Words by Sam Wolstenholme
When nothing of the world outside makes sense, it is through art that we can find meaning within the chaos. It’s been over 30 years since In Flames first began making waves in the global metal landscape as one of the pioneering purveyors of Gothenburg melodeath, and the world has changed significantly since then. Their fourteenth studio release ‘Foregone’ takes a dim, fatalistic view on the increasing level of hostility in the world and the ramifications of this for humankind – hell, even the album art depicts a dire walk towards our doom. Yet musically, the melodeath masters have never sounded fresher, sharper and more assured with this blisteringly powerful and innovative record. Specific changes within the band, such as the recent addition of the legendary Chris Broderick on guitar, have clearly contributed to this sense of re-energising. The overwhelming impression that ‘Foregone’ leaves the listener with is that despite what In Flames may feel about the state of our world today, their unique voice as a mainstay of metal is the strongest it’s ever been.
The album begins with delicately harmonised acoustic guitars and a mournful cello in the instrumental ballad intro The Beginning of All Things, deceptively lulling us to sleep until the savage State of Slow Decay crashes in in what’s quite a jarring bait-and-switch. State of Slow Decay is quintessential In Flames – lightning-fast speed metal drums, elaborate lead/rhythm guitar melodies and Anders Fridén’s unmistakeable harsh vocals tearing a hole through the fabric of the sonic universe. That is, until a noticeably deeper, more downtuned groove in the rhythm section hits us and really adds some weight to the track – presumably a Broderick influence here, and it really works. This track leads seamlessly into Meet Your Maker, which is driven by some ingenious guitar work. Frenzied double-time passages contrast with more spacious, measured, half-time groove sections that are cemented by metalcore-style drums from Tanner Wayne, and an extended guitar solo then double lead section towards the end of the track demonstrates both the technical prowess of both guitarists and how compatible their lead writing styles are.
It’s been classic ‘Come Clarity’-era ferocious metalcore so far, but in Bleeding Out, the band starts to show off their more recent hard rock flavours. Beginning at a martial march, this track interweaves sweeping guitar hooks with anthemic choruses, channeling both Alter Bridge and Killswitch Engage in the contrasting sections, and Fridén’s pristine clean vocals really shine here. Oh, and there is a truly shredtastic guitar solo in there too. But it’s when the dual title tracks (pt 1 and 2) hit that the album reaches the zenith of its power. In Flames promised a return to the aggression of their early days with this album, and that’s just what we get here. In Pt 1, relentless blast beats are paired with furious rhythm guitars and layered harsh vocal shrieks, in a moment of pure death metal that’s straight out of the Revocation rulebook.
Foregone Pt 2 opens with a question-and-answer between clean guitars and distortion, a pattern that continues throughout this track that unfolds as something of a metal waltz. This complex track is intricately layered with a multitude of different musical ideas and flavours, with 3/4 acoustic guitar passages evoking classic Opeth, while the more aggressive yet earnest heavy choruses give early Avenged Sevenfold vibes. Anders Fridén and Björn Gelotte are at their songwriting peak with this album as far as catchy vocal hooks are concerned – you won’t be able to get these songs out of your head for days, if not weeks, I can guarantee you that.
The thoroughly modern Pure Light of Mind zeroes in on the album’s core subject matter with some thoughtful statements – “A perfect storm in a turbulent time / I know my days are numbered” – and moves at a stately pace towards a belter of a chorus that is elegant yet powerful in its simplicity. This is a moving rock ballad that acts as the perfect anchoring midpoint in the album. Then we’re back to classic melodeath for The Great Deceiver, though not without some stank face-inducing grooves. Arch Enemy fans will love this frenzied track with its abundant, glorious shredding and general sense of guitars, driving drums and entirely harsh vocals battling for dominance. The gutsy grooves continue in In The Dark, which features an impressive call-and-response guitar solo section between the two axe masters.
A Dialogue in B Flat Minor really sounds like a conflicted internal monologue set to music, with enraged harsh vocal sections breaking apart the tamer melodic verses like a demonic inner critic shouting down the voice of reason. The chorus plays out like a cry for help or even simply understanding in the face of so much pain and confusion – “I’m stuck in a loop, I’m trying to feel / Hearing his voice, I know that it’s real”. Cynosure is driven by a strong repeated bass hook courtesy of Bryce Paul, and again offers a memorable, earworm-worthy chorus. “Foregone” comes to a natural end with End the Transmission, which is underscored by steady double kicks on the drums, solid riffs and tasteful shreds that send the album soaring forward into the horizon.
You’d think that by the time a band reached their fourteenth album release, they’d be hard-pressed to offer much in the way of innovative composition, especially if they’re renowned for crafting a particularly niche sound within a musical sub-genre. With ‘Foregone’, In Flames demonstrate that the opposite is true of them. This is a band in their fourth decade of music-making, who are creating art as a direct response to the senseless madness of the world they’re living in, and in doing so, they are a renewed force in troubled times. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and disillusioned by the dark side of humanity in an age of information overload. With ‘Foregone’, In Flames admit that they don’t exactly have the answers, but they can reassure you that if you do feel weighed down by it all, you’re not alone.
‘Foregone’ is out now at all your usual outlets and streaming services via Nuclear Blast.
FOLLOW IN FLAMES
Thanks to Nuclear Blast