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In Flames Sounds of a Playground Fading Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

The Swedish metallers explore a fresh sound on their 10th album.

Raziq Rauf 2011

There’s no way of writing about In Flames’ 10th album without mentioning the departure of founding member and lead guitarist, Jesper Strömblad. It’s understandable if your first instinct is to dismiss the efforts of a band shorn of one its most influential members; but the fact of the matter is that Sounds of a Playground Fading sounds more like a band that’s been freed of their shackles than anything else.

You’ll find very, very little in the way of melodic death coming from the Gothenburg quintet on this set. Instead this comes on as a mix of alternative and melodic rock-oriented approaches which are, of course, continually peppered by Anders Fridén’s gruff, melancholic snarls.

With its thunderous percussion and synths (which actually manage to fit in with the soaring rock), lead single Deliver Us is wholly indicative of the progress In Flames have made. The electronic vibes appear again alongside the classic In Flames guitar sound in Ropes, and after collaborating with Australian drum’n’bass powerhouses Pendulum in 2010 it’s clear where the heavy dance influence has come from. As they gain pace on Darker Times, the band reminds you what they’re capable of, as Fridén’s growls come to the fore again while frantic riffs try to race away from the chaos.

The Attic is the ballad that the Swedes have always threatened to make. With guitars that wail and cry before the riffs fold in around Fridén’s surprisingly gentle vocals, there is no sense that this is simply a good song that’s been slowed down to give the effect of a ballad – this is the real deal. The frontman has often struggled with his style, but settling for melodic grittiness has worked well. In the intermittently crushing Where the Dead Ships Dwell, he really comes into his own amidst glitchy keyboards.

Such is the freshness on Sounds of a Playground Fading – both in terms of the music and the attitude that’s inspired it – that the album doesn’t sound like the work of a band that’s been going for two decades at all. In fact, with the constant variation found on the record – and what is probably Fridén’s most comfortable vocal performance of his career – they sound like a brand-new outfit, and you wouldn’t bet against the Swedes gaining a whole new lease of life as a result.

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