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Review - In Flames, Sounds Of A Playground Fading

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Monday, August 22, 2011 @ 6:51 AM

In Flames Deliver Their Tenth

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Sounds Of A Playground Fading
(Century Media)

Sweden's In Flames could have gone in one of two directions following the 2010 departure of founding guitarist Jesper Stromblad: give themselves a much needed boot in the ass and get back to the melodic death/thrash metal ways of their Colony/Clayman period and earlier, or keep traveling down the middle of the road toward becoming just another generic hard rock band.

Sadly, they chose the latter. Their 10th studio outing, Sounds Of A Playground Fading, is ordinary, safe and dull as dishwater – which is about the worst thing you can say about a “metal” album. It feels fat and middle-aged instead of like a band being given new life. The lack of aggression or oomph here is startling. And that's really a shame, because In Flames have shown before that they are better than this. Way better.

Even the last few In Flames albums, which were disappointing by varying degrees, had a few ragers to liven things up and remind you of what they were capable of. But here, what few revved up tracks there are, like “The Puzzle” or “Darker Times,” either lose their spunk in end or don't really have all the much spunk to begin with.

Instead, it's one chock-a-block, midtempo, verse-chorus-verse number after another with big hooks and big choruses, yet surprisingly – and disappointingly – little in the way of anything approaching balls. The guitars and drums are muted in the mix, there's a constant synth-like hum in the background and Anders Friden's vocals – which were always the band's weakest link to begin with - are heavy on “clean” and lack bite.

The snazzy soloing and guitar interplay of days gone by are all but abandoned here as well, so the band don't even the shred element to hang their hats on or salvage white-bread tracks like “Deliver Us” or “All Of Me” or the dull mood piece “The Attic.” In Flames close Sounds with “New Dawn” and “Liberation,” yet show no evidence either here. Rather, they are uninspired and punchless and stand to lose a lot more ground than they gain.

* * (two stars)

- Peter Atkinson

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