In Flames is a band, much like most of the daring few whoever made ground-breaking original art, that seems to be judged forever for their earliest success. While it’s true that that have departed from their original pioneering “Gottenburg sound” of melodic death metal, they are certainly never dull and always capable of solid releases with memorable songs. The chorus of angry, arms-crossed dudes that say “I don’t listen to those guys anymore” will always get drowned out by the die-hards, many whom the band picked up as they exploded in popularity. Once you get past the old narrative of the band that escaped beyond what was narrow sub-genre with four good bands, you can appreciate their entire career arc, which is still evolving on their new album, I, The Mask (Eleven Seven Music Group).
The album lifts off with the aggro tune ‘Voices’, really setting the table nicely for what is to come. With guitars high in the mix and in your face, the force of chopping down-picked riffs and the fierce beats might whip your headphones right off. Still, the penchant for amazing melodies is still intact. The title track comes next and also cements the music and the messaging for the album. The masks we wear are disguising our true selves, hiding behind little screens and living these petty, fake lives. Pitiful. And it only gets worse from here if we don’t learn to shed these pretentious attitudes and get back to living and real discourse. Otherwise, the song is a real fast riffer, with blastbeats a ton of great vocals from Anders Friden, this track hit me in the feels like twenty-years ago. It’s not supposed to be a throwback record (Anders told us so in an interview) but dammit with all this heaviness, tempos, blasts, occasional proggyness, and even the Jester King themed cover, I got caught up for a minute.
‘Call My Name’ has a lot of solid licks and is sure to be a crowd-pleaser with its great call-and-response vocals. This will make a great song live. Few modern singers are as good at double-tracking harmonies, like Friden. Most of the album has a great sense of urgency in the tracks. ‘I Am Above’ is the best brutal, catchy combination on the album of mostly bangers.
‘Follow Me’ is not quite a ballad, but it’s one of the more laid back tracks on here. Slick clean guitars allow some subtle sequencer parts to come through the mix. It sets up next cut, ‘(This Is Out) House’. Another uptempo jam with a lot of sign along parts. Howard Benson’s production really shines through on these hooky tracks, really giving the band the space to explore the sonic palate they used with him on the Battles album.
‘We Will Remember’ has a bit of proggy goodness to it, with key changes, layered vocals, gorgeous melodic guitar playing from Bjorn Gelotte and Niclas Engelin. Other stand tracks include the thrashy single ‘Burn’, ‘All The Pain’ and closing song ‘Stay With Me’.
With almost a touch of flavor from every era of their career, you might mistake ‘I, The Mask’ for a greatest hits collection. The band doesn’t stand still and stare backwards, however, they are trying to learn and grow with every release. This album may not win back the jaded fans who jumped ship a long time ago, but who cares. Anyone who has stayed on this journey with In Flames will find most of this album very rewarding.
7 / 10