Lacklustre, predictable and unimaginative – three words that will never lie at the foundation of any opinion formed of one of Gothenburg’s finest musical exports. Over the course of a 12-year recording career, In Flames have carved out a defined incisive sound which, whilst always grounded in classic death metal, has taken some bold and progressive moves to include folk, prog and forthright melodic elements.
With their eighth full-length album, the Swedish boys are showing no signs of having run out of either inspiration or vehemence, and appear to have yet again mastered the daredevil feat of fusing an eruption of relentless metal and barefaced melodic vocal and guitar lines into a crushing LP that sets a wildly high standard for the metal scene in 2006.
Opening number Take This Life is an archetypal example of their North European style and wastes not a single bar in getting to the point as Daniel Svensson’s cripplingly swift thrash beat slams into action alongside Jester Stromblad’s distinctly Iron Maiden-influenced string work.
Mr Svensson again steals the show on the vicious End Of Things, with more time changes in the opening minute than many sticks-men care to implement into an entire album. The galloping cymbal-heavy tub-thumping forms the backbone to yet another crowd chanting chorus, followed by a simple yet brutal breakdown.
In contrast, Leeches is much slower but what is lacking in speed is repaid with mutilating riffage that bleeds through your speakers while Andres Friden’s vocal proficiency sees him growling as rabid as ever in the verse and drowning us all with melodic majesty in a monumental chorus.
Title track Come Clarity will prove to have the age old “Marmite effect” on the existing In Flames fan base. Opening with layered acoustic guitars, soft, near clean vocals and underpinned by haunting female vocals, it sounds as though it may have a contrasting, blistering guitar solo included – however, the wonders of pre-release copy protection technology prevent me from commenting definitively on this front.
As if to reassure fans that they are not seeking solace in the pop metalcore arena in order live out their days in material comfort just yet, Vacuum sees In Flames producing a crushing blast of Swedish metal at its most abrasive played very, very fast with deadly accuracy and a crunch that will make you wholly appreciate the exemplary production technique.
On the downside, whilst they both still pack a plentiful punch and are riff and lead-heavy, Scream and Our Infinite Struggle are two more forgettable and poorly structured songs which are perhaps only exposed as so weak in comparison to the strength of the accompanying tracks.
Quiet, focused determination has seen In Flames through many an album, gained them many fans, and earned them a secure and unthreatened position in the court of metaldom. While certain acts prance about dolled-up as jokers, In Flames are not celebrity princes whose lives are driven by fortune or fame. No, they are royal advisors, working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that all that is metal keeps functioning as it should, i.e. with as much crushing veracity as Come Clarity slams home in its 12 slices of pure metallic fury.