NOTE: It is being reported by many consumers that the Deluxe Digibook Edition of Siren Charms has a greatly differing audio quality, an issue I will address in the review below. That said, the following opinion of the music found on it is based solely on this version and may change upon hearing any other official version of the recording. If wildly different enough, I may very well do a second review to discuss the music properly. Thank you for your understanding, and I hope this article still helps you in your decision of whether or not to check this album out.
Siren Charms does seem to be the spiritual successor to Sounds of a Playground Fading in many ways, but most notably that it shares a similar sleek and digital output in a much more restrained Alternative Rock manner. Thankfully there are a few that still have some kind of edge to them, which is how things actually start off with “In Plain View.” The lighter material and clean singing can come off whiny, but the harder chorus and bridges that have a little more bite usher in some screaming that is reminiscent of what modern In Flames is all about. You just need to get past the terrible distortion on the leads in certain spots, as well as the Electronica effects that go from sounding like the guitars clipping to sharp high pitch sparkles that have the potential to hurt your ears. “Rusted Nail” follows the same general concept, though it’s a much easier listen that isn’t hindered by conflicting electronics, allowing the Melodic Death Metal performance and well rounded mix of clean singing and screaming to steal the show and become one of the album’s most memorable performances.
“Everything’s Gone” is the first track here that manages to establish the band’s interest in Groove Metal. It’s a grim track with mid-tempo chugging that has a tendency to explode into some decent riffs for that genre with cleaner, distorted singing that borders the edge of Marilyn Manson‘s style found on “The Dope Show.” While the pacing is handled well with a more empowering chorus, the song just ends up weak, generic, and riddled with flaws. The main verses sound as though they are flickering back and forth at times, some parts of the drum kit sound washed out, and the distortion on the lead guitars is also pretty rough to where even the guitar solo is met with poor sounding and conflicting layering.
This sort of singing picks up again on “Through Oblivion,” which shows the Rock direction a little more clearly, all the while including a heavy dose of melody in the chorus that is surprisingly soothing and only hindered by the low clean singing in the main verses that still comes off a bit whiny at times. It’s about this point the album becomes more consistent, focusing on one specific idea without trying to shoehorn in their signature sound and elements of their previous release. “With Eyes Wide Open” only further proves this thanks to the catchy riffs that have a hint of eighties Glam Rock to them in the main verses against a stronger chorus littered with Alternative Rock hooks that have enough edge to stick with the dark and intimate atmosphere of the recording itself. Sadly, it’s “Siren Charms” that simply doesn’t benefit from any of this. The song itself sounds largely inspired by the band Muse, especially in the chorus, though the short guitar notes played in the bridges end up quite irritating and pointless to the final product.
But of all the songs, there are two that stand out the most, primarily for long time fans of the band. “When the World Explodes” seems like In Flames is trying to incorporate some Shoegaze or Progressive Metalcore a la Between the Buried and Me elements that work in the chorus for the most part. The astral effects against the aforementioned dark atmospheric backdrop works wonders, especially during the Electronica instrumental passage about three minutes and twenty seconds in. But then there’s the flat female vocals that join Anders lower singing that kill the performance as much as they simply sound bored and uninterested in being there, not counting the operatic pitch that erupts towards the end that is a nice surprise, but doesn’t make up for the rest. And then there’s “Paralyzed,” which just sounds like a recycled version of “The Quiet Place.” The Electronica effects at the start sound like a watered down version of that very song’s introduction, building up to toned down hooks, rattling bass guitar notes, and a radio friendly upbeat chorus that picks up the speed just enough to offer something a little more upbeat without really breaking the song’s natural progression.
Siren Charms, or at least the Deluxe Digibook Edition, suffers from what is possibly the worst mastering the release could have ever gotten. The first two tracks sound atrocious to where you can’t help but wonder if these are the finished mastered versions given how some levels seem to be all over the place. However, by “Everything’s Gone,” the music does clean itself up, but remains just as muffled and low in volume as those two previous offerings. The only song that sounds right is “Siren Charms,” which will have you running to turn your speakers down immediately given how much louder and more crisp it is compared to the eleven others.
Upon reading a number of consumer related reviews on on-line retail stores, the audio found on this edition is due to some kind of manufacturing error. Considering the audio to the recent streams and music video greatly differs from the final product, I am inclined to believe this. If it’s true then this means this version of the album released in North America is largely faulty, an issue on Epic Record’s part for not minding the quality control side of their label. I have reached out to them for comment on this [and at the time of posting this review have not heard anything back since it was sent over one week ago] and will post if and when a reply is received.
Aside the obvious audio issues, this version does come in a nice little Digibook package that is very well put together except for the tight sleeve on the inside back of the case. It also contains a bonus track called “Become the Sky,” which sounds more like a mid-career KoRn offering right down to the rattling bass guitar, just with some stonger hooks and vocal harmonizations, none of which are strong enough to really save this weak track that was clearly omitted for a reason. But you’ll be too focused on that tight sleeve, worried each time you take the disc out or put it back in you’ll end up with some dust getting caught and scratching it beyond repair. This is one of the few times you’ll be perfectly happy burning a CD-R version (or digital playlist if you prefer) and let the official version sit to collect dust, only to take it out for special occasions.
Siren Charms does end up a charming album, but that’s about it really. This clearly marks a new direction for the band, as if taking a que from The Haunted following the release of their very own Rock album, Unseen, but more likely due to Anders having more control of the group since Jesper’s departure. Sadly there are plenty of hiccups along the way. THe band tries to force their signature sound into as many tracks as possible to keep it an In Flames album to even recycling one (and possibly more) songs to fit the modern digital quality and new Alternative and Hard Rock variant that sounds better when they stop trying to recapture the glory of Sounds of a Playground Fading to point of making it seem more gimmicky than anything. If you’re an open minded individual and able to accept a lighter album that sounds like an aged but natural progression from the last of a band on record as saying they want to do something different with each album, then Siren Charms is a fun little experience that could be far better than it is, but is worth hearing at least once for what it wound up being. Just make sure to avoid the Digibook version given the audio problems.