Released: 2006, Ferret Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
The last four years have been interesting in terms of the career of In Flames. The controversial REROUTE TO REMAIN alienated many of the band’s core fans who followed the path of highly influential melodic death metal found on THE JESTER RACE and WHORACLE. Suddenly, the band was experimenting with clean vocals, chugging guitar rhythms and increasing use of keyboards and samples that saw die-hards labeling them as “Korn wannabes.” The band never associated itself with the nu-metal movement but the parallels were obvious. SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR ESCAPE, the follow-up to REROUTE TO REMAIN, carried with it a further departure from In Flames signature sound and the over-abundance of samples and keyboards strangled the life out of the guitar parts that remained. Fast forward two years and with a jump from Nuclear Blast Records in North America to the hardcore-tinged lineup at Ferret Music, In Flames has thrown yet another wrench in the long line of expectations with their latest release, COME CLARITY. Initially surrounded by buzz words like a “return to form” and “classic sound,” the songs found on COME CLARITY are leaps and bounds ahead of those on its predecessor in terms of organics, increased guitar riffing/solos and the tin-can drum sound has mercifully been put to rest but don’t go selling your copy of LUNAR STRAIN on eBay just yet, folks. The modern elements are present as Anders Friden’s use of clean vocals (which, in all fairness, are vastly improving with each release) peppers many of the tracks and the catchy choruses strive for commercial appeal, so “classic sound” is a stretch. People who have written off In Flames likely will have many of the same gripes here but to a lesser extent. Still, when taken out of context from the rest of the In Flames catalogue (ie. a listener whose first exposure to the band is this release) and even when measured up against anything post-CLAYMAN, COME CLARITY is a solid, well-written metal album that will appeal to new and (open-minded) old fans alike.
The first few seconds of album opener “Take This Life” are on par with early In Flames with its deliciously heavy riff. A frenzied rhythm section and vicious growls from Friden pave the way through the verses for a bobbing chorus to explode and remain in your brain for days. The bridge that kicks in at 2:15 is reminiscent of WHORACLE-era guitar interplay and the solos that have been pushed aside on the last two releases. This mix of the old with the new is executed perfectly on this track. Fans of the more modern sound of In Flames will lap up “Leeches” with its soaring, clean chorus that echo Deftones’ Chino Moreno’s pained howl. The slower pacing of “Reflect The Storm” follows a similar path vocally and Friden’s clean vocals in the chorus show definite signs of improvement over past releases. Perhaps the most crossover potential lies in “Dead End,” a duet (and first appearance of female vocals on an In Flames album since LUNAR STRAIN) with U.K. vocalist Lisa Miskovsky. Friden still dominates the track and the Evanescence parallel is a no-brainer but Miskovsky’s vocals, while prominent, are not overused and compliment the track well. Continuing their extension to new avenues, the title track finds In Flames exploring ballad territory, which has certainly lit up the message boards at Metal Rules and I’m guessing many others. The pained, clean vocals are eerily similar to those of Korn’s Jonathan Davis and the emotive lyrics focus on Friden’s new baby and the fear of getting older, so this is a real test for older fans. The acoustic guitar and solo are both quite spellbinding and while “Come Clarity” is certainly the least In Flames has ever sounded like themselves, this track really grew on me with repeated listens, maybe because I can relate to what Friden is saying being in a similar situation myself. The vocal style used in the verses still is a bit grating but I cannot get the chorus out of my head. “Vacuum” and “Versus Terminus” will please fans of the CLAYMAN period and the dual guitar work of Bjorn Gelotte and Jesper Stromblad is a throwback to tracks like “Pinball Map.” Likewise, the six-string laid down on “Pacing Death’s Trail” and “Our Inifinite Struggle” is instantly recognizable as that of In Flames, a sound that has become as repeatedly copied by lesser bands (and to lesser effect) as that of Iron Maiden. Friden’s vocal range is fully covered on “Crawl Through Knives” (the original title of the album for trivia freaks) spanning his legendary growl, shrieks, and crooning clean vocals. Something that was sorely lacking on SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR ESCAPE has been remedied on COME CLAITY and that is the weak, detached drum sound of Daniel Svensson. Fortunately, his punishing style is brought back to the table here and the rhythm section shared with bassist Peter Iwers shines through on “Versus Terminus” and “Pacing Death’s Trail.”
Unfortunately, things are not all rosy with this release. “Scream” is an excruciatingly bad track where the band’s take on being “modern” falls flat. The chugging guitars and silly chorus (does anyone else hear the kids song “I scream you scream, we all scream for ice cream” here??) just do not work and having it as a centerpiece for the album really dogs the pacing. In a wiser, though no less appealing move, the awkwardly titled album closer, “Your Bedtime Story Is Scaring Everyone,” opens with nearly four minutes of feedback and sampled noise before droning through a mostly spoken word vocal part that would be more at home on a Cult of Luna album. Experimentation works in places on this album (“Leeches,” “Dead End,” “Come Clarity”) but when it fails, it fails miserably.
COME CLARITY will likely drive a bigger chasm between fans who feel In Flames has “sold out” and those who have followed along on the journey from underground Scandinavian death metal band to selling out North American headline tours and appearing on Ozzfest’s main stage. In reality, In Flames has about as much chance of releasing THE JESTER RACE 2 as Metallica does in releasing MASTER OF PUPPETS 2. It just isn’t going to happen and COME CLARITY seems to find the band settling somewhere into a middle ground between their “classic sound” and the route they have taken on the previous two albums. The music never feels forced like REROUTE TO REMAIN nor does it seem wandering and listless like SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR ESCAPE (just what was with that video of them appearing on motorcycles and girls in bikinis?!?!) and there are enough brushes of greatness from WHORACLE and COLONY to appease the naysayers. In terms of sound, COME CLARITY would find a comfortable niche for itself right between CLAYMAN and REROUTE TO REMAIN and with each successive listen, I find myself enjoying this album more and more. This is definitely a “grower,” as in repeated listens are necessary, but COME CLARITY is guaranteed to continue In Flames’ rise to the next level via melodic accessibility and metallic crunch.
KILLER KUTS: “Take This Life,” “Leeches,” “Come Clarity,” “Pacing Death’s Trail,” “Our Infinite Struggle”