IN FLAMES, much like SONATA ARCTICA, have seen a great deal of rising and falling in their popularity of late, with fans largely divided between the first era (“Lunar Strain” from 1994 through “Colony” from 1999), the second era (“Clayman” from 2000 through “A Sense of Purpose” in 2008), and the modern era that starts with “Sounds of a Playground Fading” from 2011. Of course, there are those who cross the borders, but the old era, middle era, and modern era fans often seem pretty divided on their feelings these days. With that said, the arrival of “Battles” on November 10th, 2016, we simply weren’t sure what to expect by now.
This is maybe the generic path, but I discovered IN FLAMES via “Only for the Weak” and it was the first song with death metal growls that I fell in love with. Before IN FLAMES, I didn’t consider growling to be a legitimate form of singing, but after that one song, I was a changed kid, and they’re on my list of favorite live bands, regardless of my feelings about their material. On the whole, I’m more of a song-enjoyer than an album-enjoyer when it comes to IN FLAMES. While I’m not big on the first three albums, “Whoracle” and “Colony” have some great material, and if you want to put me in one of the eras, most of the IN FLAMES music I like comes from the middle era, with songs like “Clayman,” “System,” “Evil in a Closet,” “Come Clarity,” and “Delight and Angers” ranking amongst the many, many favorite IN FLAMES tracks. While the modern era has had its moments with songs like “Fear is the Weakness” and “Through Oblivion,” the newer material has, as a whole, failed to impress me. With two very different-sounding songs released in quick succession, I was curious to know what would fall in between the two extremes on “Battles.”
It’s worth saying that I really, really, really wanted to like this album. I came into it with the most open mind I could muster, however, I’m very sorry to admit that you IN FLAMES fans from the older and middle eras are probably not going to be much more satisfied with this album than you were with “Siren Charms” or “Sounds of a Playground Fading.”
Why do I feel this way? Let’s put it like this – did you like “The End”? Cool, I agree. I think it’s one of the better songs on the album, which throws me back to “A Sense of Purpose,” which I think was the last truly decent IN FLAMES album (which, incidentally, was the last album to feature Jesper Strömblad on guitars – coincidence? I don’t think so). However, there aren’t that many songs on the album that hit the standard “The End” set as a single. Did you like “The Truth”? If so, not to worry – that song is a rather good depiction of what the album will offer.
For me, I can’t say I was a big fan of “The Truth.” If “The End” was the track I immediately liked, “The Truth” is the one that rubbed me the wrong way. The repeated chanting of “We are, we are, we are” sounds less heavy metal and more like a revival of “Youth of the Nation” by the now presumably long-forgotten Christian rock band, P.O.D. The choir of children is perhaps the largest factor preventing me from liking this song. I’m not exactly off-board (is that a thing?) with it; I like the riffing, for example, but… to tell the truth, the solo felt short and uninspired. “The End,” on the other hand, appealed to me because it reminds me of “A Sense of Purpose.” I have never much cared for children’s choirs and I don’t understand why they sing the “when we were young” part of the song (they’re children – they’re already young…), but otherwise it sounds pretty good.
It’s not realistic to spend this whole review crapping on this album though. While I don’t think it’s a masterpiece, I do think it’s pretty okay throughout. It’s very consistently mediocre – there is nothing aurally offensive on this album (like “The Attic” from “Songs of a Playground Fading”). It has those guitar lines and riffs that feel very… IN FLAMES-y. It’s familiar in a good way and still an improvement over “Siren Charms.”
However, Anders Fridén is singing either as much or more than he is growling these days, still. So it could be true that the proper heavy, growly era of IN FLAMES may be over. As well, there are nearly no interesting solos on the album, and the drumming often feels straight-up lazy. With regard to that last comment, it’s the destroyer of a few songs. Take “Before I Fall” for example – you couldn’t call the song slow or lazy, but the drums are holding it back. The vibe is there and yet lacking, but if you kicked some oomph into the drumming, the song would be so much better. It would take so little to up this from an okay album to a pretty good one, it seems.
The ballad, “Here Until Forever,” is a good depiction of the problem with this album – have you ever heard some music that you’d like to label as good, but it doesn’t hold to the standard of the band that made it? An example that pops to mind is “The Unforgiving“ by WITHIN TEMPTATION – a catchy pop-metal album, but nothing compared to the previous two incredible symphonic/Gothic albums. It’d be a stretch to call it bad, but when you compare it to the band’s truly great material, it’s just… blah. If it had come from a different band that’s known for a different style, it might be okay, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. “Here Until Forever” has a very similar melody to “Drown“ by BRING ME THE HORIZON – a song that I love – but a BMTH-style song from IN FLAMES? It really doesn’t work.
As a further rundown of a few of the other songs, “Drained” starts the album off in a decent manner. It’s certainly not the weirdest song on the album, but it ultimately ends up being a little too safe and has a bit of that lazy drumming. “Through My Eyes” has the thrashiest, old-school IN FLAMES sound in the verses, but it doesn’t last through the chorus – old-school fans might have some hope with this one. “Battles” feels like a mix of experimental new sounds and middle era older sounds. It’s a bit weird that the album’s title track is the one song that clocked in under 3 minutes in length. It manages to be quite catchy but still have some good melodies and some very classic IN FLAMES -sounding bits. One could easily see people’s reactions to this song being quite divided. It’s a bit of a bummer then that probably the best and most IN FLAMES-y song on the album is the last track, “Save Me.” It’s one of the only inclusions with proper drumming and the melody is nice. Just when the album finally gets good, it ends.
Overall, while I do feel as though the absence of Jesper Stromblad‘s influence is still quite evident in the songwriting, they do seem to have taken a half step back towards the late 2000s and a half step forward beyond what they did with “Siren Charms.” It’s hard to complain too much about what I would consider to be a positive progression in many senses. They’re still experimenting with their sound, but have bridged the gap between the middle and modern eras a bit with this album. While I want to be positive about this album though, “Battles” still lacks the hard-hitting heavy hits that made IN FLAMES what they are. The album is mellow and decent, but they break no new ground, invent no new wheels, nor are there any instant hits – if you liked “Siren Charms” though, I’m sure you’ll find very little fault in “Battles.”
Written by Bear Wiseman
- The End
- Like Sand
- The Truth
- In My Room
- Before I Fall
- Through My Es
- Here Until Forever
- Underneath My Skin
- Save Me
Anders Fridén – vocals
Björn Gelotte – guitars
Niclas Engelin – guitars
Bryce Paul Newman – bass
Tanner Wayne – drums
Joe Rickard – drums
Eleven Seven / Nuclear Blast Records