For a genre of music that prides itself on being inclusive of all walks of life, metal has and metal fans have a nasty habit of turning quite malicious when bands attempt to alter their sound. Be it a subtle inversion or addition or a major overhaul, it can be quite palpable observing the dilated pupils and foaming-at-the-mouth bile and hatred expended by some. Metallica has endured it over the years, whilst Opeth are presently riding the wave of vitriol and vomit for deigning to drop death growls and embrace their penchant for 70s prog. Even the likes of Machine Head and Trivium have “enjoyed” a little taste of the salty tears cascading forth from the offended eyes and ears of fans. But there’s just something about the reaction to In Flames that takes the biscuit.
The Swedes are one of metal’s longest-serving chieftains, and were one of the pioneers of the Gothenburg-sound – with death metal being intertwined with a healthy dose of melodicism. As such, their longevity would add maturity and refinement to their approach, yet their tilt towards a more mainstream sound in an attempt to broaden their appeal is still met with disdain by some (nearly fourteen-years on from ‘Reroute To Remain’). So what’s a band to do – keep the same formula for their life and become stale, or make changes or additions to what they do to explore and expand their horizons whilst risking the ire of the keyboard warrior?
In Flames don’t care one iota for any of that and plough on as they see fit, which is why their twelfth album ‘Battles’ is the summation of their life as a band. On the one hand, you have bruising tracks like “Through My Eyes” with finger-flaying riffs and a delightfully ripping solo, and driving first single “The End” with its huge, sing-along chorus; while on the other, you have the syrupy ballad-esque “Here Until Forever” and the electronica-infused finale “Save Me”. There’s essentially a little something for every metal fan of every persuasion. It’s also a fair demonstration of the band’s prowess at songwriting – there’s nary a bit of fat on these twelve songs.
Yet for that, it can feel a little too placid – there are no curveballs, no surprises, and nothing wholly unexpected from the band. Were it not for the distinctive riffs, focus on melody, and Anders Fridén’s characteristic shriek, you’d almost be forgiven for thinking that Breaking Benjamin had procured Fridén’s services for a few tracks. Despite this, there’s nothing else inherently detrimental to the album – the refinement is to be expected from a band of twenty-odd-years in the game, whilst the choruses on display here are a double-threat: gargantuan and so catchy that they may require the WHOto reclassify them as a disease.
The advantage of observing a new album each time is that one can isolate it amongst a band’s back catalogue and simply ask the question: is this good music? It doesn’t really matter what the band have done in the past as this is them now, and the answer to the aforementioned question is simply: yes. Each track is enjoyable, with heavy riffs aplenty accented with splices of melody that refuse to leave you alone. The likes of “Save Me” will remain burrowing in your ear for days after. With this in mind, it’s a shame that those cave-dwelling types who refuse to see change will dismiss another album because it isn’t ‘Whoracle, Pt. 2’.
Twelve albums in, and In Flames have reached a certain level of comfort, and ‘Battles’ represents somewhat of a return to form for these Swedish masters. What we have here is the perfect encapsulation of all that makes up the modern delineation of the band: concentrated contemporary metal. It certainly isn’t breaking new ground, and won’t be welcoming back any of the fans that departed at the first strains of alternative metal creeping into the band’s arsenal, but it will go down a storm live and on metal radio. Solid and dependable.