On February 4th, 2010, long time In Flames guitarist (and early drummer) Jesper Strömblad made the decision to quit the band due to personal and health issues. Being with In Flames since the very beginning while losing his presence will sure make an impact in the future for the long time Swedish metal band. But of course, the band had to move on, and in 2011 with Björn Gelotte as their lead guitarist now along their newest addition on guitar Niclas Englin, the group released their new album Sounds of a Playground Fading, the first In Flames album to not feature Jesper on any instrument in their music.
As many know about this band, the original melodic death metal sound the band had back in the 90’s slowly dwindled away and went for a more modern, alternative metal approach to their sound recently, thus dividing their fan base in half. I happen to really like their original sound as well, but I understand that nothing stays the same forever. As I mention all the time with my reviews, bands evolve and it sometimes isn‘t for the better. In this case, In Flames were able to be more successful in some regard but only to lose a lot of what they used to be. One of the biggest problems right now is Anders Fridén attempting clean vocals. Honestly, he sounded amazing back on albums like The Jester Race and Whoracle when he used to just growl practically the whole time, but now he sounds too whiny and I personally don’t think he has that great of a clean voice. So after four mediocre to poor albums, could In Flames be able to change an old fan’s mind with this release? Well, let’s find out with my song by song review:
1. “Sounds of a Playground Fading”: The title track. To be honest, I think the intro to this song is one of the best this band has done in years. I really adore the clean guitar intro along with their trademark dual guitar harmonies that made them the band they are today. After the intro, it goes into a typical modern In Flames song with Anders putting out his usual vocal style we all are used to by now. While the rest of the song isn’t as impressive as the intro, it still has something to offer and it still retains the melodic approach that this band got famous for. 3.5/5
2. “Deliver Us”: The first single off this album. This was obviously written to be a radio hit because Anders’ vocals are clean the whole time, which isn’t always the best thing and the song overall is very dull and lacks substance with a typical song structure suited for a hit song. Listen at your own risk. 2/5
3. “All For Me”: This song has once again another acoustic intro with that typical In Flames style to it. Though not as impressive as the title track, it holds it own nonetheless. The rest of the song? I would say that it is a very depressing track with Anders adding some very desperate sounding vocals of pain, which he actually does good at for this song. His vocals actually fit this one quite well unlike most of the other tracks. I think that is a song worth listening to a couple of times but don‘t expect “Moonshield“ or anything like that. 3/5
4. “The Puzzle”: This is the fastest song on the album, but does that mean it’s good? Out of all the songs, Anders vocals are the most annoying on this track, especially in the verses. Musically, it isn’t too bad, but nothing special either. Although the outro of this song is actually very cool and is actually worth skipping the whole song up until that point, which is why I gave it a higher rating. 2.5/5
5. “Fear Is the Weakness”: I really like this song musically, but I feel that Anders sort of ruins it for me again, which seems to be a continuing problem for this album. I really like the guitar work on this track as it has more presence than the previous tracks. Worth a listen for sure but once again it could be better. 3.5/5
6. “Where the Dead Ships Dwell”: Another attempt at a radio friendly song. I feel that this song is really stock and doesn’t do a lot for me at all. One of the weaker songs on the album, that is all I am going to say about this one. 2/5
7. “The Attic”: A very weird and acoustic guitar song with some raspy vocals from Anders once again which sort of kills it. I don’t think this is the worst song on the album, but it doesn’t have much lasting appeal either. 2.5/5
8. “Darker Times”: The main riff sounds very Korn like to me and with that being the case, this is definitely a filler track. Nothing special here. 2/5
9. “Ropes”: A very good main guitar lick, but Anders vocals ruins the song again. I think the guitar work on this track is pretty good though. Not that great of a song again as it is another filler once again. 2.5/5
10. “Enter Tragedy”: Faster than most of the other tracks, the vocals are surprisingly a little more harsh than the other songs, but it comes off as too whiny and forced once again which ruins the whole song. 2/5
11. “Jester’s Door”: I think this track is about Jesper Strömblad judging by the lyrics. I don’t know what to say about this one other than it is a weird track with basically a narration going on. Ugh, worth maybe one listen but that is it. I don’t consider this really a song so it gets a pretty low rating. 1/5
12. “A New Dawn”: After one of the worst tracks in the bands’ history, we get to the best song on the album. The guitars seem to have more inspiration, the structure is more complex, and the overall feel of the song is much more powerful and has better execution than the rest of the album. Anders vocals aren’t that good as usual, but here he sounds better than the other tracks. The bridge section of this song has some strings in it which gives it a very nice melodic touch to it. I don’t know how they will reproduce this live unless it is played over the PA or if they have enough money to afford session violin players. Anyways, this is by far the best this album has to offer. 4/5
13. “Liberation”: Really?? After the best song we get this one? Reminds me of some radio rock song. Sounds nothing like In Flames at all! Another filler track. 2/5
So that is my song by song review of Sounds of a Playground Fading. Here are my overall thoughts:
- A significant improvement over A Sense of Purpose.
- Very good melodic intros to some songs.
- Anders’ vocals
- Lyrics are a bit whiny and corny at times, although much better than their last album.
- A lot of filler tracks which makes it inconsistent.
To me, In Flames sounds tired and worn down and the album grows very old after a while. I think this band has seen better days and while I think that they really tried to make some memorable songs like “A New Dawn”, it doesn’t sound like the band has anymore ideas left in the tank. Their overall sound seems like it is growing old and tiresome, and that they are getting bored of making this kind of metal in general. But despite the setbacks, there are some positives to this release. You would think that Jesper’s absence would have a big impact on the overall sound, but Björn fit the shoes of lead guitar nicely with some very cool and unique solos to the In Flames library. I don’t think it would have made a difference either way if Jesper would of stayed or not because this album would not have sounded that much different in my opinion.
Fans of old In Flames, like myself, have to realize that they will never be the band they once were. Being true melodic death metal again for this band isn’t going to happen anytime soon. It is what it is, and since it is a more modern In Flames album, I would put this one quality wise above Soundtrack To Your Escape and A Sense of Purpose. But even though it is an improvement, I will still have to give this album a horns down /w\ due to the inconstancies this album has plus the annoying sound of Anders’ modern vocal sound which he started utilizing since Reroute To Remain. Of course if you like their new sound and style, pick this album up as there are some nice aspects about this album. It isn’t all bad, but I really do miss the old style this band once possessed.
Overall rating: 2.5/5