Let’s get one thing straight. In Flames is not a melodic death metal band anymore, and they haven’t been for quite a while. This is not in and of itself a bad thing. It’s just the way it is. That being said, The Jester Race was a magnificent piece of Gothenburg melodeath. The band has since become the Law of Diminishing Recordings’ main bitch and haven’t been able to get out from under that role. Yet I, opportunist that I am, was all too eager to snatch their thirteenth effort I, the Mask from the grubby claws of the AMG Consortium. Deep within me lies this hope that In Flames will make up for over a decade of forgettable albums with a release that does one of two things: reclaim the glory of The Jester Race days or forge a new path of excellence in their current, more accessible formulation.
Once again, In Flames have bestowed upon this world a cookie-cutter melodic metal record. If you’ve heard any of their last three albums, you already know much of this one as well. Song structures are predictable, riffs are basic and the overall sound is nondescript. However, In Flames simultaneously concocted some of the hookiest vocal lines they’ve ever penned, initially fooling audiences into believing this to be a return to form.
Bolstering these choruses are surprisingly satisfying vocals. The once maligned cleans introduced fairly quickly in the band’s career suddenly seem more substantial in tone and, dare I say, invigorating in execution compared to those on, say, Siren Charms. Anders Fridén puts his entire body into almost every vocal performance and it does wonders for the first five songs on the record (“Voices” through “Follow Me”). Even the harsh vocals, which are still a far cry from the caustic utterances of yore, mesh well with the band’s current musical philosophy. As a result I found my head occasionally bobbing along with several cuts from I, the Mask (see “Burn” and “Call My Name”). They get into your brain, refusing to let up for an embarrassing length of time, which shows that even after all of this time In Flames still have some tricks up their sleeves.
Unfortunately, the strength of the choruses also exposes the mediocrity of every moment in between. While songs like “Voices” and “Burn” are solid on a more consistent basis, the vast majority of tracks here lack the requisite luster of a quality release. There is no buildup to those banging melodies, no payoff from Björn Gelotte and Niclas Engelin’s riffs. Tanner Wayne is all but invisible, mailing in his kit performance such that I can’t reliably point out memorable fills or beats. I am not even sure if Bryce Paul Newman and his bass are always present. Songs such as “(This Is Our) House” add insult to injury with awkward gang shouts and no sense of flow whatsoever. “We Will Remember” insults further with a lead lick that’s essentially a weakened variant of one from Delain‘s infinitely superior “The Glory and the Scum.” Two sappy ballads (“All the Pain” and “Stay with Me”) close out the album on a wimpy note, making replays an unattractive proposition.
I, the Mask is at its core a milquetoast experience. The first five tracks are all relative highlights but the record loses steam with remarkable swiftness from there. I would go so far as to say this album would have been better off as an EP with everything after “Follow Me” excised because there is little of note from that point onward. In Flames may have crafted worse albums, but this is no match for the latest standout offerings from Great Leap Skyward and even Avenged Sevenfold. Sadly, I, the Mask possesses none of the creativity and the passion of early works, and because of that I cannot in all good conscience recommend this to anybody but the most diehard fans.