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Sounds Of A Playground Fading

Century Media (2011)
Rating: 7/10

To say that In Flames has come a long way since their humble beginnings, during which they helped launch the melodic death metal genre, would be a massive understatement. Although the band might claim otherwise, it’s easy to note that their last few albums have little in common with albums like Whoracle (1997) and Colony (1999). For In Flames’ career, that’s a good thing. Though older diehard fans might not particularly like the idea, the band has become a lyrically introspective and deeply musical beast that has few, if any, peers. Unfortunately the man largely behind that, main songwriter and guitarist Jesper Strömblad has gone to leash his inner demons, leaving the band to take a new approach to songwriting and the result is Sounds Of A Playground Fading.

The album kicks off with the title track which is a heavy hitter that continues in the heavier vein of A Sense Of Purpose (2008), the band’s last album. After it pumps you up however, the band struggles through the next few tracks (‘Deliver Us’, ‘All For Me’, and ‘The Puzzle’). All three songs are fine but forgettable at best, sounding predictable (lyrically and musically) and getting lost in the album’s overall mix in much the same way the midsection of Soundtrack To Your Escape (2004) did. It certainly makes fans nervous when an album takes a nosedive as serious as this so quickly.

After the nosedive the band recovers fully as ‘Fear Is The Weakness’ swoops down and kicks your ass, reminding you that this is the same band that delivered ‘Crawl Through Knives’, ‘Bullet Ride’, and ‘Mirror’s Truth’. From there the band just takes off with bombastic anthems like ‘Where Dead Ships Dwell’, the System of a Down-ish ‘Ropes’, and the string-laden ‘A New Dawn’ interspersed with heavier and speedier pieces like ‘Darker Times’ and ‘Enter Tragedy’. The band even offer a couple of spoken word, nearly interlude type pieces that maybe aren’t for everybody but make the album a much more interesting listen (‘Jester’s Door’ even reminds me a little of the Passengers side project from years ago). It’s the album’s closer, ‘Liberation’, though that takes this album completely over the top. Despite the complete absence of screaming, In Flames have rarely sounded better than they do on this song. It’s a positive sounding, explosive anthem, that firmly establishes that In Flames have their sights set on creating something much more lasting than most bands they started out alongside.

Overall, this is a transition album for In Flames and it’s easy to identify this collection as the band trying out their new knees, so to speak. This isn’t nearly as cohesive or breathtaking as a whole as Come Clarity (2006) or A Sense Of Purpose were but the latter half of the album certainly holds up to the high standards established by said albums. Longtime fans will, again, not find a return to the old sound but will find an enjoyable album with some completely brilliant moments on it.

Mark Fisher

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