For the past decade or so, melodeath heavyweights In Flames have divided the worldwide metal community. After beginning humbly as a melodic side-project to Jesper Strömblad’s traditional death metal band Ceremonial Oath, the Gothenburg group went on to release a string of innovative albums throughout the mid to late 90s that earned them unanimous acclaim for pioneering a much cleaner, more NWOBHM inspired style of death metal. Alongside the likes of bands such as Dark Tranquility and At the Gates, this fresh approach took the metal world by absolute storm. However, the turn of the decade has seen the Swedes popularity tower to heights not often reached without musical compromise, a notion that most bands of their genre would never dare to entertain. In the case of Anders Fridén and co, they boldly made the decision to incorporate friendly grooves and alternative metal riffs into a core sound that was always considered to be its best when abrasive, off-putting and relentless.
Whatever your personal journey with In Flames, they rank as one of metals most influential bands of the last twenty years. Along with peers At The Gates and Dark Tranquillity they spearheaded the Scandinavian Melodic Death Metal attack of the Nineties and by 1999, you couldn’t move without being stabbed in the ears by jester clones. Ten years later, despite some inconsistent outputs of their own, they had proven to be a lead influence in the most popular development in the heavy metal sound of the new millennium – metalcore.
The seminal, early, albums of In Flames were all about jagged riffing and scything twin-guitars jostling with folk influences. Clayman and Reroute To Remain were about taking that step into the mainstream, adding chug and progressing their sound. Come Clarity was the ace that defined what they had become. Eleventh album Siren Charms (Sony) is all about the songs.
While In Flames started out as a guitar band, the role of vocals has become more prevalent in their sound throughout their twenty-one year evolution; from throaty roars, to a husky half-sing, to Siren Charms being Anders Friden’s album. Come clarity and come confidence of voice, reminiscent of Brandon Flowers at times, predominantly clean he leads this album in the way a frontman and vocalist should, bridging and building interesting and, at times, vulnerable verses into anthemic choruses. The dual/duel guitars are still there, just used more cerebrally, sparingly, but available to provide the bands’ trademark.
At first listen ‘In Plain View’ is an underwhelming opener, electronica seguing into a rolling riff, stripping down then pushing off, but repeated plays bring out its qualities, before ‘Everything’s Gone’ barrels in, the most aggressive track on the album, a combination of punches provided by chromatic chords leading to a Slipknot meets Marilyn Manson chugged verse and strong chorus, before the real tone of the album is opened up with a hat-trick of great dark pop metal songs (‘Paralysed’, ‘Through Oblivion’, ‘With Eyes Wide Open’), between them referencing Clayman, Killswitch Engage, Katatonia, The Killers and 30 Seconds To Mars (A Beautiful Lie / This Is War era) in a joyous gamut of aggressive modern rock music. ‘When The World Explodes’ spits out metalcore 101 before a left at the traffic lights swerve turns it into a gothic metal classic with vocals of opera singer Emilia Feldt.
Continuing strongly, the band hit a salvo of ‘Rusted Nail’ with its bouncing guitars, electronica, and build via traditional In Flames guitar harmony to an anthemic chorus and ‘Dead Eyes’, which starts slower before hitting a hands in the air refrain. ‘Monsters In The Ballroom’ unfurls into a beautiful, sprawled chorus of its own via some tighter, thrashier guitaring, while, last up, ‘Filtered Truth’ flips from a casual AC/DC riff to a metalcore rhythmic verse, into a strong chorus with the twin leads dancing in and out behind, before spiralling away to close the album.
With Reroute To Remain In Flames showed they would not spend their career rehashing their earlier albums. They left that to countless others. Instead they’ve refined and developed their approach to songwriting, working on creating a set of excellent dark pop metal songs to the point where they can add Siren Charms, and its collection of anthems, to The Jester Race, Clayman, Reroute To Remain and Come Clarity – each distinctive from the other yet all obviously “In Flames” – in the list of classics under their belt.