Let’s get a few things out of the way. No I don’t consider In Flames to be “prog.” I decided to review this album because I like the band. So if you are only into things labeled as “prog,” you might stop reading now. If you are an In Flames fan who wants the band to make another “Whoracle” or “Colony” or “Clayman,” stop reading now because “Battles” is not “Whoracle II.” And let’s get into that more.
In Flames, like many bands, have fans that seem to think the band should sound how THEY want versus how the band want. It somehow becomes more about what those “old school” fans feel they deserve rather than what inspires a band like this to continue. Some Opeth fans still want Mikael to grow, some Rush fans still want another 20 minute song, some Dream Theater fans are still pissed that Kevin Moore left 22 years ago. But if it’s all been done already, why do we still demand the same shit over again?
In Flames are NOT the same band anymore. That’s not to say that they sound nothing like they used to because I think they do. Are they more “radio friendly” now? I suppose so, though you’d be hard pressed to hear any of “Battles” on top 40 radio. The main difference is the songs are driven more by a hook versus a sledgehammer. Many fans will just say it’s because Jesper Strömblad isn’t in the band any more and things would be so much better if he was. Considering his lack of output, this is a fucking copout by fans.
“Battles” is not “Siren Charms.” That album didn’t have the hooks it needed and lacked the bigger sound that the band has always had. “Battles” has that sound again and it also has the songs that the last album didn’t. The title track is 3 of the strongest minutes the band has recorded. “In My Room” is another song that I love with lyrics I can identify with.
“Wallflower” is an epic track that reminds me a little of “The Chosen Pessimist” from “A Sense of Purpose,” though not as dark. It would have made a great closing song but “Save Me” is actually a kick ass song with another great hook so it works in that spot. There are some weird vocal effects on “Save Me” and in other spots that I am not keen on but it’s a minor quibble.
Downside? I do think that both singles, “The End” and “The Truth,” are blatant attempts to get on XM radio. The childlike backing vocals and clapping are overly obvious at making the songs ready for audience participation. But there are so many songs on “Battles” that I like (add “Before I Fall” and “Here Until Forever” to that list), I can forgive a slight misstep. Plus the overall production and mix are top notch and that makes up for the rather questionable sound on the last album.
I’ve also read people bitching about Anders Fridén’s clean vocals. He screams plenty on this entire album and for me, his clean vocals sound better than ever. I’m not sure what fans want from the guy. Maybe they want him to sound exactly like he did on “Whoracle” or “Colony” or “The Jester Race.” That’s 20 fucking years ago. Let it go.
Is “Battles” classic In Flames? No but if I wanted that, I’d go listen to the old albums. I want good songs. This album has plenty of good songs. It also has an energy that cannot be denied. This is a band that is progressing. Regression would be repeating what they’ve already done. “Battles” is not a re-run. If you don’t like “Battles,” I get it. But realize that it’s not In Flames, it’s you.
2. The End
3. Like Sand
4. The Truth
5. In My Room
6. Before I Fall
7. Through My Eyes
9. Here Until Forever
10. Underneath My Skin
12. Save Me
Label: Nuclear Blast