I never thought I’d say these words: “I WAS an In Flames fan.” Those of you that have followed In Flames from the very beginning, know that the Swedes have a divisive melodic death discography that extends nearly as long as my arm. From the 90s (high points included The Jester Race, Whoracle and Colony) to the 00s (highlights being Come Clarity and A Sense of Purpose) it’s difficult to believe that today’s In Flames is even the same band. At the risk of my “metal cred” I’m going to admit that Come Clarity and A Sense of Purpose are among two of my favorite albums and the combined efforts of Anders Fridén (vocals), Björn Gelotte (guitars and vocals) and Jesper Strömblad (guitars) on tracks like “Disconnected” and “Alias” are what made me a fan. Along came Sounds of a Playground Fading and with that, the departure of Jesper Strömblad (guitars). Lacking some of the charisma of the earlier releases the album took its sweet time in winning me over. Siren Charms hit the shelves in 2014 and with it the band added Niclas Engelin (guitars) – this release never made it onto my playlist. Now with the departure of Daniel Svensson (drummer) and the addition of Joe Rickard in his place, I’m hoping for a re-energized In Flames and a return to the heft and melodicism of Come Clarity.
“Drained” gets the show on the road. It’s a solidly catchy opener that sticks like meat to bone, coming over as a continuation of Sounds of a Playground Fading. Fridén belts out his screamy lines with the right level of enthusiasm to hook, and instrumentally the song’s tight, with a simple guitar solo popping in briefly with some Omnium Gartherum melody towards the back end. “The End” follows, A Sense of Purpose vibe shining through, and once again it’s a catchy number, typical of what I’d expect from today’s In Flames. Another big (but mechanical) guitar solo makes its appearance and it’s all over relatively quickly in a screaming finish. And there you have it, the formula for the large majority of Battles.
The mid-section of Battles consists of very little that will hold your interest. The adolescent choir used throughout “The End,” “Like Sand” and “The Truth” does absolutely nothing to endear. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that, combined with the overly ’emo’ nature of the vocals/lyrics, this choir just adds a stink of cheese that In Flames doesn’t need. Beyond that, “Like Sand” comes across as a weird parody of an Avatar freak show and The Used‘s screamo. “In My Room” and “Before I Fall” exacerbate the chore that is Battles, both tracks are completely devoid of personality, all on one level having no exciting peaks or high points to speak of outside of Fridén’s vocals, which at times mimic those of Shaun Morgan (Seether). “Here Until Forever” is one of the few white flags on this battleground. Though the track will have you balking at its likeness to the output of My Chemical Romance and The Used, the jazzy drum-work sets it well apart from earlier tracks. At last, the end is near. “Wallflower” outright apes Tool and though the track takes a fair amount of time to get off the ground, once it does, you’re welcomed by a synthy “Colony” influence that goes on to permeate both this track and closer “Save Me.”
Howard Benson (My Chemical Romance, The Used and Seether) had a hand in the production of Battles, and it’s his production style that adds to the overall feeling that the project was a rushed fail. After being blasted by the first half of the album, “Through My Eyes” experiences a marked decrease in sound intensity. Be warned though, this is corrected by the time you get to “Battles” so making on-the-fly volume adjustment is a must. The inconsistent and sometimes brick-walled production on Battles, exacerbates an unsatisfying listening experience. Across the entirety of Battles, five tracks come across as seriously brick-walled (DR4) the remaining eight tracks range between DR5 and DR6… not great, but good enough I guess. After a week with In Flames, earache was my reward.
Between predictable songwriting, recycled technique, a notable lack of haunting melodies, lyrics aimed at radio play for angsty teens and just outright poor production, Battles is not the album I hung on for. I’m going to consider this a battle lost.