Review Face-off: In Flames’ I, The Mask (Eleven Seven Music/Nuclear Blast)

Sunday, 24th February 2019

[9/10] If there’s been one band that has taken a beating from veteran fans for their post 2000 output, it’s got to be In Flames. But when a band’s sound takes such a drastically different turn over the years, there’s bound to be pushback (especially when the band in question pens some of the Gothenburg sound’s most legendary albums in The Jester Race and Whoracle). Even this scribe had figured In Flames best left in the past, not having found any real compelling release since 2006’s Come Clarity. Suffice it to say, I, The Mask was a thoroughly pleasant surprise.

By no means is this a throwback to the early days of the band. There’s plenty of modern elements to be had, such as the lead-off single “(This is Our) House,” a track that felt like In Flames was carrying forward from Battles but in the context of the album feels much smoother and enjoyable. It’s surrounded by tracks “Follow Me” (which masterfully infuses some acoustic work from ‘the good ole days’ into a more modern setting) and “We Will Remember” uses some energetic grooves to counter some equally catchy melodic leadwork. Anders Fridén’s vocals, particularly the clean ones, have gotten some extra polish this time, and “In This Life” and the slowburning closer “Stay with Me” (which also showcases some excellent acoustic guitar and goosebump-inducing melodies) stand miles above what he has put forth in some previous efforts.

But the selling point for more veteran fans won’t be the modern angle, so much as the increased use of guitar melodies and intensity that has come back into the material. The opening four-pack of songs (and “Burn”) feel like the spiritual successor to Come Clarity, with thrashy tempos and some real ear-worm level melodic hooks that are enough to put a smile on most modern metal fans’ faces. A true emphasis on more guitar/melody-driven material is what makes even some of the other tracks, such as “All the Pain” or “Deep Inside” more palatable to the ‘old school’ fan.

While many ‘old timers’ may have written the band off over the last decade due to some less inspired/commercially-friendly efforts, I, The Mask feels like the album that can win those fans back. It’s a rare treat when a band can capture some of the essence of what made them great in the first place and funnel it into a release that doesn’t feel like they are moving in reverse. Instead I, The Mask champions what the band has been doing, but puts it in a framework that will equally appeal to older fans. In Flames has something really special here. – Kyle McGinn

[8.5/10] Polarization and debate reign supreme when it comes to our favorite bands. We often like to isolate songs and records that we adore – and openly criticize when musicians stretch or move into new ground for fear of selling out or watering down their sound. One such band that has certainly moved from their foundation as a proponent of melodic death metal into alternative, groove, and metalcore pastures is In Flames. Hard to deny their impact on the scene during the 1990’s – albums like The Jester Race, Whoracle on through to 2000’s Clayman filled with aggression and catchy material, only to see lineup changes and focus on streamlining their sound plus focusing on modern influences to release subsequent discography that had more appeal for nu-metal or alternative/metalcore followers than the old guard. Which makes I, The Mask all that more rewarding – and surprising – considering my affinity for the first era of In Flames – and lackluster outlook from Reroute to Remain to Battles.

The output this go around seems to have this balance between irresistible hooks and grooves while still being versatile and heavy – occasionally circling back to a lot of elements that helped the band gain massive appeal during the Colony/Clayman eras. Anders Fridén has morphed his voice since his earlier screaming/roar delivery – incorporating computerized effects and a clean aspect that really works brilliantly on this record more than ever. Check out his switch-ups during “Call My Name” and “Burn” – the latter appeasing through a speedier tempo and intriguing guitar runs/accents. The background children chant vocals during “(This Is Our) House” make for an interesting contrast to the spacey verses and alternative/modern rock feel of the arrangement – not necessarily my favorite song of the twelve, but a midway cut that could gain approval from the more recent converts to the group’s efforts. The American-angle rhythms against the Scandinavian edge allows for some super-catchy verse to chorus action – “We Will Remember” churning along through muscular/circular riff combinations and a refined chorus. And when it comes to a spectacular closer, check out the ballad “Stay with Me” – the acoustic parts channeling early days, transforming into this electric burst with Anders going from a calm, tender singer into this fierce, anguished beast by the conclusion.

In Flames has the right to go in any direction they wish. With I, The Mask it seems like they’ve set out to embrace a bit of the old harmony/melody qualities with the alternative/modern rock catchiness of the current lineup – and made an album that could bridge audiences better than at any point in their career. Let’s hope for more of this for the band going forward. – Matt Coe

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