'I, The Mask'- In Flames / Turned Up Louder
The same conversation surrounds In Flames at the release of every new album about how the melodic death metal pioneers’ new release sounds insufficiently like the trademark “Gothenburg Sound” that launched their career in the 1990’s for many of their fans. On the other hand, many others have become followers of the band since their shift in direction to a more mainstream “Alternative Metal” style. A lot of that conflict can be seen to play out in their thirteenth studio album I, The Mask – the follow-up to 2016’s Battles, and their first with bassist Bryce Paul and drummer Tanner Wayne.
The opening two tracks appear to seek to redress this to a large extent. Following a slow guitar build, ‘Voices’ kicks things into life with a furiously heavy riff, which appears to have the sole purpose of immediately hooking in any listeners who were apprehensive after Battles. Released in January as a lyric video, ‘I, The Mask’ does exactly the same thing with vocalist Anders Fridén screaming feverishly before the guitars and brutal drums explode into being. The title track also contains In Flames’ trademark melodic chorus alongside the heaviness and lyrics which go deep into the album’s core theme; with Fridén revealing ahead of time that I, The Mask was written as a loose concept album dealing with themes of the search for self and loss of identity inherent in the social media and technology of our digital age. One would expect the title track of such an album to lay these themes bare for all to see, and it duly delivers.
However, I, The Mask is far from a complete return to the band’s older sound, as the next track ‘Call My Name’ demonstrates with a much greater focus on the melodic side of their music; and in particular the harmonising guitar work of Björn Gelotte and Niclas Engelin. In Flames also exhibit the desire shown in more recent years for a more anthemic direction to accompany the singles in particular, as this album proves too with the first two songs to be released from it ‘I Am Above’ and ‘(This Is Our) House’. The former has Fridén bringing his full vocal range to proceedings, shifting seamlessly from low growls to stadium-filling singing for the chorus; as well as possibly Gelotte’s best solo out of an album of real crackers. ‘(This Is Our) House’ is definitely the most accessible song on the album with a gang vocals intro, meaty riffs and a remarkably soft chorus by In Flames’ standards.
The positioning of these songs towards the middle of the album either side of the underrated “Follow Me” marks the point where the album is at its most different from the opening tracks, which promised such relentless heaviness. They do revert to this type of song periodically throughout the remainder of the album however, particularly notably with the final single to be put out ahead of release, ‘Burn’. Again, the shredding riffs and furious drum beats are paired with a slower melodic chorus to show every aspect of In Flames’ sound. I, The Mask ends on a far more sombre note however, with ‘All the Pain’ and ‘Stay with Me’ acting as far more emotional counters to the largely issue-focussed lyrical content of the previous ten tracks. These tracks, as well as the underrated ‘Follow Me’ show how much Fridén’s vocals have improved in recent years, to the extent that the singer’s admission of going to a vocal coach before recording the album is a thoroughly unsurprising one to anyone who listens to the album.
Indeed, as a whole, I, The Mask is the fruition of the band’s lack of complacency when it comes to their thirteenth release. Any band who has had an army of fans and has been at the top of their subgenre for such a long time could be tempted to falling into the trap of churning out the same album over and over again but there is nothing of the sort here. I, The Maskmay be In Flames’ most varied album to date, which can at times does leave it feeling like it slightly lacks direction; but overall is still held together by the strong lyrical themes, superb musicianship and expert production from Grammy nominated Howard Benson. It remains to be seen if this album will succeed in bridging the gap between In Flames’ diverse styles, but it is clear that if you are a fan of any of the work In Flames have put out in the 25 years since the release of their debut album Lunar Strain, you will find something to enjoy in this latest chapter of In Flames’ evolution.
'I, The Mask' is due for release on March 1st via Nuclear Blast Records.
Check out the music video for the latest single from the album, 'Burn', below:
The band have a mammoth tour scheduled that kicks off on album release day, with shows in the US, Canada, Europe and the UK- for full dates, head over to the In Flames website at: http://www.inflames.com