From the pioneering melodic death metal of debut album ‘The Jester Race’, the In Flames sound has slowly but surely steered towards a more mainstream inclination, as each release began to incorporate such attributes as clean singing and electronic touches which lend to the songs a more accessible flavour. Now, with the loss of primary song writer Jesper Stromblad, we could be forgiven in thinking that the band’s progression could stall in the wake of losing such a creative influence, yet ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’ confirms that In Flames retain plenty of song writing scope in their ranks.
As the unassuming clean guitar of the opening title track bursts into a classy harmonized lead section and some chunky riffing, it is clear that the signature modern In Flames sound has been subject to some subtle yet welcome variations. The guitar work, whilst remaining focused on the melodious aspects such as the twin harmonies and solos (just check out the stunning wah drenched leads in ‘The Puzzle’ and ‘Enter Tragedy’), has been coupled with a new attention on hefty and relatively straight-forward riffs, such as the lurching swagger present in ‘All For Me’ and the syncopated chug which carries ‘Deliver Me’, which help add a certain bounce and groove to the tracks. The electronics included here are also extremely well done. Throughout the album a delicate coating of synth provides a pleasing nuance to the tracks, occasionally supplementing the riffs and at other times forming the foundations of the song, yet constantly enriching the atmosphere of the album without ever becoming too dominant.
Unfortunately, the one major issue on ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’ is vocalist Anders Friden. Although having a perfectly competent growl, the increased implementation of clean vocals means that Friden‘s raspy, rather nasally singing is allowed to take centre stage, meaning that the listener is subject to vocal melodies that are not only lacking in power and conviction in their delivery, but are also composed with a certain amount of predictability and come out as incredibly monotonous, growing more tedious as the album progresses.
With such a collection of terrific songs, it is shame that the vocal performance can be called nothing more than tolerable, as a better execution from Friden could have elevated the album from a slight return to form to a truly outstanding release. Ultimately, ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’ is business as usual for In Flames, all be it with some successful fine tuning of their sound which serve to make sure the diverse nature of the songs is able to have maximum impact. A far superior album to the bands questionable recent material, In Flames have proven what a capable outfit they still are.
Written by Tony Bliss