There are certain bands that have mutated their style so radically over the years that the fan base has been left incredibly divided. There isn’t a band that better falls into this category than Sweden’s In Flames. Early in their career they were innovators of the melodic death metal movement and with each passing release stray further from their original DNA.
Back with their twelfth release Battles, they continue to make changes and grow as songwriters. They brought in Grammy-nominated producer Howard Benson, who has helped focus and streamline the songs, while also getting the best melodic performance of vocalist Anders Fridén’s career.
Along with Fridén, the primary songwriter is guitarist Björn Gelotte. Originally joining the band as their drummer, he switched to guitar back in 1998. When founding member Jesper Strömbland left in 2010 it elevated Gelotte’s role as the main music contributor.
Battles contains some of In Flames’ most memorable, hook-oriented material of their long career. Tracks like “The End,” “Like Sand” and “Save Me” are as catchy as anything they have penned. The modern tendencies will turn off fans that are looking for them to return to their roots. If the listener looks past the production techniques, they will find insane hooks that will stay embedded in your brain.
The songs “Underneath My Skin” and the title track crank up some heavier riffs for some added aggression and power. Intricate riffing is plastered through “Before I Fall,” which also includes a slamming guitar lead. There are moments where they perfectly blend their past with modern tendencies and none are more satisfying than the explosive “Through My Eyes,” with its ripping riffs and double bass drumming during the verses that meld into a memorable melody in the chorus.
The seven minute plus “Wallflower” is an exceptional highlight with its building intro that showcases dynamics beautifully. The verses bring the vibe down until the chorus explodes with a soaring melody. New drummer Joe Rickard replaces longtime member Daniel Svensson. While Rickard does a very good job behind the kit, the material lends itself for him to play more in the pocket. His fills are tasty rather than explosive.
As strong as Battles is, it isn’t going to move the needle with their disgruntled fan base that are yearning for the days of Whoracle. They have evolved over the years, for better or worse, and are not in the same place as when they were younger. Their focus has shifted to a more hook oriented melodic style with passages of metal riffing thrown in.
The material was carefully crafted, as this is the strongest album from In Flames front to back in a long time. The strength lies in the improvement in Fridén’s melodic vocals as he moves away from the spoken whine that he was utilizing, to a more vocal melodic approach. With Battles they have thankfully left the nu-metal influences behind and have found a style that blends their past with their eye focused on the future.
(released November 11th, 2016 on Eleven Seven Music)