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In Flames: Logo
When it comes to Melodic Death Metal, everyone has their band of choice. A lot will go with the pioneers of the style, such as Carcass, At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity, even later acts like Soilwork, all of which put out some great material over the years. But, for me, it’s always been In Flames. I was first introduced to not only this band, but also this style thanks to their album Colony. Back then, it was easily one of the most amazing albums I’d ever heard, but even with the fact that it was one of the first of the genre for me, to this day it still is one of my favorites. From there I began to branch out slowly, discover new acts in the style such as Dark Tranquillity and the aforementioned Carcass, both early Goregrind and latter Melodic Death Metal days. I also began to unearth some of this group’s earlier material. But, more importantly, I watched them continue to change.

And that is one reason why I don’t understand all the hate surrounding In Flames past Lunar Strain. So the band changed gears a bit after bringing in Anders to handle vocal duties back in 1995. Ask any elitist out there, you’d think the band sold their souls to the Emo style. Then again, Anders is involved with the Emo group Passenger (or was, I’m not too certain if the group is even active anymore), but that’s a whole other story all together. The point is, the group has maintained their Melodic Death Metal sound throughout the years, and more times then not have put out consistantly solid albums. It seems that fans of early In Flames will only listen to the aforementioned Lunar Strain, and possibly the Subterranean EP, while others will admit to liking the band up to and including Whoracle. All of these are superb works, but really, I don’t think they’re the only good ones by far.

To be honest, I spend more time with the heavily varied modern recordings then some of the earlier albums. Part of this is because I need to replace my copy of Lunar Strain thanks to an unfortunate incident involving neighbors and their making my apartment rattle causing CDs to fall from the highest shelves and break. Prior to this happening, I’d throw it in once in a while and bang my head right along with it. I also don’t own Jester Race, though I’ve heard it of course, and I definitely approve. These two are the top of my “To own…” list whenever I get some spare cash. But even Woracle and Clayman don’t get too much attention from me, despite the fact that I love those albums as much as I do Colony and their latest entry Sounds of a Playground Fading.

Up to this point, In Flames has issued ten full-length recordings. This is basically ten heavily varied experiences of the style. But, a lot of the more recent albums really came under fire, and I’m not sure why. Reroute to Remain, for example, is an album I still will gladly pick out of my collection and throw in my car stereo for a long drive. It needs to be replaced because of how bad its been scratched up due to that very reason, but I still get a good deal of use out of it. Infact this morning I threw it in and gave it as long a spin as I could, which meant a good seven tracks out of it. I wouldn’t say it’s as good as any of their previous albums, but definitely not worth the wretched scores you’ll find pretty much anywhere on-line. The same goes for Soundtrack to Your Escape. I actually was just listening to this on the way to work, and prior to writing this article. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, this release is far from the greatest, but it still boasts some good tracks I really get into and still find a maintained strong sense of Death Metal amid the “sleek” melody the band was going for that time they just didn’t quite hit. I personally really like “The Quiet Place,” which is easily considered one of the band’s worst songs ever recorded, and have no problem banging my head along to “Like You Better Dead” and “My Sweet Shadow,” just to name a few.

One of my biggest surprises was Come Clarity. This was one of the group’s most aggressive releases as of late, and really felt like they tried to make up for the past two “unsatisfactory” albums with more of their roots showing. “Scream” is easily my favorite cut of the album, and when I worked at WSFX FM I made damn sure I played that at least once during my weekly shift for as long as I felt I could get away with it before I ticked listeners off. I also greatly enjoy “Take This Life,” “Leeches,” “Come Clarity,” and “Crawl Through Knives.” Hell, I find almost every track on it to be great. But, as quickly as this strong an album hit, In Flames released A Sense of Purpose, and it wasn’t until recently I added this one to the collection. This is one of the few albums by them I simply cannot stand, and yet it gets better scores than other albums. I can see it doing better than Soundtrack to Your Escape, as even though I like it, I can admit it wasn’t one of their best efforts. But this one just didn’t do it for me at all, coming off a bit too whiny, sterile, and just all around bad.

But, that seems to be what happens when you have an opinion. Everyone has their own view on this group, and these albums mentiond. I really don’t get all the hate, even from those who only think their debut is the only good In Flames release. With only Sountrack to Your Escape and A Sense of Purpose coming off to me as their weakest offerings, everything else gives the listener a fresh take on the style, showing no real restrictions from the group and admitting to their fans that Melodic Death Metal is a wide and exspansive musical playground. And perhaps that is what the title of their latest album, Sounds of a Playground Fading, refers to. Again, In Flames shifts their sound, and really gets it right with a sleek sound and hard hitting, yet heavily catchy material that takes greatly from modern audio quality and a strong digital presence from the keyboards, something I think they have been trying to nail for quite some time but just couldn’t. And now with the departure of Jesper Strömblad, it seems the title reflects not only the change in line-up affecting the creativity, or even just the thought of running out of ideas to keep their sound fresh, but perhaps the closing of a chapter for both those reasons and many more at some point in the near future, a prediction I seem to remember hearing in one of their “making of” videos for this specific album.

But, with all that said, and the possibility of the band seeing it’s final days in a somewhat near future, I can only sit here and wonder why so many still sit there with their arms crossed, noses to the air, and declare their hatred of this group. In Flames may not be the greatest band in the world like they use to claim and slap on their website and more, but they definitely are one of the most original and creative acts out there today, especially with how long a run they have had so far. Many bands would find something that works and run with it until they run it into the group. These guys, however, seem to never be satisfied with just one sound, and offer up fresh material each new effort to the listener. No matter how much you may loathe this group and their music after Whoracle, you just need to show them respect at the very least for what they do and how love they’ve done it, even if you don’t agree with it.

In fact, this is the kind of group that I wish we had more of. A band willing to take a chance at something new, and if it doesn’t work say “Oh well,” and continue on with their experimentations to give the listener something new instead of beating that same dead horse album after album. There really aren’t any bands around like it at this point for this style, as many have found their niche and seem to stick with it. Dark Tranquillity has made their home with heavily keyboard driven material that anymore seems to be carried over from Character, At the Gates is gone, Carcass reformed but who knows if we’ll see a new album from them any time soon… Even the more modern acts have found themselves stuck, like Arch Enemy coming up with different variations of the same anthem concept, and Soilwork with their new foothold on the Melodic Death Metal laced with Modern Rock sound. There’s no variety left, and really no other bands that genuinely stick out the way In Flames always has with each and every album, whether good or bad.

With all that said, what is it exactly about this band that so many people hate? Those people who generally show their distaste often simply shrug and say “They went downhill and just started to suck.” That is an argument I have been spoonfed many times by many people, but never really get a definitive answer. It’s a traditional jock mentality which really pisses me off. They suck for trying something new? They suck for trying to bring a fresh take on the style each and every album? Or does the music just not appeal to you, therefor they are a horrible band that never should have made it past Lunar Strain? Either way, if that is how you look at it, then you really don’t see the big picture, and of course you won’t enjoy the work of the band, as well as don’t deserve to. This isn’t coming in a fanboy sense, but rather someone who appreciates music in general, and looking at the way modern Metal, and the music world in general has been going, having a band throw something different at me with a new album, showing growth or taking a few steps back, essentially reinventing themselves in my eyes, is something that shows the world why Metal is so great. It’s expansive. It grows with how creative or imaginative you can be with it. But, if you have any idea or know exactly why, feel free to tell me. Because, honestly, I think In Flames is one of the better bands, if not one of the best groups of Melodic Death Metal today, regardless of the number of bad albums many say they have released.