My sanity – and musical taste – has been subject to question for quite some time now. I’m more apt to disagree with the opinions of my fellow Last Rites staffers than not, and tend to give the benefit of the doubt to works which most are quick to write off. Take for example my history with In Flames: I went to great lengths to defend Soundtrack To Your Escape as an interesting experiment; I heaped great praise upon Come Clarity that in retrospect I found to be excessive. But even I drew the line at A Sense Of Purpose,a horribly misguided affair which found the band that had once been at the forefront of Swedish melodeath failing miserably to create hard-edged mainstream rock. It was so bad that I included both it and the accompanying The Mirror’s Truth EP on my “biggest disappointments” list for 2008. That, combined with the departure of founding member and lead guitarist Jesper Stromblad, meant that the prospect of a new album was strictly dreadful.
So imagine my surprise that I continue to rock out to Sounds Of A Playground Fading.
First off, apologies to all of you in the LR Universe who were just itching for this review to come out to see what sort of brilliant verbal barbs one of our witty staffers would come up with. However, I’m not going to sit here and try to justify this as a return to past glories; I’m not going to heap undue amounts of praise upon them; hell, I’m not even sure I’ll call this a great album. I don’t know if it’s because I went into this with zero expectations/hope or if it’s because its predecessor was just THAT bad, but this does not suck. Although Playground continues in the more melodic/moody vein of Soundtrack and Sense, In Flames has finally figured out how to write and play songs in that style that are actually listenable.
The title track opens the album and harkens back ever so slightly to Clayman‘s “Bullet Ride” in structure and vibe. From there, “Deliver Us” (the lead single) and “All For You” give a good idea of where the album is centered: mid-tempo, tight rhythms, and accessible with a hard edge. Then just as you’re getting comfortable, “The Puzzle” rips forth, showing they can still bring the heavy when they want to. I just wish they would do it more often, as only “Enter Tragedy” and “Darker Times” follow suit as the album progresses. Otherwise, it’s more of the aforementioned stuff which unfortunately does get redundant, especially during “Ropes,” one of the more pedestrian tracks here.
The album loses steam past the halfway point, with “The Attic” slowing things down to a crawl with its spoken delivery, and later “The Jester’s Door”, which seems to continue a story arc that didn’t really need to be continued. Then whole thing the ends on a down note, the not-quite-a-power-ballad “Liberation,” playing a bit like the alternative radio hits of the late 90s/early 2000s. It’s almost as if, after a pretty solid 12 tracks, they came back with a 13th as if to say, “Well, we thought after all that, that just maybe, you might like this.” They thought wrong. At best, it’s inoffensive, if not slightly uncomfortable. At worst, it’s narcoleptic.
If you’re willing to accept that this new version of In Flames is here to stay, you’re likely to enjoy Sounds of a Playground Fading. It’s a far cry from their peak, but overall well-written and performed especially considering A Sense of Purpose. The rest of you will continue to lament the band’s decline (“Sounds of a Once-Great Band Fading” perhaps) and pine for the days of Whoracle and Colony. I’ll be doing a bit of both.