In Flames - Clayman (2000) - Where old and new meet in reconciliatory harmony - 92% (13/01/15)
In Flames' pivotal fifth full length effort unites the band's past and future strengths (or weaknesses) like no other record. The release still features some faster melodic death metal elements from the past as well as the melodic twin guitar leads in the vein of Iron Maiden and a versatile vocal performance somewhere between slightly restrained growling, slightly experimental performances inspired by different groove and nu metal bands and a hesitatingly increasing number of clean vocal parts. The album also gives a hint at future records as it is filled with extremely catchy and mainstream orientated choruses, an increased used of electronic music and lyrical teams that slowly move away earlier topics such as astronomy and towards texts about inner struggles. Some fans may judge this record as the last great In Flames album, others might say that it's the first in a streak of more courageous, experimental and modern releases. Both sides are right and as some of the very few who enjoys both old and contemporary In Flames, I happen to like this release anyway.
The choruses on this album are extremely strong and probably among the very best in the band's entire career. The mid-paced and electronic-ridden "Only for the Weak" could also be included on one of the two follow-ups and represents the band's more accessible and less extreme metal orientated side. The melodic chorus is definitely well crafted, no matter what you think about the band's new sounds. Another strong chorus comes along in bonus track and b-side "World of Promises", a cover of Swedish glam rock band Treat. In my opinion, In Flames always did a good job covering tracks and I even liked their version of Metallica's "Eye of the Beholder" slightly better than the original. This song here is once again both energizing and melodic in an almost epic yet catchy way. The chorus contrasts with the faster and more brutal verses. I have no clue why this track wasn't included on the initial regular version as this is a fun tune and strong single candidate as well. In my book, this cover beats the original that sounds like an exchangeable Def Leppard and Europe bastard by miles. The strongest chorus is though the one in the energizing "Pinball Map" which is not only the best track on here but one of the band's shining moments in general and a perfect example for modern melodic death metal done rightly. The verses are fast, powerful and unchained concerning both the energizing riffs, the pitiless rhythm section and the wild vocals. The choruses comes around with beautiful guitar harmonies and some soloing just after the vocal part but also with thick restrained staccato riffs. The rhythm section grooves in an enjoyable way and never gets too sluggish. The vocals are emotional and to the point. Many people say that Anders Fridén's vocals got worse over the years but I think that they overall improved as they got more emotional but also more controlled and skilled. In this chorus, he finds the right balance between overwhelming energy and melodic self-control. This is really a chorus for the ages and it works even better as it's not repeated to death. This is a track to relentlessly bang, dance and sing along. This song represents both old and new In Flames in a certain way and if somebody asked me to get introduced to In Flames today, I would start with this tune.
Other than incredibly catchy offerings, you get to hear a balanced mixture of powerful melodic death metal from the past and more experimental tunes that hint at the band's future. In the first category, we get to hear "Brush the Dust Away" which is by no means the best song on here but a refreshingly short and fast tune with dynamical drumming that works well in the album context. The tune features the band's more contemporary vocal versatility but otherwise sharp riffs, dynamical sound and speed changes and great guitar melodies. The closing wrecking ball "Another Day in Quicksand" goes even further back to the roots and solely features Anders Fridén's charismatic early harsh vocals, extended sharp riffs, a few crunching breakdowns and a calmer bridge with elegant melodic guitar solos. This energizing outburst is a fitting way to close a gripping record without any lengths.
The second category delivers with the versatile grower "Square Nothing" that mixes the best elements of everything In Flames would deliver in the future: fast-paced verses, melodic pre-choruses and choruses, enchanting guitar melodies and even solos, calm breakdowns in an alternative rock fashion, weird sound collages including church bells, vocals that are sometimes sung, screamed or whispered, a dominant use of keyboards and many different genres and styles covered in less than four minutes without sounding pointlessly put together. Only few bands can put so many ideas in one single song and make it sound perfectly coherent. That's one element that makes In Flames stand out. The melancholic "Satellites and Astronaut" can be seen as a more rhythm orientated predecessor to tracks like "The Chosen Pessimist", "Liberation" and "Through Oblivion". This song is probably the most atmospheric and versatile of In Flames so-called half-ballads and maybe also the band's best offering in this category. I would say that this track is the second best on this concise output.
If we look at this release today, this is probably a reconciliatory record for both fans of the early days and the contemporary phase. On this record, both worlds harmoniously collide in almost equal parts. Otherwise, the short and concise song writing and some incredibly catchy choruses make this album stand out as a high quality release in the band's extensive discography. This release doesn't include any fillers and only above average to excellent songs. This album may not be as revolutionary as "Lunar Strain", as consistent as "Subterranean" and as versatile as "Sounds of a Playground Fading" but it's definitely a highlight in the band's career that both old and new fans should know and own.« Therion - Vovin (1998) - Elegy and majesty in a perfectly balanced mixture - 96% (06/01/15)Therion - Crowning of Atlantis (1999) - One of the better rarities compilations - 68% (27/01/15) »
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