Whenever I hear that there’s a new In Flames record, I can’t help but feel my heart sink a tad more. Anyone who was around to experience the majesty that was their first four full-lengths (as well as the Subterranean EP) knows what I’m talking about: soaring folk influenced twin-guitar melodies with beautifully heart-stopping acoustic interludes. The band had an undercurrent of heaviness that wasn’t too extreme, but was just right for their sound. They had a sense of youthful exuberance and actual purpose… Then the 2000s happened. From Clayman onward, Sweden’s favorite jesters went from “cocksure young band” to “inconsistent and confused.” With one great exception (2006’s still-inconsistent-but-relatively-better Come Clarity), it’s been one disappointment after another. Siren Charms does absolutely nothing but reinforce that the playground has not only faded away, but has been shut down for good.
When you get a dose of electronica starting off “In Plain View,” you know this is not going to be a fun ride. Thankfully, the guitar interplay between Björn Gelotte and Niclas Engelin is trademark (though modern) In Flames. You know what else is trademark (though modern) In Flames? The whine-singing of Anders Fridén, which is sadly prevalent here. When the chorus hits, he goes full-on Chester Bennington [Really? I always pegged him as just being an equally shitty Jonathan Davis. – AMG]. Folks, I don’t even like it when Chester Bennington goes full-on Chester Bennington, let alone someone who can’t hit those notes anywhere near as well. It’s a shame too, because the song is somewhat solid with the exception of his vocals.
But even then, the first song isn’t really indicative of what Siren Charms is really about, and it’s this very reason why I have a problem with new In Flames as a whole: almost twenty-five years into their career, the band doesn’t even sound like they know what they want to do musically. You have dalliances of the past (“In Plain View” and the aggressive “Everything’s Gone”), full-on pop metal (“Through Oblivion,” “Rusted Nail”), deathcore riffs with a female-led chorus that is ill-conceived (“When the World Explodes”), and one tune that I can only describe as the background music for the season finale of a bad teenie-bopper prime-time show (“With Eyes Wide Open”). And none of it, absolutely none of it, holds a single candle to the feel and consistency of the band’s earlier works, or even to Come Clarity—where the band was at least partially successful in marrying the old and new sounds!
Making things worse, the Daniel Bergstrand and Roberto Laghi production compressed the ever loving hell out of the album, with Daniel Svensson’s drums taking the biggest hit. Seriously, his drums on “Everything’s Gone” should give Lars Ulrich a sigh of relief in that there’s now a worse drum sound than on St. Anger [Uh. Dude. Set these side-by-side. St. Anger’s Snare o’ Poo was 100x worse than anything you hear on this album except Anders attempts to sing. – AMG]. If there’s one aspect of In Flames I’ve always enjoyed (besides the sadly dormant acoustic parts), it’s Svensson’s drumming, and the production on here renders it painful and annoying.
But the biggest problem though, is that the band has no clue at all as to what to be. If you don’t want to create another Whoracle or The Jester Race Part II, that’s fine. But when you have bands transcending their older sound but keeping the feel of their earlier albums intact, fans follow and respect that immensely. It’s like In Flames doesn’t know how to do that, and in all fairness, it was a huge problem well before their last original member, guitarist Jesper Strömblad, quit the band in 2010.
Long story short, if you missed out on In Flames over the years, Siren Charms won’t win you back. There is nothing of worth on this album, and it’s best to cherish your memories by listening to their older albums on perpetual repeat. Summing things up rather accurately, the chorus of “Paralyzed” whines that “this time we’ve found a wasteland.” Truer words have not been