Sweden’s legendary In Flames are set to release their twelfth studio album, Battles, on November 11. In classic In Flames style, they have pulled off the amazing double act of both preserving their iconic sound and innovating to reflect where the band is now. Despite their formative influence on the melodic death metal subgenre, In Flames have a diverse catalogue, of which Battles is a solid and forward-looking twelfth instalment.
Indeed, the conceptual agenda of Battles reflects this – the inner battles we face, to contend with the past in order to embrace the future. Though Battles runs through a twelve-track offering, this is a comparatively short album that has a little bit of everything from fast and heavy, to moody and brooding. Battles reflects a few interesting developments from 2014’s Siren Charms, one obvious change being that Battles was recorded in Los Angeles with a new producer, the prolific and talented Howard Benson. Consequently, Battles showcases an epic new dimension to the In Flames sound that is re-energised and inspiring.
Battles comes out firing with a decently heavy track Drained that has a catchy groove and chorus, and the following three tracks keep in this style. The End is an engaging track featuring a bit of synth choral work and a sweet solo. The lyrical message ‘when we were young, is this the dream we had?’ is delivered quite strikingly and resonates with the song title, rendering it perhaps a question. Anders Fridén’s vocals in Like Sand are quite raw and sincere through a slower, chunkier track. The precirculated track The Truth has more of a mainstream ring to it, and features the synth choir again. It is a well-written song but probably not reflective of the album as a whole.
Through the midsection of Battles, flow a series of tracks that are catchy, tough and innovative and to me this is where In Flames shines. Sexy bass lines interspersed with thick guitar sections on In My Room brilliantly frame its memorable vocal melody and Björn Gelotte’s exciting soloing. Before I Fall has a bit of an electro-heavy-industrial vibe to it and again, beautiful rumbling bass lines and in my opinion, some of Fridén’s strongest vocal work on Battles. In Flames’ focus on killing it live comes through in faster, aggressive tracks like Through My Eyes and the title track Battles.
The emotions seep through in the final songs of Battles. A tear-jerking guitar intro brings Here Until Forever to life, a heart-melting heavy ballad dedicated to Fridén’s son. Smouldering rage bleeds into wild soloing in the slower Underneath My Skin, which features unsettling sparse sections carried through by brooding drums. The standout track on Battles for emotional storytelling is Wallflower. This seven-minute track traverses several different movements to inhabit an ominous range of edgy, dark and angry emotional spaces. Battles closes with a bouncy, energetic track Save Me, but I felt that Wallflower was where I signed out. Tough act to follow.
Battles is an emotional rollercoaster framed by exceptional song writing, in which every listener will find something different that speaks to them. For me, there are really innovative moments in the guts of Battles that make it apparent that the only constant with In Flames, is change.