Saturday, 18 October 2014

In Flames' 'Siren Charms' - Album Review

In Flames are one of those bands that I have always been aware of, but have never really properly listened to. The only album of theirs that I am fairly familiar with is 2011's Sounds of a Playground Fading which did not sound like what I was expecting to hear. In Flames are often regarded as one of the biggest bands in the so-called Gothenburg Sound scene, or melodic death metal to you and I. What I expected to hear when popping the In Flames album in was more along the lines of At the Gates and Arch Enemy, but what I got instead was an album that sounded like a cross between Killswitch Engage and modern alternative rock. After that initial shock, I discovered that there were actually quite a few good songs on that album and, as a result, Sounds of a Playground Fading is an album that I enjoy. I have also learnt that long-time fans of the band have been very disappointed with the way the band's sound has evolved over the years. Heavy metal fans are often known for their staunch dislike of change, so it is refreshing to see a band just making the music they want to make; and if anyone else likes it then that is a bonus! Well, Siren Charms, eleventh studio album will probably not pull many disgruntled fans back in. It follows on from the unique sound created on Sounds of a Playground Fading, but polishing it up even more and creating something that is very catchy, yet rather simple. This album focuses on good, crunching riffs and catchy, yet melancholic choruses that seep into your conscious after repeated listens. Despite the catchy nature of the material, I find that this is an album that reveals itself gradually over time. That might seem like a contradiction, but that is what the atmosphere of the songs here suggest to me. I think that this is an album that will be dismissed off-hand by many, but those who stick with it will find a lot to enjoy. The production sounds very sterile, with lots of strange electronics surrounding the very dry sounding guitars, but I think this helps the overall sound of the album and helps it to stand out from the crowd. Frontman Anders Fridén uses a good mix of clean and harsh vocals throughout the album, and the guitar duo of Björn Gelotte and Niclas Engelin have their share of moments in the spotlight. Interestingly, this is Engelin's first album with the band, despite having a few small stints in the band over the years.

The album gets off to a good start with the swirling atmospherics of In Plain View, but it is not long before a nice dual guitar riff kicks in and the metal is in full flow. The verses gradually build up over a rising drum beat from Daniel Svensson, which sees Fridén see the lower end of his clean vocal delivery to create an excellent atmosphere. The choruses are much heavier, with a slightly thrashier tone and some more aggressive vocals to fit that mood. Everything's Gone starts out with a much more traditional melodic death metal-type riff before a chugging verse comes in and creates something that sounds very doomy. This song is definitely heavier, and fans of melodic death metal are sure to find lots to enjoy here. The song moves through lots of musical styles in it's short length, ranging from the aforementioned doom the the more metalcore-influenced chorus complete with excellent harsh vocals. Paralyzed sees the return of the electronics from the beginning of the album and they dominate the verses along with Peter Iwers' pounding basslines. There are some nice dual guitar riffs dotted throughout the song, but it is one of those songs where it is more than the sum of it's parts. No performance really stands out here, yet the song remains solid. The chorus melodies soar, and they draw you in. Through Oblivion is a much slower song, that is probably the best on the album so far. It is a sort of ballad, that is full of heartfelt vocal delivery and deep melodies. The verses are built around a very simple guitar riff and basic drumming; but the chorus builds up around Fridén's gothic vocal tones. The song does not last for very long, but it has a very serene atmosphere to it that really relaxes you while listening to it. That mood is slightly carried over to the next song With Eyes Wide Open. Although this is a heavier song overall, with more traditional metal riffing, the chorus still maintains that deceivingly gentle atmosphere. There is something very heartfelt about this pair of songs, and shows that metal can be delicate as well as abrasive. The title track is next and the energy ramps back up again during parts of it. The clean guitar riffs and Fridén's vocals give the verses here a Muse-like vibe, but the rest of the song is heavier with Svensson's double-bass drumming and sets the tone for the rest of the album.

When the World Explodes is probably the heaviest song on the album so far with a really thrashy atmosphere and some really strong harsh vocals. The chorus then bowls a googly at you as Emilia Feldt's smokey vocals come in and the song once again descends into a gothic vibe. It works so well, and Feldt's vocals mix well with Fridén's deep clean voice to create something of an early Lacuna Coil-type sound. This is probably my favourite song on the album, and the light and shade it creates is exceptional. Rusted Nail is up next and it is another really excellent song. The guitar riffing throughout this song is excellent, and use of keyboards to bulk out the sound works really well. The dual guitar Iron Maiden-like parts are good fun, whereas the bass-led parts sound really modern - it is a good mix of old and new. There is also a really excellent guitar solo, that uses traditional the blues style of emotion through note bending than excessive speed. Dead Eyes is a slightly longer song that really makes good use of the melancholic trappings that have been heard throughout the album. The chorus is full of emotion, and an excellent instrumental section towards the end mixed guitar and keyboards together really well. It is not quite as catchy as previous songs here, but the mood it creates is excellent. Monsters in the Ballroom is another heavier piece. The main riff is right out of the metalcore school and mixed melody and harshness together well. The verses makes use of Fridén's more aggressive vocals, before the chorus once again is extremely melodic with his strong cleans and plenty of lush keyboard to back him up. It is another one of my favourite songs on the album as it mixes the best elements of everything that has gone before it and goes through many different styles in it's short length. The album's final song is Filtered Truth. It makes really good used of dual harmonised guitar lines throughout and Fridén's gut-wrenching screams are powerful and sit well over the melodic guitar work. It is not the most interesting song here, but it has power and ensures that the album ends with a bang. Overall, this is an album that has plenty of strong moments and goes through quite a few stylistic changes throughout. This is certainly a mature album, and one for people who are going to sit with it and properly digest what is being offered to them. Those who do give it time, will find plenty of really get their teeth into!

The album was released on 8th September 2014 via Sony Music. Below is the band's promotional video for Rusted Nail.

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