I’ve only had a relationship with the music of IN FLAMES for five years, as someone turned me onto them in the summer of 2011, just after the release of Sounds of a Playground Fading. I gotta admit, I really liked what I heard, and I had no stake in the whole “old sound vs. new sound” thing. It was just a great disc. 2014 brought us Siren Charms, an album that I pretty much loved from start to finish, and the ensuing tour was my first concert in Philadelphia in almost a decade. I had just moved back to the area three days prior, and was still living in a hotel, but I made damn sure to see IN FLAMES live. They slayed, obviously.
And now here we are in 2016 and the boys from Sweden have just dropped Battles, out now on Eleven Seven Music. So how is it? Good question. At first listen I didn’t know WHAT the hell to think. It seemed very uneven, and the choruses weren’t really sticking with me. But, as you know, I never write word one until I get through an album three times. And after hitting that magic number I can definitely say that the record is without a doubt a grower. I really had to sit with it before I could fully appreciate what was going on.
The first thing I’ll say is that Anders Fridén is doing the best vocal work I’ve ever heard him do. It’s mind-boggling just how amazing he is on each and every track. And the band, they aren’t exactly slouches, either. Everything comes together best on tracks like “The End” and “Underneath My Skin.” In both instances, the guitars of Björn Gelotte and Niclas Engelin are heavy and crushing, but they also ring out with a richness, while Fridén lets it all out with each and every scream. The rhythm section of Peter Iwers (bass) and Joe Rickard (drums) is super-tight here as well.
“Wallflower” is a seven-minute epic and one of the record’s highest highs, everyone in the group working together in total harmony, while “In My Room” showcases some killer dual harmonized guitar work and thick bass from Iwers. Fridén’s vocals get nasty here, too. “Before I Fall” has a nice combo of guitars and programming that works well together, and “Through My Eyes” is the heaviest track on the disc. Even though the hook is very melodic, the verses are hard-hitting, and it’s a nice balance between light and dark.
As far as the less-than-good goes, I really wasn’t into opener “Drained”, ‘Like Sand” is not great, and I absolutely hated “Save Me.” I have no idea what the band was thinking here. The only assumption is that they weren’t. Look, at the end of the day IN FLAMES didn’t exactly produce a bad album, it’s actually very good at times, but Battles is really not as good as the last two. That said, there are some excellent fucking songs that will fit in nicely when it comes to writing future setlists.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Wallflower”, “The End”, “Underneath My Skin”, “Before I Fall”, “Through My Eyes”