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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Album Review: In Flames - Sounds of a Playground Fading

In Flames - Sounds of a Playground Fading
2011 Century Media
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



At this point in time, long-tenured metal acts such as In Flames now comprise the genre's collegiate elite, if you will. One of the classier bands from this generation, In Flames represents a stylized ascension from proto death metal to a bombastic expression of pop-influenced heaviness.

Those who've followed In Flames since the nineties on their Lunar Strain and Subterranean albums have been unapologetic in their condemnation of the band's borderline mainstream transformation as of 2004's Soundtrack to Your Escape. Unfathomable that "The Quiet Place" actually struck the FM charts, yet commercial radio has since backed off from In Flames for whatever reason. Come Clarity was a hot seller for the band even without AOR assistance, yet the group more or less suffered the same brief shrug-off by many fans as did Shadows Fall during their album cycle for 2007's Threads of Life. Obviously, Shad rebounded in spectacular fashion with Retribution and won their fans back.

While 2000's Clayman is usually the album most of In Flames' core audience cites as their favorite, credit should go where it's due. In Flames may have struck a certain formula in transition, but as of their latest offering, Sounds of a Playground Fading, there is an unwavering attention to detail and harmony amidst the planted aggression. Even with departed guitarist Jesper Stromblad leaving a questionable void in the band, the shaken-up components of In Flames have answered remarkably well with Sounds of a Playground Fading.

The agreeable title of the record rings of the nuclear fallout scene in Terminator 2 and In Flames have become so adept at creating ear-tingling aquaducts you can feel a T-1000 squishing up behind you. Judgment Day? Inherently implied by the lyrics of Sounds of a Playground Fading, yet judgment day is well upon In Flames themselves. Whether they feel it or not, this album is critical to their future, partly due to the loss of Stromblad from their ranks, but also for their continued mass acceptance.

As it turns out, Sounds of a Playground Fading is the sound of youth for the youth. It is a mandatory summer vacation album for the world's teenagers, which is not to say In Flames have written an alienating album for everybody else, demographically-speaking. There's a pitch, a cadence, a verve to Sounds of a Playground Fading that carries the soaring vocals of Anders Friden and the brushy note picking of Bjorn Gelotte into pastures that could've been maudlin given the group's internal shake-ups.

When you hear the aspirant choruses of "Where the Dead Ships Dwell," they present a diverse hopefulness beyond the trudging verses. It speaks to the young looking for an identity, and it speaks to those more traveled. The groovy twin solos from Gelotte and new addition Niclas Engelin voice all the song hopes to accomplish, while Friden places a majestic croon overtop the grinding riffs and submerged electronics by Orjan Ornkloo.

The fascinating element to Sounds of a Playground Fading is the frequency in which In Flames varies the duality of depression and self-composure. "The Attic" comes off subdued in nature with a programmed beat and hollow synths beneath a primary guitar melody and a restrained near-whisper from Friden. Still, it resonates with a hint of strange satisfaction amidst the conveyed barrenness.

All over this album, In Flames turns anger into near-righteousness. A song like "Darker Times" flogs yet it strides while Anders Friden sings about fabricated self-pity. The longer the song goes (and it's not a long cut at 3:25), you hear In Flames rise above what's implied to offer their listeners the chance to buck up and smile. Perhaps it's well to assume their own recent trials are reflected and purged on Sounds of a Playground Fading. By the time the textured exhalations of "A New Dawn" arrives towards the close of the album, congratulations are well-earned between the dramatic keyboard flushes and the chamber fugue accompaniment that splices the nodding grind of the song. Beautiful stuff.

Best of all, Daniel Svensson keeps the album on a perpetual throb. He's particularly effective on the head-crashing fluxes of "Deliver Us," "Sounds of a Playground Fading," "Where the Dead Ships Dwell," "A New Dawn" and the speedier rushes of "The Puzzle" and "Enter Tragedy."

Stretching out of their scheme on the last number, "Liberation," In Flames steps up to a funk rhythm nobody could ever have expected from them. "Liberation" is a snappy pimp roll to deliver its live in the moment message, a fitting uptempo closing argument to a smartly-balanced postulation between tragedy and victory.

Victory belongs to In Flames with Sounds of a Playground Fading. Stripped down in some respects, embossed with grandiosity in others, this is a poised example of a band professing a higher road on record and choosing to follow their own advice straight to a happy conclusion.

Rating: ****

4 comments:

cjk_44 said...

this one's better than "A Sense of Purpose" - Gelotte gets credit for solid songwriting. this may not be the band i fell in love with so many years ago, but they're pretty solid even now.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Not everyone's at peace with the directions In Flames have taken, but I feel like they've strangely mastered the fine line between pop and metal without selling out.

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It has a great album cover. I haven't listened their music. I bet that it is a great album thanks for the recommendation.

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