In Flames – Sounds Of A Playground Fading (Century Media)

An album that ticks all the boxes is a rare thing, but Sounds Of A Playground Fading from In Flames does just that.
Release Date: 
23 Jun 2011 - 11:30pm

I always have a problem with defining a band’s genre. It seems limiting to me to say a band is thrash, or death metal or black metal. Of course, some bands do fall very strictly into one style and they own that genre definition very well. Morbid Angel would have been a great example of that, being the seminal death metal band, until the abortion that is their latest album. But that was just a deliberate dig at Morbid Angel - I’m still smarting at how offensive that release is. But, other than voicing my displeasure at Morbid Angel, I bring up this point because In Flames are always called a melodic death metal band, but I think that does them a disservice. Melodic death metal is a stupid description anyway, but In Flames tend to push the genre boundaries far beyond a single description.

Sounds Of A Playground Fading opens with a beautiful piece of guitar reminiscent of Master Of Puppets era Metallica, before the opening title track busts out into a definite death metal sound. Track 2, Deliver Us, opens with an almost electronica beat that grinds into a solid riff and then gets all melodic, with Anders Friden’s distinctive vocals throughout. This new release is a varied beast, and trying to cram it into one category is pointless.

With the departure of guitarist and founding member Jesper Strömblad in February 2010, there was some speculation on where the band would go. A year later Niclas Engelin re-joined the band to take Strömblad's spot and work began on this new record. Given that the album was announced as finished in January 2011 we know that Engelin hasn’t recorded any guitar parts on this one – the guitar work is credited to Björn Gelotte alone – yet regardless it’s turned out very well.

Produced by Roberto Laghi, the sound is as massive as you’d hope and the production values top notch. Song structure and execution is tight as the proverbial drum and, for that matter, Daniel Svensson’s drums are one of the highlights of this album. His variety and fills bring a real variation of pace to many songs. Track 5, Fear Is The Weakness, is a good example of that in action.

I’m a big fan of a record that travels around its sound and explores different territory. Sounds Of A Playground Fading does exactly that and is regularly riffy as fuck, which is, of course, absolutely essential. The bass is booming and drives along, the lead breaks are sharp. I listened to this album the first time when it came in for review and within a couple of tracks I knew I was going to be listening to it a lot. It’s a solid addition to In Flames’ discography and there’s not a weak track on it.

I do have some standout favourites, like track 6, Where The Dead Ships Dwell, and the title track, among others, but it’s a tough album to fault. Many of the track openings make you stop and pay attention, track 7, The Attic, being a particular example of that. This song is also an example of the great storytelling In Flames infuse into their music. I’m primarily a fiction writer and love a good story so I really notice a well constructed album with lyrics that do more than just push one point, but spin a good yarn. Track 11, Jester's Door, is another good example.

So this album ticks all the boxes for me – solid riffage and power, great variety, good storytelling, yet all contained within the context and distinct style of the band. And it has a freakin’ sweet album cover. Definitely one of my highlight albums of the year thus far. Get yourself a copy.

Sounds of a Playground Fading by In Flames is released on June 24th through Century Media.