Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sounds of a Playground Fading by In Flames

Sounds Of A Playground Fading [+Digital Booklet]

This album marks the latest studio album from the five-piece metal outfit from Sweden.  In addition to changing their line-up over the years, In Flames has always been eager to experiment with their own sound, in effect changing their style and perception in the process.  This stylistic experimentation has drawn both criticism, occasionally harsh, and praise from their devout fan base.  The band still produces well-polished death metal in the Scandinavian tradition, yet, with this said, they’ve more or less, over the years, fallen in line with the melodic side of the genre, all the while creating a sound unique to their own signature.

When A Sense Of Purpose (2008) was released it drew some heavy backlash from fans and industry professionals alike.  There was much disagreement as to the identity of In Flames, and even more opinions on what their identity should be.  There were jokes made and much confusion as to what we should expect from them on subsequent offerings. 

With this new release, the band addresses some of the criticism by delving deeply into the questions that surround identity.  In numerous songs, including the title track, The Attic, Fear is the Weakness and The Puzzle, they play around with the notion of identity and the effects it can have on both society as well as on an individual.  Other themes, such as loss, hope, ignorance, falsity, loneliness and remorse ring throughout the majority of Sounds of a Playground Fading, provide inspired melodies that invoke questions and contemplations within the minds of the audience. 

In flames, for me, can be aptly described by their up-tempo, catchy instrumentation, as their style is unmistakably their own.  Yet what draws me to their sound, as a fan of metal, and music in general, is the trademark vocal styling of Anders Friden.  His vocals can be described as melodic yet also harsh, a blend that, when combined with the instrumentation, provides a novel and unique experience.

As far as their albums go, I’m resolute in my belief that Clayman, is, and always will be, their best record.  It seems highly unlikely to me that its variables and nuances could ever be reproduced.  However, this discussion can be had for any group with a loyal and passionate base of fans.  You have Black Sabbath, Ozzy or Dio, Metallica pre or post …And Justice For All.  There are those that make this case anytime a group outgrows their initial audience as it expands to a more diverse sea of listeners.  In Flames is no different to those other bands and the discussions surrounding their careers.
As they tweaked with their sound throughout the years I never fell into the outraged category of fans.  I’ve always respected new and creative endeavors and will always provide myself the opportunity, to test and evaluate each recording on its own merit.  Despite the obvious tendency to compare the unknown with the known, it’s unfortunate when a body of work or artistic creation is put under an unrealistic or unfair filtration system.  Each action, every creation, deserves the opportunity to stand on its own.  Once a firm handle has been grasped about the individual effort, than it’s fine to go back and see how the latest expression compares to a previous body of work.  By evaluating in such a fashion you’re not discrediting solely because something is different from a previous effort or your own expectations, which may have been unrealistic in nature.
This is the process I used when A Sense Of Purpose was released.  At first I was not exactly enthralled by the effort, but the more I listened to the album, the more it grew on me.  I’m grateful I provided myself the opportunity, as I really grew to enjoy that record immensely.  Does it compare to earlier releases?  Not really, but it still stands alone, as a high-quality creation. 
For me, sounds of a playground fading falls in a similar fashion.  
While the first listening was not entirely nose crinkling in nature, I was, in a sense, disappointed by that initial listen.  For this reason I held off reviewing the album until now.  I had the feeling, even before making the purchase, that this would be another album that would have high points but would also take some time to grow accustomed to.  Again, I feel thankful, for providing myself the opportunity, as it’s really a tremendous album in its own right.  While it still does not resonate with me in the same manner that Clayman or even The Jester Race, it still is a wonderfully produced, exhilarating musical ride, well worth the addition to your metal library.

One of the things I always enjoyed about In Flames is their attention to metaphor and the extremely poetic nature existing within their lyrics.  They are the type of songs where you’ll gain almost as much pleasure from simply reading the lyrics, as you will from listening to them sung.
A few examples from this album:

We are ghosts of the concrete world/Genetic codes of a dying breed/Will I be left behind? /Sounds of a playground fading  

Fly into the distant/Disappear for a while/I can’t make sense of this/But we’re here today (feeling) alive

Forever, the night, is all for me now/I’m sure that one day/ I can get you…all that you lost

Looking for something to believe in, I think I’ve done my time/You can tell days by their faces, there are always signs/Answers to the puzzle, grab a piece of the light

If today was your last day, would that change a thing? / You probably believe what you told them, live each moment like your last

Track listing for Sounds of a Playground Fading:
1.            Sounds of a playground fading
2.            Deliver Us
3.            All for me
4.            The Puzzle
5.            Fear Is The Unknown
6.            Where The Dead Ships Dwell
7.            The Attic
8.            Darker Times
9.            Ropes
10.        Enter Tragedy
11.        Jester’s Door
12.        A New Dawn
13.        Liberation

If you are a fan of In Flames, then I highly recommend this record.  It may take you some time to get adjusted to, but no longer than the adjustment to A Sense of Purpose took you.  In fact, that record probably assists your adjustment to the sounds delivered here.  If you have trouble adjusting to change, or you just don’t like the stylistic alterations In Flames has already displayed, I’d then say that Sounds of a Playground Fading might not be something you’d enjoy. 

If you’ve never experienced In Flames before it would probably be a good idea to listen to this record and A Sense of Purpose prior to experiencing any of their earlier releases.  The reason being that if you hear this record first, you’ll have nothing clouding your impression.  You’ll be able to enjoy this album as a stand-alone release.  When you’re then ready to visit In Flames earlier albums you won’t taint your outlook on this album nor will you hinder your appreciation of the earlier releases.  Take a listen to this album and let me know what you feel about it. 

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