Move over Thor. Out of the way Odin. Sweden’s heavy metal gods In Flames are back with their twelfth (yes, twelfth!) studio album Battles that comes out fighting and kicks some serious a**.
Question: what do you know about Sweden? Meatballs, IKEA and Zlatan Ibrahimovic right? Well, you may also be interested to know that those crazy Scandinavians also play home to a collection of some of the best and most exciting heavy metal acts on the planet! Ghost, Opeth and Sabaton are just a few that call Sweden their home. But perhaps one of the biggest is Gothenberg quintet and innovators of ‘melodic death metal’, In Flames. Throughout a career that stretches back to the early 1990s and has included a number of line-up changes, In Flames are the true chameleons of heavy metal – being able to consistently adapt and evolve to continue bringing out fantastic records and memorable tunes to quench the thirst of their loyal fanbase. Generally lukewarm and mixed reviews welcomed their previous effort Siren Charms, however, and, if the vocal few on social media and Youtube are to be believed, In Flames “don’t sound the same”. What does Battles tell us then? Is it a return to form? Or has the chameleon not quite got the right shade of metal again?
Battles certainly can’t be faulted in terms of the splendid album artwork. It’s simple and understated, but looks great and is up there with the likes of Colony and Whoracle. On the production side of the record, Battles has demonstrated a particular shift in how In Flames approached this process in comparison to previous records – both geographically (taking place in California, rather than in Europe) and, as lead guitarist Björn Gelotte explained, in working with new studio personnel and producers. “…We’re very protective of what we do, so that can, sometimes, cause a bit of problems…”, Björn told Queen’s Radio, “…but this time around, having the opportunity to work with Howard Benson, who is world renowned and somebody we really look up to […] we said, ‘well, maybe we should listen to the guy’. He knows his stuff and we really opened up to his advice, his expertise and skill and experience…”. The result? Well, if you can’t get enough of In Flames then it’s markedly positive: “We actually did way more songs than we normally do […] this time around we actually did fifteen instead of the eleven intended songs – so that’s sort of a testament for their good work”.
Listen to Queen’s Radio’s full interview with In Flames’ Björn Gelotte below!
So, is it a return to form? In a word: absolutely. Battles is a technically solid heavy metal record and, while almost certainly being located within a sound that departs from their melodic death metal roots, it still bears the hallmark of In Flames’ characteristically “Gothenberg Sound”. Each guitar part is still wonderfully crafted and the guitar solos are still rippling, roaring animals. “Drained” is the perfect opening song. Its soft guitar arpeggios linger under crackling Dalek-esque robotic sounds and Anders Friedén’s whispering vocals that herald an incoming metal storm which hits with intensity. The premier singles to be released “The End” and “The Truth” are anthems in the making; Through My Eyes” is a gem that, perhaps more than any other song, marries the “old” and “new” sounds of In Flames together in a kick-a** fashion; and Anders’ bone-chilling screams are as strong as ever.
To borrow a line from the great Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead: “Evolution is a mystery”. For any artist to maintain relevancy or freshness after an extended period of time in the limelight is an achievement, let alone twenty years! Music fans (sorry everyone, but I do include myself in this too…) can be quite fickle. We get bored. We lose interest, whether through passage of time or taste. Battles is the product of In Flames’ ever-progressing musical odyssey; a fresh and stellar effort which could go toe-to-toe with any of their records that came before. 2016 is almost over – finish the year in style. Forget “Auld Lang Syne”, listen to Battles.
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Matthew Kirk’s Maximum RPM returns to Queen’s Radio EVERY Sunday night from 9pm with news, reviews, interviews and the very best in what the world of rock, punk and metal has to offer
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