REVIEW: IN FLAMES – “Down, Wicked & No Good” [EP]
Oh, covers. They go over so well live, yet can be disastrous – and borderline offensive to fans of the originals – on an album. Then every so often, a band does the unthinkable and pulls off not one, but a collection of cover songs, which is exactly what In Flames has done with their latest release, ‘Down, Wicked & No Good’.
With a dozen albums under their belt, including 2016’s ‘Battles’, the Swedes have come a long way from the straight up raw death metal of ‘Lunar Strain’, fine tuning their sound and adapting to the more polished approach of modern metal. Preferring older In Flames material, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this new and unannounced EP; however, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself listening to four very well done and diverse cover tracks, two of which are not even remotely metal songs to begin with.
To start the EP off, In Flames chose perhaps the most unexpected of the four tracks: Depeche Mode’s “It’s No Good”. Now, many artists over the years have redone Depeche Mode’s hits, but it’s nice to see something other than “Personal Jesus” getting some love – then again, the choice shouldn’t come as any surprise as someone in In Flames is clearly a huge fan, a gritty cover of “Everything Counts” having made an appearance on 1997’s ‘Whoracle’. While frontman Anders Fridén has a much different voice than Depeche’s Dave Gahan, he does a fine job during the chorus of attempting to imitate the seductively deep tones that Gahan is known for. And speaking of distinct vocalists, tackling a cover of Layne Staley is no small feat, but surprisingly, I don’t hate this version of “Down In A Hole”. Although it is my least favourite track on the EP, I applaud the song choice and respect the gumption it takes to cover Alice In Chains.
With the “down” and “no good” out of the way, the following track is, by default, “wicked”. Because why not cover Chris Isaak’s 80s classic, “Wicked Game”? This is the best track for several reasons, the first being that I prefer Fridén’s aggressive crooning to Isaak’s melancholy yodel. Secondly, the best covers are those that an artist has to adapt to their style, like turning an old pop song into a casual metal remix. Furthermore, the percussive accents, combined with the instrumental arrangement itself, add an emotional element that even overshadowed the sadness of “Down In A Hole”. But the solemnity isn’t over yet.
During the last year’s stint of touring, In Flames has been known to perform their rendition of “Hurt”, and a live recording from one of those dates appears as the final piece of the ‘Down, Wicked & No Good’ puzzle. I’ve heard many versions of this song, but this one is such an interesting fusion of Johnny Cash and Nine Inch Nails, while still bringing something new to the table. Sombre yet intense, the combination of acoustic guitar and poignant harsh vocals is exactly how this song should be covered.
At the end of the day, many fans will brush off a cover EP simply for what it is, but as difficult as it may be to write a full length album of originals every couple of years, it can be even more challenging (and impressive) to actually make someone else’s material your own sound. In Flames has accomplished that with ‘Down, Wicked & No Good’, adding their flavour to legends like Alice In Chains and Depeche Mode. The overall mix is great, although the entire EP would have benefited from a more raw kit sound rather than having a thin, programmed quality, and while the band hasn’t shown off in the slightest, managing this group of covers in the first place can be considered an act of swagger in a way, can’t it?