Good news – this ain’t Soundtrack To Your Escape
Bad news – this ain’t The Jester Race
And you know what? You just might like it anyway.
I’ve already seen this album called a “comeback” and a “return to form” from the disputed kings of Swedish metal, but I have to take issue with both of those clichés. The former would imply an absence, and the latter raises the question of what exactly their top form is. Yes, many would consider it to be 1997’s aforementioned classic, but others could make a convincing argument for Clayman, as well. One thing is for certain, though: in top form, no one can touch In Flames. From their early days of melodic death metal to their more recent works of straight-up melodic heavy metal, it’s always been more a matter of comparative quality than singular quality. Now, they have introduced a whole new measuring stick.
Come Clarity is unlike any In Flames album you have heard before, yet it is completely them, although you might not recognize it at first. Right from the start, this is the best production I have heard on any of their work, clean and precise. There has always been a slight muddiness to their past work (most notably on Soundtrack) that didn’t inhibit my enjoyment of them, but did provide a bit of annoyance. Good thing, too, since “Take This Life” opens the album with one of the heaviest riffs we’ve heard since Colony – it also happens to be pretty damn catchy. “Leeches” brings in some electronics for effect on the intro and bridge, punctuating the heavy riff there. “Reflect the Storm” slows things down just a bit, oddly enough making it the first venture into familiar territory here. Then for something completely different, “Dead End” introduces a guest female vocalist, Lisa Miskovsky, for the verses to play against the screams of Anders Friden. It’s a bit of a shock at first, but once you get used to it, it works pretty damn well even with “crossover potential” written all over it. “Scream” gets the job done with a hooky chorus and jackhammer verse sections, but the title track follows it and brings the album to a crawl. While it’s nice to see the band exploring new territory with the acoustic verses and vocals that are entirely sung, it’s just not all that great.
After that, the album takes another turn back to familiar ground, with the rest of the tracks sounding a lot more like the In Flames we’ve heard before. Good thing it’s that Colony/Clayman era style. “Vacuum” and “Versus Terminus” stand out as barnburners, though. It’s all good until the end, though, and you’ll likely find yourself smiling as “Vanishing Light” leaves your speakers. That smile will quickly turn to confusion as album closer “Your Bedtime Story is Scaring Everyone” kicks in, or should I say, tiptoes in, with three minutes of piano and acoustic guitar, with some ambient nature sounds in the background. While it isn’t necessarily a bad idea (or all that uncommon) to close an album with a quiet piece, it’s almost as if one of the guys composed this and the band decided to tack it on to fulfill some sort of contractual obligation. Then again, it would have made an even worse b-side later, so whatever. The rest of the album more than makes up for it.
Come Clarity should erase the doubt from the minds of most that In Flames can still deliver the goods with an album full of fast, heavy songs and precision musicianship. This is the album they needed to make after the lackluster Soundtrack. With a buzz still surrounding them from their recent main stage stint on Ozzfest, this should not only capitalize on their current popularity, but bring a few fans back that were previously lost and even some out of hiding. Don’t be ashamed, metalheads – In Flames kicks ass.
Mallcore kiddies. Hot Topic whores. Pimple Squad. Whew…glad I got that out of the way. Seven words. It seems like that’s all it takes to sum up this band nowadays. Apparently, that’s all you really want to read about, because that’s all reviewers are writing about. Forget the fact that In Flames have already recorded 2006’s greatest soon-to-be single in “Dead End.” Forget that this is one hell of a solidly produced and packaged mainstream release that has the potential to appeal to diehards and perpetual hard-ons alike. No. All that matters is that you have the opportunity to take a verbal piss on every John and Jane with a plastic Celtic crucifix hanging down their Slipknot shirt.
Every new In Flames record produces a wide variety of reactions from fans, and Come Clarity won’t be any different. Those that are still wishing for a return to The Jester Race will be sorely disappointed, though I don’t think anyone realistically expects a “return to form” from In Flames. Come Clarity sounds like a natural followup to Reroute to Remain if Soundtrack to Your Escape had never been released and the group’s aim were to take the catchy, melodic hooks of Reroute and make it more immediate through more intensely packed riffs. Except the title track, which sounds like a bonus song lifted from Reroute, this is all fairly new territory, especially “Dead End,” which finds Friden paired with Swedish singer Lisa Miskovsky, who sounds like a much more pleasant Amy Lee with a slightly different tone and a sexy accent thrown in for bonus titillation. Making the best of Miskovsky’s beautiful voice, the group milks the chorus, but the riffs are still pretty intense with only the slight overuse of chug. It’d be a safe bet to put money on “Dead End” being Come Clarity’s next single, and deservedly so.
“Take This Life,” the album’s first single, also opens the Swedes’ eighth full-length, and combines enough elements of the In Flames sound to ring as both an homage to the old and an embrace of the new. The chorus screams Nu-Flames, with relatively clean singing, and the rest wouldn’t sound too strange on Colony. “Leeches” incorporates some unexpected but nonetheless welcomed minimalist use of electronic elements that adds not an extraneous layer but what would be the equivalent to a border around a well-drawn portrait. So long as it doesn’t become the focal point of a song, I don’t mind new, unexpected approaches like that found on “Leeches.” I’ve never quite heard a track like “Scream” from In Flames, either. Bouncy and relatively fast-paced, the song relies mostly on a stop-start chug-ridden chorus that honestly makes me think of that “We all Scream for Ice Cream” crap that we all grow up on, which is a silly comparison but I dare you to not find the same thing the first time you listen to “Scream.” For whatever reason, it works. I am not sure if it’s the warm familiarity or the sheer catchiness, but “Scream” is certainly worthy of notice, if not for the quality than for the novelty. If not the fastest, “Vacuum” is one of the faster songs on Come Clarity, and sounds most akin to the Colony and Clayman era of In Flames.
If you didn’t like Soundtrack to Your Escape, but you enjoyed Colony and Clayman and could tolerate Reroute to Remain, this might just be one of your favorites of ’06. There are enough quality tracks here, from “Take this Life” to “Vacuum,” that any bitterness over Soundtrack should be quickly, if not immediately, shelved. It’s not a classic, but it’s a solid album you’ll find yourself coming back to regularly. And if you liked Deadlock’s “Awakened by Sirens” last year, you’ll find similarly excellent territory to tread in “Dead End.”
Here’s an album that seems to prove the old saying, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” In Flames’ credibility had plummeted through the floor after the release of the 2004’s disastrous Soundtrack To Your Escape, and reached levels of near parody with their recent signing to Ferret Records, a label more commonly associated with modern metalcore acts like Remembering Never and Zao. I won’t suggest that Come Clarity is the kind of album that will restore In Flames’ reputation, as if there’s one adage metal fans seem to affirm again and again, it’s that you, in fact, can’t go home again. However, this is definitely the kind of reassuring album that’s proved to me that In Flames are still very capable of writing great material.
“Take This Life” and “Leeches” immediately prove that not only have the production gaffs of STTYE been rectified, but so have the songwriting holes. Structurally, this is very similar to what In Flames have been doing ever since Clayman. Melodic and accessible thrash riffs form the verses, while drop tuned and grandiose chord progressions make up the chorus. The only thing that’s really changed throughout the years is how good the riffs are. They’re decent enough on the first two songs, and “Leeches” features the kind of lucent, melodic solo that I haven’t heard out of this band in years. “Recall the Storm” is where things get really interesting. Sounding almost like a grand reaffirmation of this band’s prowess, the transition between the dark, stuttering riff that opens the song and the shamelessly melodic main verse actually had me clapping my hands the first time I heard it come out my car stereo. It’s great to see that In Flames are encouraging reckless driving yet again.
The pacing throughout the middle of the album is a little lumpy. “Scream,” is one of the more aggressive songs this band has even written, but is really nothing more than a slightly boring groove thrash with an angst driven chorus and the title track is a melodramatic ballad that leaves me completely soft with its complete lack of riffs. “Dead End” features the same descending two-chord progression that Stromblad has been fitting into at least one song on every In Flames album since Clayman, and is probably the song that will be the talking point of most reviews, thanks to the inclusion of female vocals. They sound nice enough, but the real selling point of this song for me was the dueling melodic bridge towards the end of the tune. Again, this is is the kind of indulgence not heard on an In Flames album in a long time. “Pacing Deaths Trail” through “Our Infinite Struggle” is the most consistent stretch of songs on Come Clarity, highlighted by “Versus Terminus,” perhaps the most well balanced and rewarding song this band has written since trying to tackle the pop paradigm.
As an In Flames fan, this is just the album I needed to hear. Neither blatantly retreading old material, or taking another perilous step towards forgettable mediocrity, Come Clarity proves that In Flames know what they’re doing, it just took them a while to figure it out. But more than just “reassuring” and “comforting,” Come Clarity is a damn good and well conceived album. More levelheaded In Flames fans will eventually be won over by this album, despite the presence of some filler, as will those who appreciate the sound of Gothenberg metal brought to its logical conclusion.