With every In Flames album, a certain percentage of fans hope the Gothenburg quintet will pull a Metallica and return full-circle to their classic sound. In their case it was Swedish melodic death metal, a style that combined speed and vocal savagery with the guitar harmonies and frenetic solos of Iron Maiden.
At two points on In Flames’ 11th album Siren Charms, the band teases those poor delusional souls with momentary bursts of ferocity. “Everything is Gone” starts with a rapid thrash/death metal beat and a roaring guitar riff. And “Monsters in the Ballroom” launches with a martial, chugging build-up reminiscent of Exodus or Testament. But the hints of demolition only last a few moments. Elsewhere, there are lunging guitars, enticing dual guitar harmonies and lots of lyrics about existential pain, but nothing approaching the anger and intensity the first five In Flames albums.
Fourteen years into their career it’s pretty clear that the band have no interest in looking in the rearview mirror longer than it takes to check their blind spot. Since 2002′s Reroute to Remain, when vocalist Anders Friden started singing actual notes and the band embraced big choruses and nu-metal progressions, In Flames have gradually evolved into a slightly-offbeat but mainstream metal band. With each album that followed they threw in new twists and embellished songs with keyboard passages ranging from industrial to ’80s rock.
To excoriate them for turning away from their roots is missing the point. In Flames have rerouted in order to remain; they’ve outgrown their early sound and now strive to create a perfect set of anthemic metal songs. With Siren Charms they’ve come pretty close. “When the World Explodes” is a bipolar number that flip-flops between an abrasive electronic-augmented guitar riff and some fiery screams before hitting full boil and morphing into a near-pop track with ethereal guest vocals by female opera singer Emilia Feldt. “Rusted Nail” melds a Kyuss-style stoner-metal groove with a chant-along refrain and stellar guitar acrobatics. “Through Oblivion” and “Filtered Truth” combine mildly distorted precision riffs with half-whispered vocals reminiscent of prime-era Queensryche. And “With Eyes Wide Open” and “Dead Eyes” are unabashed ’80s-style Scorpions-esque lighters-in-the-sky ballads.
Those craving that classic Gothenburg sound should either raid In Flames’ early back catalog or wait for the At the Gates comeback album. But if you’re willing to let go of In Flames’ past, as they have, they’re still working pretty powerfully in the present.