What dark truths lurk behind the masks that each of us wear? For some answers, step inside I, The Mask, the latest from the legendary In Flames. With nearly three years passed since their last release, their thirteenth studio album arrives on Friday, March 1, 2019 via Eleven Seven Music.
When you’re a band like Sweden’s own In Flames, you require very little backstory. Pioneers of the Swedish Melodic Death Metal scene, the band formed back in 1990 in Gothenburg. Shortly thereafter, they delivered their debut album, Lunar Strain, in 1994, and would go on to release a truly impressive 11 additional albums over the next 22 years – including 2002’s Reroute to Remain, 2006’s Come Clarity, 2011’s Sounds of a Playground Fading, and, most recently, 2016’s Battles. Continually seeking to evolve, since the early 2000s the Grammy Award-winning band has slowly begun to move away from the scene that they helped to create, blending new sounds and influences into their music to create something that is forged from the fires of Melodic Death Metal but now cross genres fluidly.
For their lucky thirteenth release, In Flames — Vocalist Anders Fridén, Guitarists Björn Gelotte and Niclas Engelin, Bassist Bryce Paul, as well as Drummer Tanner Wayne — present the 12-track I, The Mask. Produced by Grammy-nominated Howard Benson (Daughtry, My Chemical Romance), I, The Mask is the first album to feature the band’s newest members, Bassist Paul and Drummer Wayne.
I, The Mask kicks off to a guitar intro that builds into the core of headbanger “Voices,” with infectious, soaring choruses that demand sing-alongs. This kicks the album off in style as the band move into the titular track, “I, The Mask,” which contrasts jack-hammering drums and truly melodic, dare it be said, radio-friendly choruses all in the name of the lyrical search for self.
There’s an almost delicate 1980’s Thrash influence to the band’s fancy fretwork on the verses of “Call My Name,” which acknowledges a loss of control. Meanwhile, “I Am Above” starts dark and ominous, with Fridén’s gritty growls dragging the mood toward intensity as the band stomps and grinds. A definite stand-out, it paves the way for the inspirational “Follow Me,” which urges listeners to find a home away from their sorrows, to overcome the darkness in their souls.
Continuing this anthemic feel is “(This is Our) House.” Here, amongst pummeling rhythms, gang vocals add a sense of urgency to the band’s plea that, yes, this is a fight for our lives. This perfectly flows into the melodies of “We Will Remember,” and the gentle-swaying lament of “In This Life.” Truth be told, the latter track could easily be the newest Good Charlotte tune.
Lest you start to think that In Flames have gone soft, they kick it back up for “Burn” before launching into the bespelling “Deep Inside,” which features some truly killer guitar work from Gelotte and Engelin. Next come the emotional confessions of “All the Pain,” while, ultimately, they conclude with “Stay With Me.” Here, the track begins as an acoustic ballad that builds into an electrified, catchy rocking plea that aims to hit you right in the feels.
There is absolutely nothing amiss with I, The Mask. However, for a band known for their eclectic abilities to cross genres fluidly and with finesse, it all feels a bit generic and lacking in the panache that fans have come to expect from the legendary In Flames. Some listeners are apt to love this slick cohesiveness, while others might feel that, ultimately, I, The Mask might be slightly lacking. Whatever the case, it’s a solid album, a good album that perfectly displays the technical proficiency of the band, and serves to remind us all that In Flames have been rocking for nearly three decades strong for a reason. Always anxious to see what this exceptional band will do next, Cryptic Rock gives In Flames’ I, The Mask 4 of 5 stars.
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