Let’s get one thing out of the way first. For me, In Flames stopped being In Flames in 2001 when they released Reroute to Remain. Since that point, they’ve been known to me as In Waters- a Swedish pop metal band with some excellent melodic death guitar work that comes and goes. There. Now that that’s settled, onto the review:
People from the ’90s In Flames camp keep complaining about the “new sound” and some wish that the next album will be more “true to form”. To address both points, the “new” In Flames isn’t new anymore. This is just who they are now and they’ve been pumping out this kind of material (and doing it well) for 15 years (longer than they were a true to form melodic death band). Personally, IF’s albums Lunar Strain all the way through Clayman are some of my favorite records of all time, but I’m over it. In Waters are here to stay. They’re not the same band and they never will be again. I can at least find comfort in considering their last 7 albums the product of a separate entity.
Battles doesn’t suck for what it is. If you’ve heard the singles they released prior to the rest of the album, you know what I’m talking about. The guitar work is good, along with the typical IF straight forward drumming, Anders’s incredible clean and harsh vocal range, and the subtle bass and drum dynamics. This isn’t “bad music”, it’s just VERY radio friendly metal and that doesn’t jive with a lot of people. I get that.
As a melodic death fan, this is kind of a bipolar release. Every song toggles back and forth between “killer riff”, “sappy riff” or “sick vocals”, “sappy vocals”. But after a few listens and adjusting to the vibes of the songs, I can see why certain decisions were made. They know what they want to sound like. They know exactly what they’re going for and in that respect, it’s all executed perfectly. Songs like “The End” and “Save Me”, both released prior to the full album, have ridiculously catchy choruses and are infectious from the first listen. Elitists, beware. You don’t want to catch yourselves humming these in the bathroom, so you’d better stay away.
The opening track, “Drained” is just downright creepy from the start. It follows typical modern IF suit and has heavy verses with harsh vocals and a catchy clean chorus, but the intro is just unsettling. I get it now, but that first listen had me cringing. Anders does this weird “talking” section over some clean guitar and it just gave me the “Hey, kid, want some candy?” vibe. It’s a decent track, though, once you drink it all in.
I can’t really say a lot about other songs, because I’ve already covered the basics. This is a very straight forward album. If you’ve heard anything the band has released post 2001, you know what to expect here. It’s just more of the same. The only major difference I can pinpoint is that the guitars stuck out a lot more to me on this record than they have in years. Some of these leads, harmonies, heavy riffs, etc. are outstanding. I just found myself wishing that style of play had more running time in all the songs (parts fleshed out more, etc.).
So, what am I really saying here? I’ll break it down in a typical rating format:
As an In Flames album: 3/10 for decent screaming and some ballsy guitars.
As an In Waters album: 9/10 for knowing the game and playing it well.