I, THE MASK
Nuclear Blast Records
Release: March 1, 2019
At this point, In Flames are less of a band than they are a musical institution in the heavy music world. Since helping create Sweden's legendary “Gothenburg Sound” three decades ago to their current status as melodic metal monoliths, the act have constantly eschewed trends in order to forge their own musical path. This is evident on their 13th full-length ‘’I, The Mask’’, which sees them reuniting with multi Grammy-nominated producer Howard Benson (My Chemical Romance, Motörhead), who also produced 2016's ‘’Battles’’, in order to further redefine their sound. “I think it's very difficult for In Flames to be something we're not and that dichotomy of melody and aggression will always be at the core of our identity,” vocalist Anders Fridén explains from a tour stop opening for Deep Purple in Mexico. “We are always open to new ideas and don't let anything limit us,” guitarist Björn Gelotte adds. “We just ask ourselves if we will love playing this stuff live... and as long as we feel that, nothing can really touch us.”
Unlike previous recordings, this time around Fridén and Gelotte holed up in Los Angeles for three weeks prior to the production of ‘’I, The Mask’’ and came up with a bulk of the songs during those sessions.
I, The Mask
Call My Name
I Am Above
(This Is Our) House
We Will Remember
In This Life
All The Pain
Stay With Me
“For ‘’Battles’’ I wrote a lot of the material at home first but for this one, Anders and I really wanted to just get in a room together and see where it would take us,” Gelotte explains, adding that Benson would frequently drop by and act as a filter for their creativity. “I think this process worked really well because a lot of the lyrics fed off the music or Anders would come up with a really powerful line and it would inspire a riff, so there was a lot of symbiosis between us in the songwriting.” From there the duo fleshed out the arrangements with guitarist Niclas Engelin, bassist Bryce Paul Newman and previous drummer Joe Rickard and then spent two months tracking the songs. (‘’I, The Mask’’ is also the last recording to feature Rickard who was subsequently replaced by Tanner Wayne who played on the track ‘’(This Is Our) House.’’) Finally, the album was mixed by Chris Lord-Alge, who has worked with everyone from Cheap Trick to Linkin Park and mastered by Ted Jensen (Pantera, Eagles, Guns N’ Roses).
‘’Voices’’ starts with a tension building guitar intro. I expected the next part to be a little louder, but when the vocals come in that part really came to life. When I listen to In Flames, I only listen to pre-2006 albums, so clean vocals still sound a bit misplaced to me (late to the party, I know). However I can understand that it takes a toll on your voice to growl all the time. Keeping the clean vocals only in the chorus is a good compromise. A side effect of this is that they got the metalcore label quite quickly. Next up is title track ‘’I, The Mask’’. I really love the melodies in this song, and the lyrics hit pretty close to home. The verses have a bit of the ‘’classic’’ In Flames vibe, I like that a lot. ‘’Call My Name’’ sounds rather soft after the two previous tracks. There is an effect laid over the vocals in the verses that do just not hit my ear the right way. It is my least favourite track up till now. Released as the first single, ‘’I Am Above’’ is next on the tracklist. This song has honestly been on repeat a lot since it came out, and I love everything about this track. It is super well balanced. The track made me excited about the whole album, and that is what singles are supposed to do.
‘’Follow Me’’ begins very chill and acoustic, then follows a heavy guitar part, and the semi-acoustic atmosphere carries on in the verses. Not a lot of growls in this one, and the lyrics are rather cheesy. It fits on the album though, but to me a filler track. The same goes for ‘’(This Is Our) House’’. Also released as a single, but definitely not up to the standard that ‘’I Am Above had set. ‘’We Will Remember’’ reminds be a lot of 2015 Bring Me The Horizon. I can’t really lay a finger on it why. It is very inbetween styles, a bit more rock than metal. Not what I am used to hear from In Flames. You’d think that at one point the experimenting with sounds, genres and influences stop, but In Flames debunk that theory. They were never a band to give up quickly and I think that is one of their strengths as well.
I can’t help but to feel that In Flames is slowly trying to convince us that they’ve outgrown death metal for once and for all. Because ‘’In This Life’’ is drifting even further away from it. Can’t help to feel a little disappointed about it. ‘’Burn’’ on the other side is a track that I had to listen to a few times before I could really form an opinion on, and that opinion is still changing every day. Right now I like it. The oriental sounds in ‘’Deep Inside’’ took me a bit by surprise. I don’t know if this was intended, I wouldn’t call Scandinavia exotic, but hey, I applaud to In Flames for not getting stuck in one train of thought. A bit of a filler track again though.
‘’All The Pain’’ is another song that hits me in the feels with its lyrics. It fits great on this album, and I enjoy listening to it. After a few tracks I found okay-ish, this one is definitely better again. Definitely one of the better tracks on this album. We close the album with ‘’Stay With Me’’. It has a great electronic/synth vibe in the beginning, too bad it does not return. It is a pretty slow song but listening to the lyrics that makes sense.
If there is one thing that this album taught me is that bands evolve. I have to stop seeing In Flames through my death metal eyes, and give them a fresh slate to begin with. Even though In Flames is iconic with their invention of the Gothenburg-sound, it can be hard to accept that things change. I’d say that these guys did a very neat job, and overall the album did definitely not disappoint me. I in fact have to alter my expectations and be less close-minded about the band the next time around.
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Anders Fridén | vocals
Björn Gelotte | guitars
Bryce Paul | bass
Niclas Engelin | guitars
Joe Rickard / Tanner Wayne | drums