Released: 2004, Nuclear Blast
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Well, well, well…it’s been 2 short years since In Flames graced the metal community with REROUTE TO REMAIN. In that time, the album has become one of the most reviled, mocked and generally slandered releases to come from a band who once were held in the highest regard. At The Gates and In Flames set the standard for European melodic death and with the former’s quick demise in the mid-90s, In Flames soldiered on, carrying the torch and blessing metalhead’s ears with such landmark releases as THE JESTER RACE and WHORACLE. Then something changed. The band decided to lean more towards the melodic than the death beginning with 1998’s COLONY and by the time REROUTE TO REMAIN came out, they were almost a shadow of their former selves. The band had embraced some of the worst elements of the North American nu-metal movement causing many of their fans to turn on them, and metal in general used the CD as a punchline. It looked as if In Flames had, indeed, been snuffed out.
With their new CD, SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR ESCAPE, expectations are higher than ever leaving many to wonder if the band will finally listen to their critics (and, more importantly, their fans) and take a more traditional approach to the songs. There are some songs that hearken back to what made In Flames so original: the dual guitar interplay, the intricate patterns and death-style vocals. Unfortunately, much of what went wrong on REROUTE TO REMAIN still exists and sadly, that will overshadow the positive.
The first track, “F(r)iend,” starts off well enough and things sound good with a speedy riff and aggressive, though not “true,” death vocals. It is with the second track (and first single), “The Quiet Place,” that the ugly Korn influences trickle in. Anders Friden takes on this whiney-voiced clean vocal that is similar to Jonathan Davis of Korn. The same fate befalls “Borders and Shading.” At least “The Quiet Place” is catchy, but “Borders and Shading” is just plain dreadful. “Dead Alone” and “In Search For I” remind me of what some would call “classic” In Flames. Bjorn Gelotte and Jesper Stromblad’s guitarwork is excellent, Friden’s vocals have that gruff death style and the songs are fast and punchy. Speaking of stunning guitarwork, “Touch of Red” has a cool slow-building outro that segues directly into “Like You Better Dead.” That song is a decent mid-tempo track with a scream at the end that would make “Corpsegrinder” from Cannibal Corpse shiver. “My Sweet Shadow” and the oddly titled “Dial 595-ESCAPE” are bogged down with too many keyboards. Many of the guitar parts have been replaced by keyboard effects and, while this may work for, say, Children of Bodom, it doesn’t cut the mustard on an In Flames CD. “Evil in the Closet” raised my eyebrow as it is a full-fledged ballad for the first two minutes before turning heavy. There is a great guitar solo in there, too.
The songs on the CD seem to be tied together by a theme of some sort, as there is a lot of static, noise effects, radio interference, scratching (not the rapping DJ kind) and such. What that common link is I cannot determine but there is definitely something the band is trying to convey here.
SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR ESCAPE is not a bad album by any means. Many of the songs are heavy but catchy. Is that a crime? The dominance of keyboards on some tracks is a bit grating and Friden’s use of clean vocals on a few tracks leaves a lot to be desired. This CD is probably mellower even than REROUTE TO REMAIN was. Still, overall, this is an excellent metal release that will appeal to more than the core fans of the band. This is NOT THE JESTER RACE 2 or WHORACLE 2 and it’s a closed case to think the band will return to that sound. They have slowly moved away from the melodic death sound that they popularized in the mid-90s, to a more accessible (commercial, if you will) sound tailored to gain a broader audience on both sides of the ocean. No one can fault the band for seeking success; who doesn’t want “more?” To call In Flames “sell-outs” is unjust because “selling out” is appealing to the masses without pleasing yourself. The band claims that this is the music that they have evolved into making, so to judge this record based on what In Flames released 10 years ago is an injustice both to the band and to the music.
**The digipack release contains different cover artwork and a bonus track, “Discover Me Like Emptiness.”
KILLER KUTS: “F(r)iend,” “Dead Alone,” “Touch of Red,” “Like You Better Dead,” “In Search For I”