Two reviews of the same album: In Flames' ''Battles'' (2016)
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have decided to write two completely different reviews for the same album for the very first time. The first review is a more traditional and serious review that exposes the record's strength and weaknesses. The second review is close to a theater play and focuses on a dialogue between two people who have quite opposite views. I hope you enjoy this little experiment of mine. Don't forget to check out the album as well!
In Flames is without a doubt one of the most controversially discussed metal bands. The Swedish quintet has changed, finetuned and progressed its sound on each studio record and shifted away from melodic death metal to electronic alternative rock over the years. While many traditionalists see the band as traitors who are trying to be commercially successful by any means necessary, the group is still playing sold-out shows in front of several thousands of old and new fans alike. I have been a fan of all phases this band has gone through and thoroughly enjoyed each of the last three albums because they had consequent, diversified and energizing tracks that always offered something new.
This isn’t the case on the band’s latest record Battles. It’s not a bad album by any means and on a purely subjective level I listen to this record quite regularly. From a more honest and objective point of view, one must admit that the band offers quantity instead of quality on Battles. Among the fourteen new tracks, only about half of them manage to stick out and offer something interesting. The other half is solid but ultimately exchangeable and repetitive at times. The band offers catchy electronic alternative rock with minor melodic death metal elements but a true evolution compared to the last effort that felt more courageous is missing here.
The band convinces during its more concise tunes. The single ‘’The Truth’’ was controversially discussed because it is dominated by simple guitar riffs, rhythmic electronic elements that are almost danceable and a catchy and mellow chorus you won’t get out of your mind. The saccharine clean vocals and the juvenile anthemic backing vocals only add to the controversy. I really like this song because even experienced alternative rock and pop bands don’t come around with such a precise, melodic and addicting track all the time. The lyrics are also quite interesting and the lines ‘’We are the truth that hurts the most; it hurts when your denial’s exposed’’ might as well be addressed to the closed-minded traditionalists that have kept criticizing the group in a most nonconstructive way for far over one and a half decades by now. It fits that this message is delivered in the band’s most commercial track ever and that this song has been chosen as a single. This earworm is one of the few moments on the album where the band really takes some risks. Another great track is the other single ‘’The End’’ that convinces with a balanced mixture of a harsh vocals recalling the band’s roots, a melodic pre-chorus in the key of the group’s more recent material and a powerful chorus supported by a children’s choir that offers something completely new.
This album also offers several songs where the band either rehashes ideas that have worked better in the past or where the group experiments in an unsuccessful way. An example for the first category is the uninspired power ballad ‘’Here Until Forever’’ that reminds of several mellower tracks on the last studio effort with calm verses and emotional choruses. This song doesn’t have the uplifting lyrics of ‘’Dead Eyes’’ or the emotionality of ‘’Paralyzed’’ though and sounds more like a pop punk ballad that could have been released by Blink-182 or Good Charlotte one and a half decades ago. The chugging ‘’Wallflower’’ falls into the second category with its overlong build-up and a total length above seven minutes. While previous epic tracks of the band such as the menacing ‘’Your Bedtime Story Is Scaring Everyone’’ or the emotionally driven ‘’The Chosen Pessimist’’ had a clear evolution from start to finish, ‘’Wallflower’’ disappoints with simplistic riffs, uninspired electronic background sounds, vocals that are more breathed than sung and weird atmospheric breaks that break the flow over and over again. All those elements are never going anywhere and dragging on for far too long.
The main difference between Battles and Siren Charms is that the predecessor sounded dark, mysterious and pressured at times while the new album is more catchy, melodic and uplifting. One reason for this might be that the new album was recorded in California while the predecessor was made in Berlin. Since I usually prefer albums that are a rather dark, experimental and profound over more positive, traditional and repetitive efforts, it might not come as a surprise that I prefer Siren Charms over Battles.
In the end, Battles is a good alternative rock record but only an average release in In Flames’ varied discography. Aside of this record’s more uplifting atmosphere, the band fails to explore new territories or to deliver a consistent return to something it had explored before in the different individual tunes. Overall, the record sounds like a mellower version of the group’s previous five studio outputs. Faithful fans should purchase the record while occasional fans can skip it without any regrets and traditional fans will still be stuck in the past and blindly despise the group’s new style anyway.
This review is based upon true events. It focuses on the meeting of two metal fans named Willy Wrong and Rudy Right at their local HMV store in Montreal last week. They discussed In Flames’ controversial new record, the group’s debatable identity and the questionable evolution of the metal scene in general.
WW: ‘’Man, don’t buy that record. In Flames really suck these days.’’
RR: ‘’Oh, have you already listened to the album?’’
WW: ‘’No way, I only listen to real metal music. I have heard that abysmal single ‘’The Truth’’ though. Boy, that one really sucks. It sounds like Muse or something like that.’’
RR: ‘’Like Muse? That’s interesting. I like this band but didn’t realize the similarity. Which song or album of Muse did the song remind you of?’’
WW: ‘’I don’t know, man. As I said, I only listen to metal music. I’ve read that comparison to Muse in a review. You know, In Flames sound like commercial radio rock these days. Some describe it as a mellow and modern version of Depeche Mode. And let me tell you that I really hate Depeche Mode.’’
RR: ‘’That would be a big complement if it were true. Depeche Mode have revolutionized the music scene and are an outstanding group in my book. Personally, I think that the new single rather recalls bands like Thirty Seconds to Mars. The chorus might be somewhat saccharine, melodic and catchy but the verses are more guitar-driven and offer some great alternative rock.’’
WW: ‘’Yeah, it’s too catchy for my taste. Like Lady Gaga or something like that.’’
RR: ‘’Well, only few bands are able to write such a precise, melodic and addicting song. Even most commercial rock and pop bands don’t manage to be as memorable as In Flames. This song really is an earworm. Just like the other single ‘’The End’’ that offers a balanced mixture of harsher verses recalling the band’s roots, a melodic pre-chorus recalling the band’s more recent outputs and an uplifting chorus with a children’s choir that offers something new.’’
WW: ‘’A children’s choir, huh? That fits, this kind of music is made for naïve teenagers who don’t really know what metal is. Metal music these days really sucks. I’m glad I grew up in the eighties and nineties.’’
RR: ‘’Well, if teenagers discover the metal scene thanks to bands like In Flames, I don’t mind that at all. Everybody has to start somewhere and from that point of view In Flames are indeed quite good ambassadors of our scene. The same goes for groups like Five Finger Death Punch, Disturbed and Avenged Sevenfold.’’
WW: ‘’Yeah, they all suck!’’
RR: ‘’Have you actually listened to Avenged Sevenfold’s new album? It’s truly creative, intellectual and progressive and really goes away from the group’s metalcore roots.’’
WW: ‘’No way, I only listen to real metal. Those kids don’t have a clue. Even if they claimed that the new In Flames were the best album of the year, I wouldn’t give a damn.’’
RR: ‘’It actually isn’t the album of the year. The record sounds like a mellower version of the group’s five previous albums with a more uplifting atmosphere. The album has quite a few fillers with the exchangeable power ballad ‘’Here Until Forever’’ or the overlong ‘’Wallflower’’ that seems to go nowhere. But when the band delivers its catchy, concise and melodic tunes with a few new soundscapes, they hit really hard. The electronically driven and highly atmospheric opener ‘’Drained’’ has an absolutely irresistible melodic chorus for example and opens the album with a bang. Or let’s take the effect-ridden closer ‘’Save Me’’ that mixes the band’s melodic death metal roots with a harmonious and uplifting chorus for the ages. Other bands wish they wrote such an addicting song once in their career and in In Flames’ case this highlight isn’t even the lead single of the album. One might not like In Flames’ new commercial and mellow style but one can’t deny that it’s high quality song writing if you simply can’t forget a song after listening to it for the very first time.’’
WW: ‘’Man, I hear you talking about catchy tunes, experimental soundscapes and power ballads. The metal scene doesn’t need that at all!’’
RR: ‘’Any form of art evolves. Bands like In Flames actually rejuvenate a genre. This helps the scene to stay alive. I think metal music is even more creative, diversified and energizing than it was decades ago. There is something to find for every taste. I’m glad I didn’t grow up in the eighties and nineties. By the way, In Flames have never claimed to make metal music. They simply do what they like without any boundaries.’’
WW: ‘’I see, you are like one of those gay teenagers that don’t have a clue about anything.’’
RR: ‘’I’m not gay and I don’t see what someone’s sexual orientation would have to do with it.’’
WW: ‘’Dude, I’m telling you. The eighties and nineties were the greatest decades for metal music. You’re only jealous you were still a kid back then and couldn’t see bands like In Flames in their prime. Back then, only real fans listened to metal music. We would skip classes and take a bus ride of two hours to get a new album. We would trade tapes in small fan clubs at the weekend. We would go to the airport to buy some of the few international metal magazines that existed back then to read some reviews about our favorite acts. These days, kids just download their music in a matter of seconds, go to international streaming websites and read exchangeable metal magazines on the internet.’’
RR: ‘’I’m getting the impression that you are actually jealous of these kids because it’s easier these days to discover new music thanks to a globalized world, new technologies and social media. Most of these kids that you criticize probably know much more about metal music than you did at their age. It’s not because times have changed and because it’s easier to get information these days that fans back in the eighties were better than nowadays.’’
WW: ‘’You have no clue about these things because you didn’t grow up in the eighties. You keep defending those kids and that commercial nonsense In Flames keep releasing. I’m getting the impression you aren’t a real metal fan either.’’
RR: ‘’I have about seven hundred physical metal albums in my collection, I attend numerous concerts and festivals in different cities, states and countries each year and I have dozens of metal shirts and other memorabilia in my collection. Maybe that doesn’t mean a thing to you but I do identify with the metal scene these days as much as I did fifteen years ago.’’
WW: ‘’Bands like In Flames are traitors. Their first four albums were awesome, their fifth was okay and then they decided to suck. I have tried out songs from their last seven albums and they all sucked.’’
RR: “In Flames have pioneered and excelled in the melodic death metal genre during the first ten years of their career. They have progressively moved on, experimented and tried out new things over the past one and a half decades. I guess that’s better than keeping on releasing the same type of record over and over again without being able to reproduce the chemistry of the early years. If In Flames released a record that sounded like The Jester Race these days, people would rightfully call them fake and you would probably also complain and idolize the group’s early years anyway. In Flames have moved on. Why don’t you move on if you despise everything the group has released during the majority of its career?’’
WW: ‘’You don’t even know how much this band once meant to me. Lunar Strain was the first album I bought with my pocket money. In Flames were the first big metal band that played a concert in my town. When the Jester Race was released, I hung out with my friends in a metal pub and we knew every song on that record by heart. I kissed my first girlfriend during the Whoracle release party in my metal pub. She was the hottest woman I’ve ever had. These days, everything is different. No metal band is coming to my town anymore. My old metal pub has become a discotheque. I haven’t seen my friends in years. My girlfriend back then left me for another dude with short hair who listened to Depeche Mode. Today, I’m married and I have two kids. My wife forced me to cut my hair and made me lose part of my identity. I had to sell my vinyl collection because there isn’t enough space for it in our house. My son listens to Drake and my daughter to Miley Cyrus. I haven’t attended a metal show in more than ten years. I’m so lonesome. My life has changed for the worse, just like In Flames! Boy, I miss those days.’’
RR: Don’t cry, my friend. I know a great metal pub. Let’s go there and drink a beer. Just give me two minutes to buy the new In Flames record. It might not be the band’s best one but it’s still an above average alternative metal album. And a true fan has all the albums in his collection anyway, aren’t I right?’’
Shortly after this conversation, Rudy Right invited Willy Wrong to a couple of pints in the local metal pub. Willy Wrong decided to make some changes in his life. He decided to let his hair grow again, discovered his children’s favorite music with an open mind and bought tickets for In Flames’ next concert for his whole family where they all had a great time.
Final rating: 70%
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