In Flames – Foregone Review

Foregone by In Flames - an album cover without artist credit given by the label

In Flames is the biggest name to come out of the legendary Gothenburg scene in Sweden. In quick succession between 1994 and 1999, the Swedish legends produced some of the most iconic melodic death metal albums of all time. And though 1994’s Lunar Strain featured Mikael Stanne (Dark Tranquillity) on vocals, it was the introduction of Anders Fridén on 1996’s The Jester Race that cemented the band’s legacy lineup and sound. That version of the band vaulted to the top of the metal world with the consensus classics of Whoracle and Colony, and the embattled but at-least-in-some-parts-beloved Clayman, before the Swedes did [a] Reroute [of its sound in order] to Remain in 2002. Having checked in with In Flames a few times over the years, it has been apparent that their musical journey and mine diverged before I had finished my bachelor’s degree. But every new album teases the same question: is there any chance of recapturing what made In Flames the premiere melodic death metal band between ’96 and ’01?

Foregone demonstrates In Flames’ unquestionable desire to reacquaint themselves with the sound they have eschewed for two decades. While the hint seems to be in the very title, the tracks that break out riffs that reek of their classic sound are an even clearer indicator. The album opener evokes The Jester Race immediately with a harmonized acoustic number (“The Beginning of All Things That Will End”).1 And rather than leading with groove, many of the album’s best songs lead with melody and harmony (“State of Slow Decay”) or even speed (“Foregone, Pt. 1”). In its best moments, Foregone has a vital sound similar to Whoracle with acoustic breakdowns (“In the Dark”) or even a reintroduction of the point-counterpoint solos (“The Great Deceiver”). They tie a bow on top of these decisions with the addition of Chris Broderick (ex-Jag Panzer, ex-Megadeth), and his playing combined with Björn’s results in In Flames’ best guitar solos and most creative ideas in a long time.2 In short, these are just straight up bangers.

Foregone is rife with reminders that it’s 2023, however, and the prodigal son has only just wandered back into the fold. One of the album’s biggest tensions is between the chorus-at-all-costs compositions and melodeath intensity.3 This has been a strange tension in the post-Colony In Flames sound. The fundamental conceit of their classic sound was that they could carry all the melody on the guitars and get away with it. This is demonstrated on “Foregone, Pt. 1,” where the track is catchy and fun and Anders is a powerful presence who never sings a clean note. But big, clean choruses are ubiquitous here, while Foregone still features a lot of groove-driven riffing on tracks like “Meet Your Maker” or “Bleeding Out.” The groove-orientation and cleans becomes increasingly prominent on the album’s back half, but unlike 2019’s I, the Mask, the balance between the new and old helps these tracks feel zestful and lively.

The two primary criticisms of Foregone, however, will be that it’s front loaded and Fridén’s cleans. In Flames’ sporting a sound so dependent on Anders—who lacks the power of a Björn Strid or emotive sensibilities of Mikael Åkerfeldt—seems to be passively acknowledged by the vocal production. Producer Howard Benson spends a lot of effort doubling him up, with liberal use of spreaders, what appears to be aggressive compression and who knows what kinds of filters. Honestly, it’s not a sound I love.4 However, as weaknesses go, I think that Anders’ cleans are the best they’ve ever been. The real problem with Foregone is that it falters in the second half with three songs that tend towards mid-paced groove and which lack the newfound spice and energy of the band’s sound (“A Dialogue in B Flat Minor,” “Cynosure,” and my least favorite “Pure Light of Mind”). There are no bad tracks on Foregone, but Nuclear Blast’s pre-release tracks suggest that I am not the only person who feels that the front half will resonate more with fans.

Like so many of their landmark records, Foregone tells its story in the title. You can hear it in the tracks that show a definite return to form and which are, to quote Anders Fridén, simply “more metal.”5 As a result of this, we’ve seen something I never would have expected—a revitalization of the only band that ever did In Flames’ sound any justice: In Flames. Oft-aped, but never duplicated, In Flames’ unique take on melodeath has been palpable in its absence, which makes Foregone a joy to hear. And I concede, of course, that Foregone isn’t going to convince everyone and it isn’t perfect. But if you had told me three weeks ago that we were going to get a new In Flames record, I would’ve asked “Who cares?” And now, they’ve got my attention again.

Rating: Honestly, everyone, it’s Good!
DR: 5 | Media Reviewed: v0 mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: February 10th, 2023

Show 5 footnotes

  1. Also, the violins and acoustic guitar remind me so much of the Firefly intro.
  2. A thing he also did when he joined Megadeth, incidentally. Let’s hope he lasts longer here.
  3. See also: Soilwork’s Verkligheten and Övergivenheten.
  4. I’m not in the studio, maybe this is just what big commercial producers do with everyone. And this guy produced his vocals to sound like My Chemical Romance.
  5. The whole quote: “In a way, it sounds stupid to say we wanted to be more ‘metal,’ because we always felt that we were,” Fridén observes. “Over the last couple of years, the world became even more hostile and evil in certain ways. We have a war in Europe. People, in general, are more stressed. All of that energy and anger helped fuel this album. We went in to make something on point, heavier, and yes, ‘more metal.’”
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