Monday, November 14, 2016

In Flames - Battles (2016)

In Flames' transformation from being one of the pioneers in the Swedish melodic death metal scene to a more mainstream metal band is more or less complete now with the release of "Battles", the Swede's 12th studio effort. Now, why was it not already complete? Because they have shown some of their roots in their previous efforts. Maybe not to a great extent, but enough to recognize the band and its past. The last two albums, "Songs of A Playground Fading" and "Siren Charms", may differ massively in pure quality, but both have some small grains of the old In Flames in them. "Battles" does not.

Even without the hints of death metal, "Battles" is not pure trash, a album that should be instantly thrown away as a eye (and ear) sore. Sure, it is not the best side I have seen from the band, but they have created a solid entity that follows the red line with ease. Most of the focus here are on the choruses, where all of them being really catchy without being annoying. Just take the first single "The End" for example, a epic chorus that has been stuck in my mind ever since the first time I heard it. It even have a children's choir (something the band uses a couple more times in the album) that oddly fits, but it is not something I would want to see as a common thing in the band's sound.

While the album excels in its choruses, it fails miserably in what might be the most important thing in In Flames' sound, the twin guitars. The production is really flat, giving you the illusion that the band only utilize one guitarist, which ultimately makes the music feel empty. The only time where the guitars actually sounds good is in the solos, and the solos are great as always (thank god), but it is not enough. I wanna hear Björn Gelotte and Niklas Engelin's crunchy and melodic riffs, but "Battles" won't allow me.

I also get the feeling that the setting in which this album was recorded (Hollywood, California) had some influence to its sound. No, none of the songs in "Battles" is straight up film music, but it is a more glamorous sound picture that the band is presenting us. It is something that will divide the fan base even further than before, which is kind of an amazing feat since it is already divided quite a bit.

Even with this softer sound, In Flames made sure to pack "Battles" with several killer songs, with great melody and strong punches. Songs like "Save Me", "In My Room", and "Trough My Eyes" is straight up knock out punches that will leave bruises on your skin, remembering what happened when you encountered them the first time. "Through My Eyes" especially stands out by being the heaviest song, using a very tough attitude, some very groovy riffs, and another ultra epic chorus where Anders Fridén actually delivers some stellar clean(ish) vocals, an already proven weakness for the front man. Another stand out is "Wallflower", a more progressive song that is the longest of the record (just over seven minutes). There is a lot of instrumental bits here and a very calm mood that is not like the band at all, but it works really well, ending up as one of my favourites from this album.

But then we have the duds that should not be here at all, and they are close to making me mad (not in a "Siren Charms" level though). "Here Until Forever" is some weird metal core crap that I associate more with Bring Me The Horizon, Bullet For My Valentine, or any other similar band. It just does not suit the band well at all, and especially not Anders. No other song is as bad as "Here Until Forever", but "Like Sand", "Before I Fall" and "Drained" are just boring, and the over use of the children's choir in "The Truth" is very close to cringe worthy. Yeah, "Battles" have more good sides than bad, but it is still obvious that this is far from the best album the band has made.

Despite the poor production, the softer sound, and slight quality inconsistencies, "Battles" is actually not that bad of an album. The melodies are there, and so are the choruses, carrying the album towards the finish line in determined fashion. I might consider myself as one of the more stubborn In Flames fans out there, because while this albums shows so many flaws, it still has enough resonance in me to give me my much needed kick out of it. For me, "Battles" is an okay album, but I am sure that most of you will at the very least dislike it, especially if you do not like the modern version of the band. Still, this is a better and much stable album than "Siren Charms" will ever be, so give it a chance if you dare, do not be afraid to take up the battle that this album brings.

Songs worthy of recognition: Through My Eyes, The End, Wallflower

Rating: 6/10 Truths

More reviews of In Flames
Siren Charms
I, The Mask

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