I could quite easily write a lengthy love letter to the band In Flames that would span far too many pages to reasonably count. These guys are legends and pioneers that have absolutely earned their right to be Metal mainstays with all the fantastic Melodic Death Metal gems in their lengthy discography. Their 7 album run from 1996’s — “The Jester Race” to 2006’s — “Come Clarity” is one of the most consistently incredible series of records in all of Death Metal. Though from that point on things started to tell a bit of a different story for most.
photo: Patric Ullaeus
Reclaiming the Band’s Throne
The last four records from the Swedish titans have proven to be very polarizing and divisive amongst their fans. They have brought in legions of new listeners and turned away many Metal elitists who just can’t stomach the idea of any album having clean vocals at any point. I personally consider 2011’s “Sounds of a Playground Fading” to be a tremendous and criminally underrated record that deserves so much more love.
But even I have to admit these guys have fallen off hard with their last two albums. “Siren Charms” and “Battles” are difficult to defend releases that are nothing short of uninspired and weak. They left me gasping for a glimpse back into what In Flames used to be with this new album — “I, the Mask”. Thankfully for me, this record is far more than just a glimpse of how great this band was and still is — it’s a full blown return to form in so many ways. But I know not everyone will agree with me.
In Flames Feels Powerful Again
This new release brings so many of the elements that made me fall in love with the band back in droves. It’s their most muscular release in well over a decade, as it’s packed with that certain bravado and punch that made all their best work so empowering to listen to.
Many songs on this record will knock you off your feet with how intense they are. As soon you’re done picking your jaw back up off the floor you’ll be left pumping your fists in the air and moshing away, even if you’re all by yourself. This sheer display of power and electrifying intensity is everything I wanted from this album. While there are definitely issues with it that I’ll get to later, it’s got me totally sucked in and addicted.
Evolution in Songwriting
The songwriting of this record is cut from an entirely different cloth than anything else the group has put out in the better half of a decade. In many ways I’d say there are moments here where the writing is even better than some of the records which are revered as their best works. And I don’t care if the elitist fans call that statement blasphemous.
There is a newfound appreciation for the art of the build-up that the band has totally mastered with this album. They’ve crafted so many tracks that feel so much more progressive and grandiose than they ever have before. That includes things as simple as the beautiful and effective key change of the last chorus of “Follow Me”. And things as complicated as twin guitar solos that fade away into the serene bliss of perfectly implemented acoustic guitars, and everything else in between.
On top of this, they’ve also absolutely perfected their ability to craft endearing and anthemic hooks. This is something they’ve been struggling to do well for years. It feels pretty good hearing them return to churning out choruses so they’ll be the only thing you want to listen to for weeks.
These Guys Can Still Perform With the Best
The other aspect of the record that I think really sells it, aside from the excellent songwriting, is the phenomenal musicianship and performances every single band member brings to the table here. The guitars are so filthy in the best way possible — they have that rich and thick In Flames distortion that hasn’t sounded this good in far too long. The riffs on this record are played with such throbbing and burning intensity that you can feel the sheer passion and force emanate from the strings directly into your ears.
The solo work is also seriously top notch, and all things considered. I’d say this is the best Björn Gelotte’s playing has been since their ‘death metal’ days, arguably maybe ever. The rhythm section is absolutely pounding as well. The guitars fantastically combining meaty and punchy to create a monstrous wall of sound like few other acts could ever produce.
Most notably, however, is just how crisp and on point vocalist Anders Fridén sounds on this thing, which makes sense as he took voice lessons all throughout the recording process of this album. His throaty growls are packed with anger and rage. His soaring cleans are completed with a newfound higher register that fully fleshes out the sound of all the great hooks on the album. Thus he sounds so much more passionate in every song here.
I will freely acknowledge that I clearly find this album far more enjoyable than most people seem to be. And I can see how parts of it may come off as still showing a discouragingly generic side of the band that has left a bad taste in many fan’s mouths. I will hold my ground in saying that in due time this will be looked at as an underrated and amazing gem of a record.
“I, the Mask” is worth giving a fair chance! I would highly recommend it to any metalhead, former or current In Flames fan, and honestly — just about anybody. I’m very satisfied with this glorious record than I ever could have dreamed of being. And here’s to hoping that In Flames can continue to prove their detractors wrong with passionate and enticing music in the future.
Must-listen to: Voices, Call My Name, Follow Me
Multi-instrumentalist (Guitar, Drums, Bass), prolific music listener, and live music lover who spends way too much money on concerts.