REVIEW: In Flames – Sounds Of A Playground Fading

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Artist: In Flames
Album: Sounds Of A Playground Fading
Genre: Metal
Label: Century Media

First things first, let’s read the opening couple sentences from the press release for this album: “At this point of their career, when In Flames release a new album the question is no longer about whether they’ll finally get back to the melodic death metal sound that made them famous almost 20 years ago…their fans wait in fascination and (in some cases) fear of what’s coming next.”

It could possibly be put more accurately or bluntly. Given that both A Sense Of Purpose and Soundtrack To Your Escape were both colossal flops (Come Clarity, however, was awesome), it was rather hard to imagine coming in that this would really be a return to In Flames’ dominant ways of the metal scene. Needless to say, this isn’t the In Flames of old, nor will it ever be. The next question to ask, is this even really melodic death metal anymore? No, not really.

This time around In Flames has strayed well off the beaten path and treaded their way onto some more progressive and at times very radio-friendly. The guitar leads, the vocal hooks, the super-polished production, and the string-filled bridge of “A New Dawn” are all nods to the band’s new pop-friendly sound. That being said, they haven’t totally abandoned the metal riff, pounding drums, and roaring vocals during the verse. The challenge comes when they start mixing the extra pop sections with the pure metal sections, a line that’s incredibly difficult to straddle. Unlike on A Sense Of Purpose, In Flames doesn’t fail miserably at doing so. In Flames does, however, find themselves with a collection of thirteen random songs that don’t really have much cohesiveness.

A few good riffs, a decent solo or two, some good vocals, mediocre lyrics and that’s pretty much all you have–except the album’s saving grace: brilliant songwriting. Sounds Of A Playground Fading is certainly better than the sum of its parts due to Jesper Strömblad leaving the band, meaning Björn Gelotte took the lion’s share of songwriting duties. Though there isn’t a ton of variance in the song structures, they all do a great job at showcasing the best parts of each song.

At times many of the songs feel very dull (such as “All For Me”) with moments of brilliance (such as “Enter Tragedy”). Thankfully In Flames have decided to add a bit more aggression to the mix, certainly more so than they did on A Sense Of Purpose. Thematically this isn’t very true, but much of the guitar work and vocals have gained an edge that In Flames has been missing in recent years, and it is really nice to hear.

All things considered, Sounds Of A Playground Fading isn’t a bad album, and it is certainly better than I expected (probably better than most people would expect). A disjunct album full of pretty cool moments that don’t really fit together, all wrapped up nicely in one super-produced package. Great for people who really didn’t hate A Sense Of Purpose, bad for people who didn’t really like Come Clarity. Safe to say In Flames are off to bigger and (hopefully) better things. At the very least, they’ve certainly moved on to new things.

Score: 6/10
Review written by: Jordan Munson

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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  • Ada

    So much hate

  • I really thought they were in an upswing when Come Clarity was released. Damn was I proven wrong when A Sense of Purpose was their most abysmal release yet. At this point I think it’s clear that In Flames will never be the excellent band they once were, but that won’t stop The Jester Race and Whoracle from getting a lot of plays on my Ipod.

    I will listen to this album strictly out of curiosity and hope that there may be some enjoyment to be found here.

    It’s hard to believe that these are the same guys that made Moonshield…

  • Salpiacente

    Wow. This cd really, really sucks! Nothing memorable whatsoever. What is Anders thinking with that horrendous clean vocals? These guys used to be Gods.

  • Sean Crist

    The names of this album’s reviews should be called ‘Sounds From The Minivan Raving’. Every single one of their albums has at least 3 tracks that are absolutely mind blowing. There are definitely some stinkers on this album. But when dealing with a band that has never made the same album twice; what exactly is it that you want to hear? Maybe a song called ‘Jester Race Reinvented’? The songwriting remains solid, and the production is much less murky this time around. If you don’t like it; blame the guy with the gun to your head making you listen to it on ‘repeat’. Say what you will; but when accusing a section of a six minute song of being radio friendly; check your pant leg for urine, as well as someone claiming that it’s raining….

  • Sean Crist

    The names of this album’s reviews should be called ‘Sounds From The Minivan Raving’. Every single one of their albums has at least 3 tracks that are absolutely mind blowing. There are definitely some stinkers on this album. But when dealing with a band that has never made the same album twice; what exactly is it that you want to hear? Maybe a song called ‘Jester Race Reinvented’? The songwriting remains solid, and the production is much less murky this time around. If you don’t like it; blame the guy with the gun to your head making you listen to it on ‘repeat’. Say what you will; but when accusing a section of a six minute song of being radio friendly; check your pant leg for urine, as well as someone claiming that it’s raining….

  • I don’t usually respond to comments on my reviews, but I’m a bit confused about what you’re really complaining about in my review. I don’t care that they don’t sound like the oft-revered Jester Race days, and I thoroughly enjoy the new sound that sort of came about starting in Reroute To Remain. The “radio friendly” comments were made as observations, not criticisms, and I cited many elements (with only one absolutely specific reference).

    What I would have liked this album to be would have been is filled with the great ideas fully explored, rather than passed briefly and followed up some some pretty dull material.  But that’s just me. Subjectivity is a beautiful thing, no?

  • Fatmancc

    I’ve listened to the album all the way through several times now.  There are some pretty catchy hooks (Fear is the Weekness, Darker Times), and the production is really clean and well mixed.  However, as a metal album it really lacks complexity, originality, and aggression.  I understand they aren’t trying to be a pure “metal” band anymore.  I get it; they’ve progressed.  The reason there is so much debate over their new material is entirely because of the types of people debating it – metal fans vs. rock fans.  There are very few bands that pull in so many listeners across the generes.  For example, when Foo Fighters release a new album, Meshuggah fans don’t jump on message boards and  bash it for not being heavy enough.  Calm down, I’m not comparing In Flames to Foo Fighters.  But because of who In Flames USED to be and who they are now, we have this conflict.  Judging the album as a ROCK album it’s pretty damn good.  The lead riffs are tight and the songs groove well for the most part.  For a METAL album it’s just not any good – not at all.  Metal has become huge and even mainstream, and yes, In Flames played a role in this expansion.  But with this expansion came a sleu of great musicians and album releases that display incredible talent musical composition, and an onslaught of aggression (i.e. Circle of Contempt, Threat Signal, Born of Osiris, August Burns Red, and many many more).  Add to this fact that many of the old school bands are still tearing it up (Soilwork, Dark Tranquillity, Meshuggah, etc.), and you see that In Flames has kind of lost their place in the metal world.  When an amateur rock cover band can handle a metal band’s material no problem, they’ve moved into a new relm of music.  Sounds of a Playground Fading has too much filler material that does nothing but take up space on the record (All for Me, The Attic, Jester’s Door, and Liberation).  The tempo is mid-paced almost the entire time, which becomes extremely boring after a few listens.  The guitar solos are too “classic rock” and do not display enough musicianship.  The rhythm guitars are almost non-existent on many tracks making the songs feel rather weak.  The album is very vocal based for the most part.  The vocals are ok a times but really lack typical metal emotion.  And by this, I’m not suggesting that Anders has to scream his guts out on every song, but every once and while to highlight the song would be nice.  There is never a moment of pure epic music that gives listeners chills – it lacks that intangible quality that takes you to that next level of metal bliss.  All in all, the album will get a few more plays on my stereo, because I like all types of rock, metal, death, jazz, etc.  You just to be honest with yourself and admit that In Flames is not longer the gods of the metal industry like they were for so long.  Want to hear a REALLY REALLY BAD album, check out the new The Haunted release, Unseen.  You’ll be glad In Flames is still rocking at least a little bit.

  • Fatmancc

    As a follow-up comment…

    If you like this album and/or ASOP, you would like Anders old side project, “Passenger.”  It’s a solid rock album.

  • Zbethke

    I am sorry, i am not really a metal head, i like all rock from punk to alternative, to “radio rock”… I have personally enjoyed the last 3 in flames albums including this new one, and bands really cant do the same thing over and over again, it gets old and then all the albums sound basically the same… An i do love anders vocals and lyrics on the last 3 cds, but thats more what im into good lyrics and vocals i can at least understand what he is saying compared to many “metal” bands ive heard

  • Robinao

    I love the old stuff and I like the new stuff. As a musician, you can’t do the same thing over and over again (except for AC/DC) and, though I prefer Jester Race and Whoracle, I enjoyed RTR, STYE, and certainly the new album. It’s different but sounds good anyway. In fact, when I first listened to Clayman I thought they were repeating Colony. I’ll be seeing them live in Barcelona nexte week. First time since 2001.

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