IN FLAMES has certainly come far from their debut “Lunar Strain”. The difference between that and the new album is whopping but if you count in every album they form a (nearly) straight line that illustrates the band’s evolution right up to this point. Sorry for the mathematics but in that light it is also evident that if you didn’t like the previous “Reroute To Remain” you most likely won’t like this one either and if you liked that album you’ll most certainly like this one as well.
So musically “STYE” is mostly along the same lines as “R2R” but there’re also some major changes. This is not as up tempo and is actually moodier and therefore darker. There’s also more electronic effects but the most notable difference is the affect PASSENGER had on Anders Friden’s (clean) vocals and also song-writing, because even though “Reroute…” was very good it also had its weak points. The vocals weren’t at times on the same level as the playing and some of the songs sounded a lot like each other i.e. they had no identity. Those problems are mostly in the past on the new record. Friden’s vocals are still weak at times but not as much as before and actually the clean vocals are not as present as previously. For the majority of the songs Friden sings in a very angry tone and at times with clean vocals but even some Death Metal growls make their appearance. And the song-writing has really improved. Apart from a few tracks the songs are heavier, catchier, crunchier and much darker not to mention have a more Death Metal vibe to them.
“F(r)iend” starts the album very strongly. Fast, heavy and crunchy for the most parts but also has some very melodic passages in the bridge and chorus. This is also the first introduction to Friden’s more angrier vocals which fit the song’s theme very well. Although many people say “The Quiet Place” is among the weakest songs on the album I do not agree. It is very modern and very catchy but also with the necessary amount of heaviness. “Dead Alone” and “Touch Of Red” are fast, heavy and melodic. Both have some very nice melodic riffs that remind me of older IN FLAMES. The chorus on the latter song is one of the best on the whole album and also has a very good acoustic interlude between that and the next track that without the samples in the background could even be placed on any of their first four albums. “Evil In A Closet” is the “Dawn Of A New Day” of “STYE”. Quite mellow and mostly sung with clean vocals. It is at the same time out of place and a perfect song to calm things down for a while. But even though being mostly mellow it can still pack a punch with its heavier chorus.
But even though I had already begun to like the album my jaws really hit the floor when “Superhero Of The Computer Rage” came storming through the speakers. Starting out with a very melodic and brilliant riff the song is a pure thrasher that’ll really get your head banging. And what a chorus! Driven by the same brilliant riff the chorus is absolutely in a class of its own. All in all a magnificent track and probably the best track on the album along with “Dial 595-Escape”. These two tracks alone are pretty much worth the price of the album. Simply amazing and in a way a return to form. I’ll leave the rest of the songs a mystery for you to find out for yourselves.
With everything being as top-notch as it is the only thing one can complain about is the fact that some of the songs do (still) sound the same but when the quality of the songs is this high that is merely a minor flaw although on the long run it might take away some of the re-play value of the album. But hell I’m not gonna worry about that now, it all sounds damn fresh and enjoyable at the moment. However next time the band would do good if they’d change their formula little more for I suspect that a third album in the same vein would only do more harm than good for them.
I can’t help but think that some of the lyrics have been inspired by the commotion “Reroute…” caused. For all those who cried sell-out and/or wanted them to make another “Jester Race” the message between the lines read: “We don’t care what you say, we do the kind of music we want to. If you don’t like the new style then fuck off.” That of course in a subtler way (or then I’ve completely misunderstood the lyrics). And I for one can fully attest to that statement. It might not be as heavy as their first albums and in fact be a more crowd pleasing offering but hell it’s their choice and when the music’s this good I have absolutely no problems with it. I mean, popularity doesn’t make a band bad, that’s just an absurd way of thinking. Actually I find it rather paradoxical that most Metalheads want people to give up Pop/Rap/Techno/whatever and listen to “real” music, Metal that is, but when a Metal band actually becomes popular those same people are the most eager to call them a sell-out and turn their back on the band. That just doesn’t make sense.
But anyway… to sum it up: even though I knew what to expect from this album I was very surprised to find out how good it actually is. It’s dark, heavy yet still melodic and catchy. It’s also more Death Metal than their previous offering which is a very pleasant thing to say the least. It’s music you can both sing along to and headbang to at the same time. However, just like “Reroute…” it might take a few listens for it to grow on you but when it does you’ll be more than happy for it. Now those who have completely given up hope for IF after “Clayman” and “Reroute To Remain” won’t be gaining any with “Soundtrack…” either but those who liked them will be equally pleased with this one. After ten years IN FLAMES are still going strong, evolving from album to album and in my opinion they’ve yet to make a merely decent album. It’s all either good or great and this one ranks in the latter without a doubt… (Online April 10, 2004)