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
Websites: | |
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.

  • Agreement. I gave up waiting for them to return to the Jester Race style lon ago but this is bad bad. The vocals are truly extra awful too.

  • While I can agree with the whole “this is a disappointment of an In Flames album” vibe that’s been going on around the Internet, I’ve found a different way of thinking about it… what if this wasn’t In Flames? If this was some no-name melodic death metal band, I can guarantee that the reviews would be much much more positive, because the album is actually pretty good compared to a lot of stuff coming out, it’s just that it’s In Flames… who have a history of being mind-blowingly awesome. While it certainly has flaws, it’s a good piece of quality material, and it certainly has a couple of really great highs (A New Dawn!). As always AMG, great review!

    • Anonymous

      This exactly.  The “elite” metal blogs are all still comparing this to Jester Race, so of course they don’t like it.  On Amazon and eMusic, the listener reviews are positive (4/5 average).   I decided to ignore all the shitty reviews and get it anway, and you know what?  Not bad.  Even Anders’ clean vocals, which were glaringly bad on Reroute and Soundtrack, are serviceable on this album IMO.

  • Only heard a couple of tracks and yeah, it does appear to be the vocals that kill it. I don’t think Anders has ever been a particularly great vocalist though; even in the glory days of Whoracle and Colony his vocals weren’t on par with some of the other swedish melodic death metals singers about (Mikael Stanne for instance!)

    Either way, I am still slightly gutted that In Flames haven’t pulled this one out of the bag. I’d love to see them produce something of the same quality of their earlier releases….but I think that dream died the moment Jesper decided to call it a day. This album was doomed from that moment.

  • Anonymous

    While I definitely agree with the rating here (I might have given it a 2.5… maybe), I disagree with the basis for the rating. I’ve been a fan of In Flames throughout all of their albums (The Jester Race and Soundtrack to Your Escape tie for favorites), including ASOP. That said, Sounds of a Playground Fading is full of unmemorable pieces that sound like everything they’ve already done. There’s some good, perhaps even great pieces on here (A New Dawn is great), but overall it lacks anything distinctive to make it worthwhile. So while I am a fan of ALL In Flames music, I am not a fan of this album because it’s simply unmemorable.
    And it may be worth noting that I actually do not mind Anders’s vocals. I even find them quite enjoyable at times… though they are definitely worse on this album. He should either go back to his death metal growls (which I don’t believe he can even do anymore) or go straight singing. His screaming leaves a lot to be desired.
    I’ll also go ahead and say I actually thought the album title was pretty neat.

    • The album title is neat: in that it is very accurate. Also, for me the vocals are a large part of what makes it so unmemorable. The melodies go missing because of this piss poor compromise.

  • Anonymous

    great blog/review…off topic…check out Battle Beast…cd Steel…

    kids are allwright by old school metal

  • Maxime Simoncelli

    I pretty much agree with some point of your review, no matter what random people says on Lastfm (about your review, I mean). First of all, this record, in comparison with ASOP, is better : much more memorable melodies, catchier choruses, etc. Anyway, Sounds Of … is million lightyears away from what they’ve made before, I mean Reroute To Remain, or Clayman; yes even Reroute To Remain, which is their best in the “new era”, for me of course, and that’s a point I wanted to pop-out, even if this record is post-Clayman-ish. Yes, Clayman has nothing to do with their new sound, but began the evolution.
    Oh, and for Ander’s vocals, well, there’s a hole between this record and everything In Flames produced before ASOP. They are bad, yes.Still listenable though, 2,5 out of 5 would have been my personal notation :). Or maybe 3, I don’t really know.
    To conclude, I apoligize for the few mistakes I might have made, I’m not a native english speaker ;).

    • It’s cool. I like trolling the In Flames fans on :)

      • Maxime Simoncelli

        They’re primitive.

  • OzanCan

    We had Sonisphere Festival in Istanbul on 19th June 2011 and In Flames was the second band right after Mastadon.
    Firstly, I am not an In Flames fan. Even though through from one of my friend I had listened to their earlier albums, I wasn’t really interested in them. However, I was really eager to listen to them in the festival. I was hoping they would play their old classics (very disappointed Turkish In Flames fans were there) as well as the new stuff. There were some songs (unfortunately I don’t remember which) I kinda like listening to apperently from their latest album. But guys let me tell you something. There is something wrong with their singer, Anders Friden. He almost sounds and sings like an average American Metalcore singer. Well, as I mentioned before, I am not really a fan of the band, but hey that was a metal festival so I want the worth of my money by kicking & screaming & moshing & headbanging…

    Well, they played alot from the latest album apparently (I asked around ;) ) and although the band as a whole had a great performance, Anders kinda weirded me out as a singer. Really I saw many disappointed Turkish fans of the band that day! So, yeah AMG this album is kind of bad. I agree with you!

    Oh on side note, those were the bands that were in Sonisphere Festival on 19th June 2011 chronologically listed as follows:

    Mastadon  -(great, great LIVE BAND! pure awesomeness)
    In Flames  -(well you know :/ )
    Alice Cooper  -(HOLY FUCK!!!! great performance)
    Slipknot  -(First Time in Istanbul, it was awesome and very emotional too apparently for the band and the fans)
    IRON MAIDEN  -(do I really need to say anything here!??! Well, Bruce Dickinson is a METAL PROHPET!!! oh hell yeah damn straight!)

    Cheers to you all! m/

  • OzanCan

    Oh wait I forgot to mention: Björn Gelotte of In Flames. Man, HE CAN PLAY!!! Very charismatic and highly technical guitar player! It was fun watching him performing on stage that day :)

    • He’s good, but.. what does it matter at this point? We know he can play.

      • OzanCan

        nah I just wanted to say anyway :) it doesn’t really matter

  • OzanCan

    Oh wait I forgot to mention: Björn Gelotte of In Flames. Man, HE CAN PLAY!!! Very charismatic and highly technical guitar player! It was fun watching him performing on stage that day :)

  • Anonymous

    I liked Come Clarity and Soundtrack To Your Escape, but this is their weakest effort yet. Stripped for heaviness, the vocals are bad, and it’s overall a pretty boring album.

  • Sohan Ratnaike

    I don’t think Iron Maiden’s latest record signals that their at the
    elder’s home of metal, because I think their one of the few or even the
    ONLY Metal band to continue with the same fire they started. Probably
    the latest record might not be as refreshing as ‘Matter of Life and
    Death’, but I agree the same cannot be said about Priest, Slayer &
    definitely not In Flames. In all, I am a huge fan of melo-death and have
    my own band in Sri Lanka. But I’m hopeful that one day these guys will
    find their way!

    Cheers. m/

  • last words.saddest truth.

  • I have to agree with the OP’s article.  I bought Playground today, got through the first 2 songs and already totally put off.  It’s not so much the songs themselves as more the clipping they’ve used on the songs.  Seems they’ve gone down the same clipping route as Metallica’s St Anger.  The sound quality on this album is up to absolute shit.

  • Yeoshin

    I don’t know why but I actually love it. Sure, it is definitely not the same as their older stuff but it has its own body, I guess. The whole album has actually been stuck in my head for a few weeks now and I can’t stop replaying it. IMO, every band changes (except maybe AILD) and it really depends on the listener and their willingness to accept a different sound.