Monday, June 6, 2011

In Flames - Sounds Of A Playground Fading

In Flames
Sounds Of A Playground Fading
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

There’s always been a strong interest in each and every new album release from In Flames, but with the release of their latest effort ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’, there’s probably even more interest in the band than ever before. Most of that renewed interest in the Gothenburg (Sweden) based outfit’s latest effort is largely based on the fact that it’s the first album in the band’s career not to feature founding guitarist Jesper Strömblad, who parted ways with the band in early 2010 due to personal reasons. With Strömblad out, and In Flames remaining as a four piece act (Comprising of vocalist Anders Fridén, guitarist Björn Gelotte, bassist Peter Iwers and drummer Daniel Svensson), many fans questioned the direction the band would head in with ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’, and just how much Strömblad’s absence would play a part in the event of any significant changes in sound.
While the departure of Strömblad from In Flames is a disappointment, you could say that his lack of involvement on ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’ hasn’t hurt the band one bit, with the album sounding very much exactly what you would expect from the band at this stage of their ongoing push for something new and different with every new release. In a lot of ways, In Flames’ new album is a natural follow-up to 2008’s ‘A Sense Of Purpose’, in a sense that ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’ is a varied sounding release with its mix of the melodic, the aggressive and the unexpected.
The opening title track ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’ is a good example of the changes the band have made over the last few years, with the biggest changes coming from Fridén’s own contributions. Although Fridén’s clean vocals have been a strong component of the latter day In Flames sound, it’s hard to mistake the greater use of clean vocals this time around, and how comfortably they sit within the stronger and melodically constructed choruses. Fans needn’t fear that the aggression and drive has disappeared from In Flames, because it hasn’t. But while some of the band’s past efforts sounded a little lacking in terms of hooks, it would seem that on ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’, the band has thought long and hard about writing strong melodies that definitely stand out.
‘Deliver Us’ is by far the most straightforward and melodic song on the album, and not surprisingly chosen as the first single released from the album, while ‘All For Me’ follows along similar lines, but with a thicker and heavier groove heard on the guitar front.
The fast pacing ‘The Puzzle’, ‘Enter Tragedy’ and the strong rhythmic structures within ‘Darker Times’ are definite favourites with their heavier sounds and Gelotte’s impressive sole responsibility of providing the lead work (Especially on the latter pair), while mid-paced efforts such as ‘Fear Is The Weakness’, ‘Where The Dead Ships Dwell’, ‘Ropes’ and the strings enhanced ‘A New Dawn’ are typical latter day In Flames efforts, but with an emphasis on choruses that really stand out.
In terms of experimentation, ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’ is no different to In Flames’ albums of the past. The slow and dark sounding ‘The Attic’ really stands apart from anything else on the album with its sombre mood and delivery, while the spoken word piece ‘Jester’s Door’ is a short piece that breaks up the album nicely around the latter half. And then of course there’s the closing track ‘Liberation’, which is perhaps the closest In Flames has come to writing a hard rock song with Fridén sticking to his clean vocals and the guitars stripped back.
In a lot of ways, ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’ is a natural progression for In Flames since ‘A Sense Of Purpose’, with the focus on stronger melodies and variation from one song to the next representing the only real major changes to the formula.
‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’ is a fine effort from In Flames, and one that will keep most fans of the band’s latter day releases pleased, regardless of the fact that Strömblad is no longer a member of the band.

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© Justin Donnelly