In Flames – Sounds Of A Playground Fading

In Flames

Sounds of a Playground Fading

01. Sounds of a Playground Fading
02. Deliver Us
03. All For Me
04. The Puzzle
05. Fear Is The Weakness
06. Where The Dead Ships Dwell
07. The Attic
08. Darker Times
09. Ropes
10. Enter Tragedy
11. Jester’s Door
12. A New Dawn
13. Liberation

[06/21/11]
[Century Media]

In Flames are one of those bands that will always be very near and dear to my heart no matter what. Being one of the bands that helped me gain an ear for the hard stuff, because of their accessible approach at death metal in their older material and the tuneful choruses of their newer material, they quickly became one of my favorite bands some years ago. I’ve since outgrown that predictable “modern metal” sound and began to notice a pattern in their work which indicated a push towards… something. At the time, I considered Come Clarity brilliant step in the right direction, and it took A Sense Of Purpose some time to grow on me once I overlooked some of the angst-ridden lyrics. But hey, I was going through some relationship troubles at the time and that line, “I feel like shit, but at least I feel something,” really spoke to me, y’know?

But I’ve gotten a little bit older and I’d like to think that my tastes have become a touch more refined since then (some would argue to the contrary, but that’s neither here nor there). It was pretty much a given that In Flames would continue on in in their “evolution,” which would no doubt be exponential after losing founding guitarist Jesper Stromblad. The band I fell and love with and traveled for hours to see on multiple occasions was changing before my eyes and I was a bit apprehensive, but optimistic. Then I realized that I felt the same way about Korn III, and we all know how that turned out. Even still, if any band is worth my effort and attention, it’s In Flames.

Sounds of A Playground Fading (yikes, what a title) is In Flames’ tenth studio album, first without founding member Jesper Stomblad. It’s easy to be anxious about the direction of an album when the whole thing is being written by only one guitarist of a band that already has undergone quite the drastic change in their careers, but in some respects, my fears were almost unfounded. The guitar riffs and leads certainly sound like In Flames when they become the driving force of the sound at hand. The guitar solos may even be better than the split second solos on A Sense Of Purpose that felt forced or thrown in for the fuck of it, so in some aspects, there is a touch of improvement! Unfortunately, there’s only so many In Flames riffs you can hear before you’ve pretty much heard them all. The soloing’s alright, but the stuff in between just feels tired at this point. “Ropes” even has a gem of a lead that could be the best guitar hook on the album, but the rest of the song fails to impress.

Sounds of a Playground Fading is In Flames’ longest album to date — thirteen tracks coming in at almost 54 minutes in length. Some bands can certainly pull off hour-long records, but In Flames are not one of them. Perhaps the album could sustain itself better if it was about 3/4 of its actual length, but SOAPF collapses under its weight. With a bulk of the songs on this album, there’s not much inherently terrible about them, it’s just that much of them are unfortunately just plain boring. On A Sense Of Purpose, most of the songs, while formulaic, had infectious hooks that kept pulling me back in. Few songs here on SOAPF leave one with something to take away.

It goes without saying that In Flames are at their best when they get faster and more aggressive, as in the highlight tracks “A New Dawn” and “Darker Times.” The album’s leading single “Deliver Us” proves to be a highlight as well, with the almost haunting industrial synth and soaring chorus. Even the opening title track has some character to it. Conversely, In Flames suffer on SOAPF when they slow things down and get quiet. Vocalist Anders Friden is a fine vocalist during screams, but his singing voice is just not too suitable for slow ballad tracks, which seem hamfisted on this album.“The Attic” is a slow, quiet track that is essentially pointless and doesn’t really go anywhere. There is one peculiar track in a similar vein called “Jester’s Door,” which sounds as though Anders is considering giving up on In Flames?! As mediocre as the band have become, there’s something in me that hurts at the thought of them breaking up. It’s weird.

It’s a pipe dream to expect In Flames to return to the glory of the good ol’ Jester Race days; even Come Clarity seems like a long shot now. I’m fine with that, really. It’s just a shame that the godfathers of melodeath have turned into something that that isn’t all that interesting. I’m sure there’s a crowd that digs the pop sensibilities of Sounds of a Playground Fading and everything, but for me, I’ll just stick to their past work.

In Flames – Sounds of a Playground Fading gets…

2.5/5

– JR

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