It’s the mid-nineties and while the economy is flourishing, our president gets cool points for playing the sax on television and we have Super Metroid, we still found the need to complain. And of all the things to moan about during that decade, one of the silliest is to decry the lack of decent metal. Did we all suddenly forget that Pantera dropped possibly the heaviest release to debut atop the Billboard Top 200 in Far Beyond Driven (Eastwest)? Continue reading
A band like Novembers Doom could only come from a cold place, where nights are long and bleak and depression stalks you like some winged, fork-tongued creature straight from a Clive Barker novel. And if you’ve ever felt the wind blowing off of Lake Michigan in winter, you’ll know the cold, bleak Chicago from which Novembers Doom hails. Continue reading
Not content with plying his trade with one major label band, guitarist Niclas Engelin, who stepped into the Jesper Strömblad sized hole in the In Flames line up on a permanent basis in 2011, teams up with long-standing partner in crime Marcus Sunesson (ex-The Crown) for Raven Kings (Gain/Sony), the fourth installment of his near-eponymous band Engel, and his stamp, and that of his day job, is all over this new release.
Engel are keen to show that the metal does indeed flow in their veins, and the decision to kick the album off with two ragers works from a dynamic point of view, particularly considering the exemplary production job undertaken by Jacob Hansen (Volbeat), although the decision to utilize new vocalist Mikael Sehlin’s harsher tones at the onset of the album instantly draw comparisons with Anders Friden, which for a side project that are not a million miles away from the furrows being ploughed by his other band, is potentially too thin an ice to be stomping army boots on.
Where they do come into their own, though, is as the album progresses and the bands’ keen ear for a hook is accentuated and highlighted, be it riff, groove, vocal melody or chorus that provides it, this is an album full of catchy moments and Soilwork-ed passages, with Sehlin operating much more effectively in the melodic ranges, sounding not too dissimilar to Sebastian Bach’s more Slave-ish moments, and with a power and tone reminiscent of Chris Jericho.
While the band have termed themselves Melodic Death Metal there is no escaping that the core sound of Engel is intrinsically close to that of In Flames, particularly as electronic and “industrial” nuances fleck both the Jester’s and this ancillary outfits’ sound these days, or that the term “Death” in that descriptor is a bit of a red herring. Yes, their hooky song-based modern metal (I’m loathe to add the word core on the end as it almost by default detracts from what they produce) is heavy without resorting to ultra beatdowns to bring the weight, but it is in the melodic and the catchy where they thrive, as, ultimately, Raven Kings is a worthy release of contemporary, commercial metal.
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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.