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Album Reviews : In Flames – I, The Mask

By on February 28, 2019

In Flames, once a foundational band of the Gothenburg Sound and melodic death metal in general, are back with album thirteen, I, The Mask. Listening to this album and understanding what it requires the listener to manage their expectations and understand I, The Mask within the wider context and developments of In Flames’ career. Facing facts, the band that released landmark albums such as The Jester Race is no more; their own press release admits there is a musical gap between that album and the current release. Arguably they haven’t even really been in the melodic death metal arena since A Sense of Purpose in 2002, straddling a mix between their earlier sound, contemporary developments in metalcore that they themselves inspired, and tepid alternative metal. Despite this, I, The Mask represents some level of progress for the band. A step in the right direction after 2016’s rather miserable effort, Battles, the new album recalls some of the better moments from better albums in recent years, such as 2011’s Sounds of a Playground Fading. I must confess myself a huge fan of the ‘classic’ era of In Flames (having written several thousand words of a thesis on the Gothenburg Sound), yet with the right mindset, there remains something of value here.

I, The Mask has not been helped by the choice of songs that were released as singles ahead of the album’s release. I cannot fathom why the woeful ‘(This is Our) House’ was chosen as the first single, released late last year, given that it is perhaps the weakest track on the album. An odd intro moving into a “brocore” riff and a song that feels more like a dance track than a metal song appears a poor choice for a band that still seems to want to be ‘melodic death metal’. Thankfully, this is the low point of the album and it’s out of the way quickly, so we can only move up from here. Following singles ‘I Am Above’ and ‘Burn’ are both serviceable songs with decent riffs and good choruses that most resemble their peers in Soilwork. This is particularly disappointing with regard to Anders Friden‘s harsh vocals, as he once had one of the more emotional and identifiable harsh vocal styles in the genre. Across this album, I felt I was again listening to Bjorn Strid of Soilwork on vocals with only a handful of vocal moments reminding me this was In Flames. This is not a bad thing per se – Strid’s vocal style fits his band like a glove and are certainly well executed – but there is something a little sad about a band that now more closely resembles its imitators than their own style. Conversely, the clean vocals were much better and there were some lovely moments of vocal harmonies, such as the chorus of ‘Call My Name’.

The other tracks on the album generally follow suit. The opening three tracks – ‘Voices’, ‘I, The Mask’, and ‘Call My Name’ – are all well written and well executed. ‘Call My Name’ in particular is one of the better tracks, recalling a sound and riffing style reminiscent of Clayman/Come Clarity era In Flames. Likewise, the lead guitar work across the entire album is excellent, with solos generally strong and fitting (excepting the odd solo on ‘I, The Mask’ that feels like we abruptly shifted to an Avenged Sevenfold song). A few misses hide in the back half of the album too; ‘We Will Remember’ and ‘All The Pain’ both miss the mark with regard to songwriting and emotion in spite of their lyrical themes. Here the pop and metalcore influences are most clear, with both songs having the potential to move somewhere that is never fulfilled. In a sense this applies to the whole album: The individual elements are generally strong and well-executed, if a bit generic while the building blocks for a strong album are present yet with their potential unrealised.

Shortcomings aside, there are some strong moments on this album. Power-ballad ‘Follow Me’ has a great acoustic opening that recalls the folk influence prevalent in In Flames’ early material, leading into a strong main riff and a catchy chorus. Similarly, the closer ‘Stay With Me’ has a strong acoustic opening that is again reminiscent of their classic era. There’s a fantastic, dark riff slithering through the verse of this mostly-acoustic song that supports quite a strong vocal performance from Friden. It’s an engaging song that builds effectively. ‘Deep Inside’ is the standout track from I, The Mask. The Phrygian-tinged opening riff was the first thing on this album that didn’t sound like standard melodeath fare and the rest of the song holds up well. The pre-chorus stands out well with a cool little guitar part and a very catchy chorus that made good use of different major/minor harmonies before moving back into the modal main riff. The chorus stuck in my head for a while afterwards and was one of the few times I found myself singing along, especially with the harsh vocals used toward the end of the song. It’s just a shame that this moment occurs on track 10 of 12.

Ultimately, fans expecting the band to return to a sound that they left behind decades ago will be disappointed, but perhaps not surprised. It is almost impossible not to interpret In Flames’ new material in light of their heyday in the 1990s and early 2000s, as much as the band has evidently moved on from this period in their sound. Those who have enjoyed the material In Flames’ released post-2002 will likely find a lot of material here to enjoy, and many of the songs are at least serviceable and a significant improvement over the other recent albums. While the loss of the old In Flames will likely always be mourned as it is highlighted with each new release, there are signs that the current In Flames still has some drive and occasional moments of conviction that will hopefully develop into something more in the future.

Band: In Flames
Album: I, The Mask
Year: 2019
Genre: Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Origin: Sweden
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About

Ben is a metalhead originally from Sydney, who has now moved to Hobart to pursue a PhD in Australian extreme metal. When not studying, writing about or playing metal, he can be found playing video games, browsing Reddit, knitting, fending off his cat or helping out at his local church.