different, it’s enjoyable enough to listen to all the way through without wondering when it’ll end.
If you can get over the fact that this isn’t, and will never be, Whoracle, Sounds of A Playground Fading actually contains some of the most listenable songwriting In Flames have ever delivered. There’s no denying the strength of songs like the title track and “Deliver Us,” and the accessibility of the rest of the album ensured that this band would finally achieve the mainstream embrace they’d been angling for since (arguably) Clayman. “Ropes” isn’t as flashy as the album’s most solid material, and in a way that’s good thing. After you feel like you’ve exhausted the rest of the record, there are still hidden gems waiting to surprise you.
3) “March To The Shore”
Easily my favorite track from A Sense of Purpose, both when it was released and as time has passed. While a lot of In Flames’s early speed was sacrificed at the altar of accessibility, it never fully disappeared. Whether or not it’s been successful on the last two releases is in the eye of the beholder, but I think the last vestiges of In Flames really tearing shit up full throttle are on A Sense of Purpose, namely in “Sober & Irrelevant” and “March To The Shore.” It’s one of my favorite album closers, it’s got plenty of thrash in the verses, and that chorus is just to die for.