Battles review by In Flames

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  • Released: Nov 11, 2016
  • Sound: 7
  • Lyrics: 6
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 6.7 Neat
  • Users' score: 4.9 (56 votes)
In Flames: Battles
3

Sound — 7
"Siren Charms" has become somewhat of a white elephant for In Flames and their fans. Its melodic, mainstream sound, which was short on the kind of aggression and passion In Flames has poured into past works, has left a huge hole in the band's discography, and with the departures of guitarist Jesper Stromblad prior to the less-poorly received "Sounds of a Playground Fading" and drummer Daniel Svensson prior to the recording sessions for this album, it seemed unlikely that the band would recover from the blunder that was "Siren Charms." Now, this is a much broader stroke than I would paint their previous album in. "Rusted Nail" was actually a pretty decent song. "Paralyzed" was reminiscent of the recent mainstream breakthroughs of bands like Bring Me The Horizon and Asking Alexandria, with its more alt-metal melodies, but without losing the trademark guitar sounds and stomping rhythms of past albums. "Through Oblivion" was also a bit more melodic than I'm used to hearing In Flames being, but a well-executed song. Overall, "Siren Charms" was different, but far from being the abomination many fans and purists would have you believe.

On "Battles," In Flames does more of the same. Perhaps with a bit more energy and intensity, however, as there are faster tempos and more harsh vocals. Björn Gelotte and relative newcomer Niclas Engelin trade a lot more harmonized guitar passages and solos, almost to a level not heard since "Come Clarity." Melody is never in short supply on this album, with Anders Fridén singing a vast amount of this record cleanly, usually in between melodic guitar flourishes. Opener "Drained" starts off in a strange sort of way for an In Flames album, but the track does pick up in intensity, and features the band's trademark melodic harmonized guitars and huge choruses. There are a few blistering tracks on this album like "Through My Eyes," which has a heaviness that belies its very catchy and melodic chorus. There are some melodic, almost ballad-esque songs like "Here Until Forever," featuring nearly pop/rock-esque backing vocals and Boston-influenced harmonized guitars, an In Flames trait that remains possibly their last real tie to the Gothenburg sound of death metal that they helped to pioneer in the 1990s. Tracks like "Underneath My Skin" have a heaviness at times that sounds more like contemporary metal bands rather than classic melodic death metal, almost as if they're channeling a sort of "djent" influence at times. "Wallflower" clocks in at a hefty seven minutes and almost feels a bit Tool-esque at times, near-proggy in its ambition, with even a bit of an industrial touch to it. But it is a really good track, as well. Album closer "Save Me" is very anthemic, heavy, and melodic, and is a great example of In Flames using their newer style in a rather positive way.

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The production is crisp and modern, with lots of riffs and parts buried in effects, but a lot of the more straightforward musical moments kept fairly simple. There are very sparingly used elements of electronic music on the album, such as on the intro of "The Truth," and a few rather annoying pop/rock style harmony vocal parts (including in the same song). The band's instrumental performances are excellent as usual, with the guitar duality of Björn and Niclas meaning a lot of excellent riffs, melodies and solos. Peter Iwers and newcomer Joe Rickard, on bass and drums respectively, form a propulsive rhythm section, though Peter's bass is often lost in the mix.

Lyrics — 6
In Flames has never been a band I've listened to for their lyrics. As with many metal bands, and particularly those outside of the progressive subgenre, their lyrics seem to me to be more about doing the job than actually being artful and thought-provoking. Case in point is the opening track, "Drained," which features such cliched lines as "Just cause the hurt doesn't show/There's no way to recover/You broke my heart in two/I had a dream of growing old/I saw us driving to the end of the road." There's absolutely nothing wrong with these lyrics on most levels, but lyrics such as these are so overused in this genre that no matter how personal these lyrics may be to the writer, it's hard to really feel any emotional attachment with them. Add to that the fact that the line "You ripped the heart out" is repeated in the song at least sixteen times in its four-minute length, and it's not exactly the best lyrical moment I've read from a metal band in recent memory. Other songs on the album are not quite as repetitive, but there's still a pervasive blandness to the lyrics that makes that aspect of this album very uninteresting.

In terms of vocal skill, Anders Fridén's clean vocals have seen a lot of flexing on the past few records, and to be fair, he's a rather capable singer. He still does a fair share of harsh vocals, as well, keeping a few very small ties to the band's past, but it's nowhere to the level of albums past. However, while his clean vocals are decent, either through post-production trickery or just some strange natural quirk of his vocal style, nearly all of his more powerful clean vocals (usually sung in the choruses) sound overproduced, thinned-out, and pitch-corrected until any semblance of emotion has been completely drained from them. When he does let his voice break and falter a bit, you can tell he's a great singer with a very emotional sound, but I've never heard such a good singer sound so weak on the powerful cleaner vocals as Anders does on this album. It's a huge misstep, and sadly, I feel it's one that will continue for the band on future records.

Overall Impression — 7
Let's face the facts here. The In Flames that made albums like "Colony," "Clayman," and even "Come Clarity" is long gone. The chances that they'll ever go back to their past style for a new album are extremely low. For now, we'll have to accept that the band will continue to evolve along the lines set out in their last two albums, "Sounds of a Playground Fading" and "Siren Charms." And "Battles" does seem to be a slight improvement in some ways over "Siren Charms." But that doesn't change the fact that there are still some quite unsettling additions to the band's sound, especially the "whoa" backing vocals that are present on many tracks, that really prevent me from giving this album a higher grade. That said, there are still a lot of good riffs, solos and vocal melodies on the album. It's kind of like wading through a pool of mud to find a few diamonds here and there.

The biggest issue with this album is that it comes off as just so generic compared to their past works. Funny enough, the album's best track is bonus track "Us Against the World," with some of the album's best riffs and best production and vocal work. It's got elements of older In Flames all over it, but mixed with some of the newer elements in the band, and if they were to expand on this sonic template for their next album, I might consider it a victory for them. For now, I should say there have been worse albums released this year, and bigger disappointments from better bands, and this isn't the worst album that's out this year by a long shot, but I'd only seriously recommend buying this record if you're already a big In Flames fan who insists on completing their discography. Otherwise, proceed with caution if you're still hung up on the old In Flames sound.

40 comments sorted by best / new / date

    keefsy
    I just pretend nothing happened after Come Clarity. More power to them, I've just lost interest.
    PRSguitars87
    Awful lyrics. It doesnt matter what genre or how much the instrumentals mean to the overall sound, lyrics like this are unforgivable
    vppark2
    The vocals too man. They've gone the same direction as All That Remains. Such a shame.
    mlwry
    I think you were too kind to this album. One thing I actually really object to in the discussion surrounding In Flames is the use of the word 'evolution' by defenders of the more recent albums. To my mind, that implies some measure of improvement or positive development in a new or better direction. And I challenge anyone to point out one single aspect in which this album is better than Whoracle, Colony, etc. And before you say some vague nonsense about their 'songwriting skills' improving, I disagree - They're now writing bland, predictable Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus fodder. Their songs are now simpler and more predictable - this is not an improvement. The guitarwork is less interesting and creative, relegated largely to the back-seat with open-chords and chugging. The bass and drums are of little note. I'll take 'Embody the Invisible' over this any day.
    Mahoru
    It's pretty much this. It's not that their latest albums are plain bad, they're just lazy and mostly forgettable. Not offensive, but unremarkable most of the time, and for a band as important as In Flames that's an even worse situation. And it's not just because the kind of music they want to do now requires this: Drained from this album is a good song, or take Where Dead Ships Dwell or All For Me from Sounds of a Playground Fading. The structure of these songs is as simple as it gets, they're accessible but in those cases it works because they're actually well done. That's where most of Siren Charms and Battles fail. In both albums there are sparks of good ideas here and there, but saving a couple tracks they're never exploited and end up just there, forgotten. Man, I remember listening in awe to A New Dawn for the first time 5 years ago and thinking "THIS is what they should keep on doing in the future!". How naive of me.
    FlyingPirahna
    A New Damn is one of my favorite latter day IF tracks. It's a perfect blend of what they sound like now and a little bit of their roots as well. Playground in general gave me hope that they could still be great, but...ugh. They sort of just gave up after it.
    blooddrunk
    This album is the sound of a band you once loved finally disappearing up its own arse. Anders needs to go.
    Funnyname99
    The vocalist who has driven the front of the band through 20 years of live gigs, going from strength to strength? The guy who's been at the front of every album but one? - The odd thing is that you think this is a valid point of view. He's hardly a usurper
    blooddrunk
    You call this a strong album? Like others have commented - it sounds like Anders' Passenger side project. His vocals stink up the whole record. This isnt the same man who wrote otherworldly lyrics in the past. This sounds like some awful 'come hither BMTH fans'.
    Funnyname99
    Come on now, both of you, I was saying "strength to strength" in their live gigs. They're touring bigger and better venues than ever. I just do not understand this dislike for someone who has been there from the beginning (bare a couple of years in the start when they were in Swedish clubs). All those great albums, that's his vocals and his lyrics. Now everyone's acting like it was some conspiracy, like he's the one that drove Jesper out so that he could be a pop star celebrity on The X Factor. Just bullshit fingerpointing from people who can only make up 2D characters in their mind and go for confirmation bias and groupthink on the internet. It's not your band, it's his band and that of the other four... No it's not their best record, but it honestly doesn't matter what we think. What matters is that they're happy and they deserve it....
    mlwry
    Going from strength to strength? lol. He's a mediocre vocalist whose increasing control over In Flames (wrestled from Jesper) has pushed In Flames into releasing garbage like this album. Just look at their RYM albums' average scores, they've been downhill since Clayman with like two exceptions.
    Megadeth2011
    I've had this album on rotation now for about a week to get a good feel for it. I actually enjoy it. This album is a great way to sum up how I view modern In Flames- 55% of it is forgettable, 15% is stuff I wish I could forget, and the remaining 30% is so fucking good that you forget 70% of the album isn't too great. They may have written some of their catchiest choruses on this album, and although they are definitely no longer the same melodic death metal band that put out Clayman and Whoracle, their songwriting skills are very refined- there's some good stuff here scattered throughout the album. At first listen, I didn't think I'd ever listen to it a second time. But, there were a few choruses that I listened to the next day because they got caught in my head. I'm pleasantly surprised that my original assessment was wrong. If you can overlook the fact that it's not the Swedish death metal In Flames, it's not too bad. Now, if you want hard hitting Swedish death metal, you'll need to look past this album and pick up the new Dark Tranquility or Soilwork albums.
    Abacus11
    I haven't enjoyed an In Flames album since Clayman but I'll give this a listen. It's been 16 years of disappointing albums from this band, so my expectations aren't high but I'll try to keep an open mind because I love their earlier material.
    Funnyname99
    Don't bother mate, you're not coming from it from a good point of view. If you haven't liked anything since they moved away from the early Scandinavian sound, you're not gunna like it. I'm fine with this record, but then, I'm fine with In Flames' more Americanised blend. Soundtrack to Your Escape was my second record of theirs after Clayman, and then Come Clarity and Colony and I loved them all. - I think people's hangups are that they don't like the mainstream Americanised sound and hate the fact they they moved away from the traditional Scandinavian tone, which is fine, but it's like hating your wife for getting a new haircut and a fashion change and demanding she go back... It's not cool and she's not changing back for you, but she's still the same person you loved and she still rocks more than 90% of the alternatives out there.
    Abacus11
    I've liked a song or two here and there from post-Clayman records but they're definitely not the band that I really liked in the late 90's anymore. I'm not against bands changing their sound over time, I actually enjoy a lot of bands that have had long careers and evolved over time but In Flames just hasn't been one of those bands for me, personally.
    Funnyname99
    I know where you're coming from - for me it's Slipknot, - I really hate where they've gone with their music in the past 12 years, - but In Flames I still can get behind... Now they've got a few mainstream albums and this rather poppy one... Okay, so if I want to listen to a poppy version of their take on European metal, I know which record to listen to; if I want something more Americanised, I'll go for Soundtrack or Reroute; if I want something more deathmetal, I'll go for Jester Race... It's all there... I approve their message.
    kevinsolgaard
    I was sceptical about the mixing when i heard the 3 first singles. "The Truth" and "The End" got me good,and i enjoy those tracks a lot, but they sound kind of "unclear" i wanna say. Like a HD music video on YouTube dropped Down to 480p or something. and for some reason i found the solo-guitar-parts surprisingly loud, especially in "Through My Eyes". Am i the only one thinking this?
    vguitars3577
    The solo in "Through My Eyes" is in front of everything else to be sure. Also, its loudness seems much greater because the background rhythm guitars sound very compressed. That's what I hear at least.
    KevinGoetz
    To my ears, the drums still punch through that solo properly, so I think there just isn't a whole lot of love for the rhythm guitars compared to everything else. The vocals are excessively loud in my opinion too, so all the "lead" stuff is just shining way past the rhythm tracks.
    MusicMan24
    I don't think this is a bad album by any means, I would still rather listen to this than the majority of newer metal bands today. But it's just this continuing theme of there being 2-3 songs I actually enjoy. Literally, their last 4 albums I can only name 2-3 songs I actually enjoyed. From Battles it would be The End and Drained; from Siren Charms, In Plain View and Rusted Nail; Sounds of A Playground Fading there's actually 3: Deliver Us, Where the Dead Ships Dwell, and All for Me; then A Sense of Purpose: Alias, The Mirror's Truth, and Disconnected. The last In Flames album I actually thoroughly enjoyed all the way through was Come Clarity, but even before that you could tell they were going for a totally different sound. Like I said though, Battles isn't a bad album, but it's just another average album from a band that I know can do so much better.
    u.tahnalif
    This album is so bad that two band members left the band as soon as this was released.
    Mahoru
    A slight improvement over Siren Charms, but what isn't an improvement when you've almost reached the bottom? This follows the same trend established on the previous album, improving a couple things but repeating most of the same mistakes again. Production is slightly better (easy since Siren Charms sounded like crap), but still very loud, unbalanced and overproduced. Vocals and lyrics are as bad as they were 2 years ago, with the addition of EVEN MORE cringe-worthy "by the numbers" pop backing vocals which sound completely out of place every single time. The guitar work is as lazy as it was 2 years ago again, a far cry from what they can do (no need to go as far as their classic albums, Sounds of a Playground Fading already presents a much better work than anything in here). Oh, and Björn is still abusing the wah as much as Kirk. Bass is almost inaudible all throughout the album, and drums are just unremarkable. Not bad, but certainly nothing worth mentioning despite the drummer change. The thing they have improved this time at least is songwriting. Song structure is still as predictable as it was in Siren Charms, but they've put a bit more thought into making things fit better. As a whole, the album is still bad, but at least when compared to Siren Charms it's not bad AND badly put together. At least not as much. Tracks like Drained or Wallflower are certainly good songs, I can enjoy them as they are despite their flaws, but that's about the only good thing I can say about Battles. It pains me to see what used to be one of my favourite bands (until Come Clarity, and I also liked Sounds of a Playground Fading) turn into this... And not in terms of style: if they did this properly I wouldn't mind much, but stuff like Siren Charms or this album is just bad, no matter how you look at it. Could be worse? Yes for sure, but I'd rather not go out of my way looking for worse things than this if I can avoid it.
    Deciphered
    This group is dead, and it died with Jesper leaving. Wait for Jesper Strömblad's solo album.
    keefsy
    You know Jesper just left in flames right? He didn't stop playing. He's brought out music since then if you want to stop waiting around.
    Funnyname99
    I thought he was too busy drinking himself to death and being a bit of a prick about it...(?) He might have some nice licks - but, remember that Sense of purpose was all his, - hardly a classic. And he was still behind the wheel for Reroute to Remain, which many tout as the beginning of the end, so why you think he's the bomb I don't know.
    drunkseph
    I'm sure they'll go the Metallica route, suck due to "progressing" then eventually go back to a sound that no longer defines them.
    an.interloper
    The album is fine. The mixing is horrible, though. It's definitely not my favorite In Flames album, but I don't hate it. The production, though, I do hate. It's middy, flat, and the drums have absolutely zero punch.
    metaljay21
    In Flames used to be one of my favorite bands. First song I heard from them back in High School was Episode 666 and I was immediately hooked. Next song I heard was Cloud Connected, and though it was way different, I still enjoyed it. Ended up seeing them live with Soilwork and Unearth and I knew I had to go out and purchase their entire catalogue... Soundtrack To Your Escape and Come Clarity were getting more and more different, but I hung on. A Sense of Purpose was the start of my becoming less interested. Sounds of a Playground Fading had a few good tracks, but for the most part, I still can't listen to it with much enthusiasm. I purchased Siren Charms without listening to anything because I was hoping for the surprise factor, and ended up as utterly disappointed as I was when I did the same thing with Metallica "St. Anger." I was pissed, through and through with Siren Charms and totally lost interest in the band. Then, the news broke that Daniel departed the band and they chose to continue on. I respect that choice, and still looked forward to seeing what they'd do next. They started advertising their live DVD, and after reviewing the tracklisting, I chose to pass on buying it (only about 4-5 songs on the set I actually enjoy). Then started seeing their music videos for Battles. The videos were ok, the music wasn't there for me though. Then, the album was released. I still have not purchased it. I read this review above, and I know it's only the opinions of those that have written the review, and I'll have my own, I'm sure... But, I really cannot bring myself to purchase this album. I still respect In Flames for still making music, and I will for who knows how long. But, I'm afraid that I will not have enough interest to buy (or even download) any of their future releases if they continue the same path they're currently on.
    FlyingPirahna
    I love, or used to love, anyway, this band. I love almost all of their directions, from the melo-death sound of Whoracle and Jester Race, the nu-metal influence on Reroute, the poppy side of A Sense of Purpose. But man... Siren Charms, and now this album, just lack any sort of real inspiration. I was happy to follow them through their different sounds because they still sounded inspired and into the music they were playing. But these last two have just felt so flat, forced, and completely out of ideas. Anders gave an interview a year or two ago stating that "we've achieved everything we wanted to as a band and there's nothing really left to do" and my god, does it show. They're literally just phoning it in at this point, and that's the worst crime of all.