Artist: In Flames
Album Title: Foregone
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 10 February 2023
In Flames. Is there another band on this planet that divides opinion so much? Yes, there probably are others, but this is the only band for which I have previously offered a review, only to be accused of taking a backhander in return for a good review. Apparently, I wasn’t allowed to like the album in question and was told so, in no uncertain terms. For the record, those individuals were wrong in their assumption as I have never earned a penny for my writing. I have been privileged to be part of some great experiences over the years, but money? Nope. Not a penny.
And here we are again, with the release of the Swedish band’s fourteenth album, ‘Foregone’ looming large on the very close horizon. Even though I will be damned either way, I felt it might still be a fun exercise to write a few words about it. I will always be honest and open with my reviews, and that won’t change, regardless of what others might want me to write, or what thoughts they believe that I should have.
Those that know me will know the back story with In Flames and I, the fact that they were the first melodic death metal band to ever assault my ears, via a grainy cassette tape recording of ‘The Jester Race’ in the late 90s. That, I might add, remains my all-time favourite album in the Gothenburg band’s discography, and probably always will be. But ‘Colony’, ‘Clayman’, and ‘Reroute To Remain’ all have their strengths, even if on the latter, the In Flames of old was starting to morph into a slightly different entity.
Vocalist Anders Fridén went on record with me when, as a Powerplay writer, I interviewed him for one of their subsequent releases many years ago, to say that he vehemently felt that In Flames’ gradual progression hadn’t taken them far from their core sound. His defence was strong and fervent. However, as the years have gone by, as albums have been released, and as the line-up has changed, the In Flames that I hear today is substantially different to my ears than what I heard on ‘The Jester Race’. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t disliked their material – the fact that I was attacked for a positive review demonstrates that. Credit where credit is due. But, if I’m being truly honest, I’d prefer a return towards something much more akin to their early material. Does ‘Foregone’ offer this, then?
Yes and no. And at risk of upsetting those keyboard warriors a little more, it’s ‘yes and no’ in a largely positive way. If there was ever a criticism that could be levelled at the early albums, it’d be that the production wasn’t always the strongest. Partly due to the technology available, partly down to budget, and partly down to experience, I always felt that albums like ‘Colony’ for example would have been even more incredible if the sound wasn’t so muddy and indistinct in places. Well, here, on ‘Foregone’, the sound is brilliant. Handled by producer Howard Benson, it’s vibrant, powerful, and dynamic, allowing every instrument the space to shine and make a real impact. The drums of Tanner Wayne snap, Bryce Paul’s bass is marvellous, the guitars courtesy of ever-present Björn Gelotte alongside newbie Chris Broderick (ex-Megadeth) are properly muscular, whilst the instantly recognisable vocals of Fridén, sit on top very nicely indeed, spewing forth with venom or clear melody as required.
With a tick in the box for the production and the performances of the musicians, it’s to the compositions themselves that I must now turn. Sorry keyboard haters of In Flames, but it’s more good news here too. ‘Foregone’ features twelve tracks and whilst not all of them are ‘classic’ melodeath songs from the In Flames archive, there is a definite increase in the out-and-out melodic death metal sound that dominated and drove their earlier output, bringing such success and admiration with it. So much so, that my first thought was ‘wow, I wasn’t expecting that!’, especially as I’d deliberately steered clear of the early singles that were released ahead of the full promo arriving.
First things first, and the two-minute intro to the album is superb. You may disagree if you’re not a fan of such things, but it’s such a lovely piece of music, complete with acoustic guitars, and strings including a sombre cello, that deliver a rich, atmospheric, and melodic opening to the album. Not identical to pieces on their first few albums, but a definite nod to that era, and it’s great.
Having been gently lulled into a sense of calm, In Flames immediately serve up ‘State Of Slow Decay’ that’s anything but gentle, and immediately highlights an altogether heavier sound. The riffs remind me of their early days mixed with a hint of ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’-era At The Gates, whilst Fridén sounds seriously venomous, more so than over perhaps the last decade or so. However, there’s some catchy melody to be heard, and the driving bass and thunderous drumming power the track at a hefty lick. Lead guitar solos add texture, whilst Fridén does open up to a cleaner delivery later in the track, albeit short-lived and well-placed when it does emerge on a couple of occasions.
Things get even better with follow-up, ‘Meet Your Maker’ though. It features some of the heaviest and most bruising material on the album, before spreading a grin on my face via a ludicrously catchy bridge and chorus that calls to mind the ‘Reroute To Remain’ days. A stunning dual lead guitar duel only adds to the enjoyment, leading me to declare that this might be one of the best In Flames compositions of the last two decades. And I’d be more certain of this opinion if it wasn’t for the existence of the barnstorming ‘The Great Deceiver’ which is fast-paced and aggressive, but which also exhibits the more melodic sensibilities of In Flames via an insidiously hook-laden chorus, albeit still nestled within an unforgivingly muscular framework.
‘Bleeding Out’ is slower, more lumbering composition, with an increase in clean vocals. It demonstrates that the stylistic shift has not been abandoned here, just refined, and better blended with the ingredients of old that so many of us still love. The chorus is undeniably strong, a sing-along hit of saccharine goodness that’s hard not to fall for, and which is likely to be a crowd and festival favourite in the future.
If you’re looking for something more reminiscent to the ‘Whoracle’ era, then ‘Foregone Pt 1’ will scratch that itch whilst pummelling the senses with a high energy attack from beginning to end. Its partner in crime, ‘Foregone Pt 2’ has that lilting waltz-like quality that will send fans of ‘The Jester Race’ and earlier albums into rapture. Clean vocals and modern touches mean that it’s not a complete throwback, but there’s enough nostalgia within the central riffs to unashamedly revel in.
Just a note of caution at this stage, because ‘Foregone’ isn’t an overwhelming success throughout though, with a clutch of songs in the final stages not quite hitting the mark for me as strongly as others earlier on the record. ‘Pure Light Of Mind’ is without doubt a catchy son-of-a-gun, but it’s a little bit too soft and fluffy for my liking, especially bearing in mind what has gone before. The opening to ‘In The Dark’ feels a little odd to my ears, especially when accompanied by some uninspired Arch Enemy-like chugging riffage. The acoustic guitars are a nice touch, and the ensuing chorus repairs a little of the damage, but not all of it, leaving me just a touch underwhelmed overall.
The same can be said of ‘Cynosure’ and ‘A Dialogue In b Flat Minor’, both of which are perfectly adequate but, in my opinion, aren’t quite as brilliant as some other material on the record.
Cautiousness aside, I have to say that I have been thoroughly surprised and impressed by ‘Foregone’. I hadn’t really considered it prior to listening, but it’s probably fair to say that had I not liked the music on this record, I may have had to reluctantly part ways with the Swedish stalwarts of the melodeath scene, one that they themselves helped to create and shape in the early days. As it is, I have instead been pulled back into the fold once again. ‘Foregone’ may not dislodge my favourites within the discography, but the fact that it has reminded me of the quality that In Flames possess both in terms of songwriting and execution, is more than good enough for me. I might even consider attending a show in the UK when they return, so I can hear a few of these new tracks nestled within the setlist. If you’re a fan of this band at any point in their history, there will be plenty for you to enjoy here, so don’t miss out.
The Score of Much Metal: 89%