In Flames // Sounds of a Playground Fading
Rating: 2.0/5.0 —This is not the In Flames you’re looking for
Label: Century Media
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Release Dates: EU: 2011.06.15/17 | US: 06.21.2011

In Flames - Sound of a Playground FadingI know I’m late. Sure, this review isn’t coming out weeks ahead of time, and pretty much no one is looking for In Flames reviews now as it was leaked early and most everyone has already had a chance to hear the new record Sounds of a Playground Fading. For me, however, this is a record that needed some reviewing. See, I used to be a big In Flames fan. Their early albums rate among my favorite melodic death metal records of all time and they really defined and did that sound, “their sound,”as well as it can be done (I guess that’s a little redundant). But I, like many fans, became remarkably disillusioned with the band after Reroute to Remain. There is an irony that the year that record was released, Gothenburg took Ozzfest by storm, as well as a host of metalcore bands that sounded just like In Flames… had.

Since then, I’ve been remarkably unimpressed with the band’s output. The movement back towards a heavier sound has not been particularly successful, and the sickly sweet melody that really defined the band’s sound through Colony kind of disappeared along the introduction of a distressingly oversized dose of Anders’ new Jonathan Davis-like whines. But every time they release a record, I always feel a bit of nostalgia and hope. A hope that maybe this time In Flames will regain that magic they once had. With a name like Sounds of a Playground Fading, though, one gets the feeling that this record will be anything but.

Yeah, that gut instinct you had? It’s right. Sounds of a Playground Fading is exactly that. If In Flames‘ early material was their playground, the place where they spent their youth, crafting friendships and getting drunk on the merry-go-round, this record is one step further towards the old folks home of metal. Joining Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Slayer and a myriad of others with releases that lack fire, spunk, new ideas or anything beyond a few minor glimmers of what once was there. Still, what may be more frustrating about Sounds of a Playground Fading is that there are some really good moments and some very shiny glimmers of hope that really make this album even more painful than the last couple have been for me.

In Flames 2011For me, the biggest, most heinous negative on this record is Anders’ vocal performance. He really topped himself for bad on this album. With the exception of a few screams here and there (kinda on “The Puzzle,” “Darker Times,” “Enter Tragedy” and a smattering of others), most of this record is made up of his monotone scream-sing. I cannot think of a vocal style that is more boring or distracting from what is otherwise passable music. When he actually sings it’s actually less annoying than it used to be, he’s even momentarily good on the closing track “Liberation,” even if the track does wander a tad too far into stadium rock for my tastes. But he really doesn’t do a lot of singing, instead he sort of drones-screams on a tone. This creates vaguely tonal melodies that inspire a desire for ear plugs and not much else. And why does he do this? Because melodic death metal requires screams. See, when melody is carried on a guitar it’s very hard to sing over it. But when you sing, then the guitars need to be more simple and chord based. Anders clearly doesn’t want to scream anymore, but neither does the band write music that allows him to actually carry melody with his voice (with the exception of “Liberation”). This leads to a conflict that kills almost every single song on this album.

The songwriting here, for me, is a step up from the last few releases. There are some truly interesting parts on here, particularly when they break out that almost Hendrix style tone and do a little guitar noodling. I love the experimentation with strings on “A New Dawn,” which mind you, also has some of the best heavy riffing on the record. The aforementioned “Liberation” sees the band experimenting with pop rock and the track is pretty good, while the single “Deliver Us” and its follow-up “All For Me” have some sticky, memorable riffs, the currency of In Flames in dreamy ages past. Of course, a shout out for good memorable solos is in order, as In Flames‘ solos have rarely disappointed and they haven’t started now. There really are glimmers of hope on every track. But then there’s a whiney lumberjack droning over top of them. Hitting that message home again and again: “The merry-go-round is broken. Go the fuck home.”

So while there is some good that can be taken away from this, I’m left cold. Will fans who liked the last few records like this record? Probably: though, I’ve heard some rumblings that the vocals piss people off. But I think that if you have liked post-Clayman In Flames, this record will probably appeal to you. If, however, you’ve been standing around waiting for In Flames to rediscover their pre-Clayman fire, it’s time to look back to your record collections, because Sounds of a Playground Fading is just one step further away from the days of yore. I honestly can’t think of a band that more accurately titles their albums than In Flames. I guess, that’s a positive.