Album Review: In Flames "Battles"
Nov 11th, 2016 on Nuclear Blast
02. The End
03. Like Sand
04. The Truth
05. In My Room
06. Before I Fall
07. Through My Eyes
09. Here Until Forever
10. Underneath My Skin
12. Save Me
13. Greatest Greed
14. Us Against The World
Gothenburg, Sweden is the birthplace of some really fantastic bands; Dark Tranquility, At the Gates, The Haunted, Dimension Zero, and Ace of Base to name a few. One of my all-time favorites from Gothenburg is In Flames. They formed in 1990 as a side project and released their first album, Lunar Strain, in 1994.
In Flames is one of the pioneering bands developing the melodic metal or melodic death metal genre. In the early days, In Flames had a very smooth and consistent style with distorted yet harmonized guitars. That sound was their trademark and it's what made them stand out from a lot of other metal that was around at the time. The vocals were also a consistently deep growl to raspy speaking styling. The bands sound had started to change around 2000 when they released Clayman. The music had become even more harmonized than it had been previously, more synth was being utilized and the introduction of clean vocals had become a bit more prominent.
2002's Reroute to Remain is where I was introduced to In Flames and I instantly fell in love with this band. Two years later when Soundtrack to Your Escape dropped, I was firmly anchored as a fan for life. By this point in their career, the sound had matured into a well established metal act that was capable of a good range of variety. The biggest change was the full inclusion of clean vocals which nearly dominated the chorus of most of their songs. Over the next few albums, the music and vocal styles stayed pretty consistent. But then in 2011 with Sounds of a Playground Fading, they brought in a very melodic structure which in some ways reinvented In Flames. This could have been influenced by the departure of Jesper Stromblad, the bands founding member. This same influence continued through into their current version of In Flames.
The new album starts out in classic melodic fashion with some ambient sounds and a gentle but distorted guitar piece. Anders picks up his whisper vocals that he is so fond of, saying "What we had we throw away, we were close to heaven, but we ended up in hell, what we had we throw away". That introduction lyric is pretty intense when you really let it soak in and think about it. The whole song is a tragic song of loss of love and the entire vibe of the music for the song matches that very thing. It has a generally somber and melodic feel, and will make for a fantastic live song that the crowd will be able to chant along with.
The End has a very similar vibe to Drained, the same melodic styling but is a bit more upbeat with a quicker tempo. It's another emotional song utilizing youthful backing vocals adding an almost ethereal element to the song. The End has some expectedly smooth melodies while still being mostly pretty heavy and dark. There are hints of Dark Tranquility here and I really like it the more I listen to it. I love it when things slow down around the 2:13 mark and the clean vocals take the forefront.
The official video for The End can be found below.
One thing that In Flames does really well is to make a melodic introduction to a song and Like Sand is a shining example of what I mean. Bjorn Gelotte started out as the drummer for In Flames but transitioned to guitar and one might think that he is a classically trained guitarist, but he's not, he's just a good old fantastic musician. Once the main riff comes into play, it is very difficult not to bob your head to it. The clean vocals fit very nicely with the entire song, but some of the word choices confuse me a bit.
"I believe that the whole wild world is against me", the 'wild' part confuses me and I don't fully understand why he's referring to 'wild'. I would think 'wide' would make a better word selection, but hey, I'm not the artist in this. The imagery of Like Sand is exceptional and I think a lot of people can relate. The moment they think that everything around them is solid, it just collapses and crumbles through your fingers like sand. Powerful and deep, keeping in true In Flames form.
Talk about a crowd participation song, The Truth is exactly that. Chants of "WE ARE... WE ARE..." will ring through venues with ample volume. The Truth is really melodic and reminds of something you might hear from Children of Bodom. In terms of lyrics and structure, it is very simple. There is nothing really complex about it, maybe a B-Side that made the cut perhaps?
In My Room
I like it when songs give the bass player an opportunity to be heard beyond the standard backing structure for a song. In My Room does just that and allows Peter Iwers to really get heard. For such a moody and dramatic song, it is surprisingly up-tempo. I read the lyrics before listening and was pretty surprised, I had an impression it would going to be a bit slower and darker.
Another great solo about two-thirds through, very iconic of In Flames. The outro of the song has this riff that has a very Soilwork kind of influence. Overall I have actually grown to really like this song the more I listen to it.
Before I Fall
Before I Fall brings me back to Soundtrack To Your Escape (2004). It has so many elements and facets, it is really difficult to pinpoint anything specific from this track. It's melodic, it has a fantastic dual guitar solo in it, and it has several well-placed tempo changes. One thing you can count on from In Flames is that the songs they make are emotionally complex, and Before I Fall doesn't fail to maintain that persistent quality.
Through My Eyes
At its core, Through My Eyes has a classic thrash metal substance to it. The chorus changes all of that entirely, but this up-tempo track gets your toe tapping and doesn't let go. The chorus is super catchy and difficult to get out of your head.
Have a listen in the official track video below.
They decided to bury the title track in the middle of the album. There is no specific method to the madness of where a title track should fall in an album. Many bands make it the opening song, some the ending, but In Flames decided to place it in the center of it all.
In my opinion, Battles has a very unusual way about it. It's a little bit slower and feels very radio rock friendly. Despite the intro having a heavier and slightly off-beat rhythm, the main verse is much slower and moody. The pre-chorus ramps up and the chorus is really the radio rock sounding part of the track. The solo during the bridge is pretty outstanding actually. If you can get past some of the semi-generic radio friendly elements, it's a very fine song.
Here Until Forever
Here is the obligatory slowed down, melodic, emotional slap to the face that In Flames is also prone to doing. I very much doubt this will ever be played live, but it is quite different from the rest of the album. The whole song seems to me to be one big inner-reflection. Everyone needs to take the time now and again and look within themselves. Who they really are? What do they really believe in? Is this how they are supposed to be or the job they should be at or the life they should be living? Don't get me wrong, Here Until Forever is likely more about a couple and their relationship, however, some of the lyrics and how they are hauntingly sung by what sounds like an ethereal children's choir, causes feelings of deep self-reflection.
Underneath My Skin
Underneath My Skin starts out aggressive and heavy, giving that impression that things are picking up again. Then Anders starts up with these vocals that feel much higher pitch than usual and feel oddly mixed to be louder than they were in previous tracks on the album. The song itself is good, it has a really nice groove to it, the solo is impressive as always, the end of the bridge is really clean and well designed.
Okay, when Wallflower started and got about 30 or so seconds in, I seriously had to do a double-take to make sure I wasn't listening to Tool. This one song is nearly twice as long as most of the songs on the album and I love every single second of it. At the 2:24 mark, the song shifts its entire tone over to what reminds me of a synth-aggrotech band like Combichrist. The vocal chorus feels a little bit more like In Flames, but that's where it ends. This song is very different from what I know of In Flames and I really like the variation. Several of the songs leading up to this point were starting to feel generic and unoriginal. Wallflower shatters that into a million pieces and opens up the listener to a whole new side of In Flames and that side is superlative.
Save Me feels like Colony-era In Flames. It has the raspy vocals that we love from Anders mixed with the clean, melodic vocals in the chorus. This has a mid-career trademark which is a fun, rolling bassline and I can always appreciate a great bassline. The solo at the two-third point of the song actually sounds like something that Jim Martin would have done for Faith No More back in the 90's. Maybe I've over-thinking it just a little bit, but that's the first thing that popped into my head.
Listen for yourself below.
I'm going to just take this moment to mention that Greatest Greed is an awesome track. From start to finish, it has depth, substance, and keeps your attention every step of the way.
Starts out pretty heavy and radio rock friendly, but then rips into a quick pace song that is going to be a huge fan favorite; it will no doubt get played on several radio stations around the country. In Flames likes doing the 'chanting chorus' thing and Greatest Greed really capitalizes on it without over-doing it. Like I said, it's a really great song from start to finish.
Us Against The World
Most bands need to have a really great song to close out an album. And Us Against The World doesn't let the fans down what-so-ever. It's another faster tempo track that has a really 'anthem' kind of sound to it. You know what I mean, those songs that feel like it should be a theme song for a culture, a generation, or an entire group of people? Yeah, this has many of the qualities making it an anthem kind of song. The solo in this, if you listen to it and don't feel an urge to just close your eyes and bob your head to the ripping fret playing, then leave a comment and tell me you didn't! I dare ya!