|Alternative Rock, Melodic Death Metal
Century Media Records
June 21st, 2011
Release length: 53:49
In the end, the album basically comes down to the material being a combination of simpler In Flames signature Melodic Death Metal sound that can either be somewhat heavier and intense, like the lead single “Deliver Us” which isn’t the most inspiring track, but catchy enough that it grows on the listener, or some really simplified mainstream Alternative Rock input that really detracts from the group’s heavier presence, which is pretty clear on the closing track, “Liberation”. Despite what direction the band goes in, many of the songs on this album are actually enjoyable and often catchy, however there are some times where the music simply isn’t. “All for Me”, for example, seems to have a randomly inserted passage that comes off more as an awkward eclectic Rock passage that lyrically fits but musically just does not. The vocals for “The Puzzle” also seem to not fit the music outside the chorus. The song has a heavier vibe to it that’s a little faster, but the vocals are far more energetic and melodic.
While the heavier tracks at the start are enjoyable, the songs that mix in that more Alternative or Modern Rock musical approach stand out on the release, and it shows the band’s progression had been worth suffering through at times. “Fear is the Weakness” is the first song to really showcase that Rock influence to the music, and it’s really a moving piece. Why this song was not chosen as the lead single is confusing given the haunting and insanely catchy music and guitar hooks that grab the listener while the vocals bring in a more emotional approach to the song and just tie it all together to make the best track off the entire recording. Of all the Rock-inspired tracks of the recording, the final track of the album, “Liberation”, is perhaps the oddest fish out of water here. The band sheds themselves completely of the Melodic Death Metal sound they have worked with for the past ten albums, and instead end the album with a slower mainstream Modern Rock ballad that may put some listeners off. The song isn’t the strongest, but for a Hard Rock track, it’s not bad, and really has more of an uplifting vibe to it then the rest of the album’s rather fun or rebellious tones in the music throughout.
Of course, if that’s not what you want out of In Flames, then some of the later heavier songs will be a sigh of relief. “Darker Times” takes a stronger, more energetic and solid performance route of straight forward Melodic Death Metal at a much faster pace. The song feels like a more stylish, modern sounding In Flames track, and it really wakes up the senses after the slower “The Attic”, becoming a welcome presentation from start to finish that fans of the band will love despite how they will feel about this newer musical approach they took for this album. “Enter Tragedy” hammers away at the listener again with a faster paced heavier Melodic Death Metal approach that feels natural for the band, but again the main verse vocals feel more harmonized then they should be, though nowhere near as off as “The Puzzle” do, and the song even seems to have a breakdown near the end prior to a guitar solo that feels more Rock inspired, which is nice, but starts off a bit rocky and even feels like a few wrong notes are hit.
Sounds of a Playground Fading isn’t always limited to a Melodic Death Metal or Rock sound either. There are tracks here that seem like the band is experimenting with a possible future sound, which seems to include a more direct Blues feel to the music. “The Attic” is the first track to really introduce this with it’s slower, more emotional music with lighter singing that feels like it has a little passion to the quieter, almost whispered approach. In the background to the music is the band’s extra kick of signature keyboard effects that seem a little too light and get lost when the vocals kick in. “Jester’s Door” seems to have a bit of a Blues feel to it, but it ultimately sounds like a throwback to earlier In Flames with some keyboards that sound more like something off a pirate themed album. The vocals are deep and simply a spoken word process that seems to be about selling band merchandise, then exiting through the “Jester’s door”, which then goes into an industrial interlude. This all builds to a very Colony-era sounding track entitled “A New Dawn” that doesn’t really seem to fit with the more modern and stylish Rock/Melodic Death Metal sound the band presents on this album at first. As the track progresses, it builds into this beautiful, epic, emotionally driven song that “Fear is the Weakness” felt like it tried to capture but couldn’t. The sleek and stylish production quality of the album really helps to push the song forward and as it builds, you can’t help but sit at the edge of your chair anticipating how the song will continue to build. Sadly, the ending just seems to just stop instead of reaching a suiting climax the song built up to.
It’s very rare that I think an alternate version of a release with additional material is absolute garbage and a waste of money compared to the “bare bones” model, and sadly this is one of those instances. The CD/DVD Digipack edition of Sounds of a Playground Fading really doesn’t have anything additional that’s worth justifying upwards of twenty extra U.S. dollars. This edition clearly has the initial thirteen tracks, but it also so graciously includes a less-than thirt minute recording documentary that is composed of all six parts of the on-line “In the Studio” videos the label posted on-line for free, as well as an offer for a free exclusive t-shirt. But, nothing is for free since you basically pay the cost of the shirt in the final price of this edition, plus all shipping costs [which cost me an additional five dollars and fifty cents standard mail with six to eight weeks delivery time].
Sound like a rip off? Yeah, it basically is. At least that’s exactly how I felt when I put the DVD into my player and saw the shipping for my free shirt (which, honestly, I kind of expected). Unlike some of the other CD/T-Shirt deals being bundled together in the stores, like what was done with the recent Megadeth Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying reissue among others, this one has you going to the Century Media Records store, putting in an exclusive code, and then paying to ship it to you. So, even going into this knowing you’re paying shipping, it’s advertised as a free t-shirt, meaning you pay for the DVD, which is the six part recording of documentary the band and label posted on Youtube for free. Either way you’re paying fifteen to twenty plus dollars for free material! It’s not worth it unless you are a die hard fan who really wants that limited shirt, but even then you need to ask yourself if it’s worth such a huge spike in price over the bare bones edition, especially since the shirt only goes up to Extra Large, so fatties need not apply or have to drop weight just to wear it properly.
While In Flames have been building up the Rock influence in their music, it all seems to explode with Sounds of a Playground Fading. Surprisingly, much of the Alternative/Hard Rock sounds mixed with the Melodic Death Metal approach work well on this album, and there’s only a few issues to be had with the release, such as a few songs not really pulling their weight, as well as a few awkward moments. Other then that, the music does jump around quite a bit at times, but the heavier material is often very crushing and signature In Flames, while the more Rock influenced material is simply catchy and will leave you bobbing your head along with the well performed music. This release definitely won’t win over any of those who think Lunar Strain was the last solid In Flames effort, but those with an open mind, or can at least accept the continuing growth and exploration of the group, will find plenty of reasons to come back for repeat spins of this sleek and stylish modern Melodic Death Metal release. And for those who intend to buy it, the bare bones model is honestly the version to get, especially in this economy.
01. Sounds of a Playground Fading – 4:44
02. Deliver Us – 3:31
03. All for Me – 4:30
04. The Puzzle – 4:33
05. Fear is the Weakness – 4:05
06. Where the Dead Ships Dwell – 4:26
07. The Attic – 3:17
08. Darker Times – 3:24
09. Ropes – 3:43
10. Enter Tragedy – 3:59
11. Jester’s Door – 2:37
12. A New Dawn – 5:51
13. Liberation – 5:09
Digipack Bonus DVD
|Initial Pressing Score: 8/10
Digipack Score: 6/10