Album review – In Flames – “Siren Charms”

In Flames - Siren Charms cover

In Flames

Siren Charms (2014)

Rating: 71%

Typically, I have little difficulty deciding if I like an album, hate it, or cannot remember a thing about it seconds after it is over. For better or worse, “Siren Charms” by In Flames gave me quite a dilemma. At times throughout the record’s eleven tracks, I simultaneously found myself enjoying the music, wondering what went wrong, and trying to recall what happened mere seconds ago with little success. But more on that momentarily.

It is little secret that present-day In Flames has little in common with the band that pioneered and popularized the infamous Gothenburg sound of melodic death metal. While fragments of that style are still occasionally present via smartly placed guitar melodies and occasional use of extreme metal rhythms, the majority of the music dwells firmly in the strange space between heavy alternative, emo, radio-friendly hard rock, and splattering of metalcore and industrial touches. Though the vocalist Anders Friden has been with the band since their melodic death metal heyday, he now opts for a clean, not particularly refined style that is heavily reminiscent of Korn’s Jonathan Davis, with few rare screams and growls thrown in. If these songs were released in mid- to late 1990s, they would have been an easy staple of “rock” radio stations.

Tracks like “Through Oblivion” or “With Eyes Wide Open” are melancholic, dark, and, well, not particularly heavy, however, it is not necessarily a bad thing. While I cannot imagine In Flames circa “The Jester Race” writing songs like these, something has to be said about the band not trying to force a throwback sound despite declining sales and heavier music coming back in vogue. “Paralyzed” and “Monsters in the Ballroom” have just enough of those melodic touches to bring to mind what this band used to be, and though they would never be mistaken for “Whoracle” or “Colony” outtakes, they would not have seemed out of place around In Flames’ supposed “return to the form” of yesteryear, “Come Clarity”. As uneven and warbling as Friden’s vocals can be, they are one of the easily identifiable hallmarks of present-day In Flames; while a more talented or technically proficient vocalist might have elevated many of these songs into stratosphere, Friden does the job well enough most of the time, with only few cringe-worthy moments sprinkled throughout “Siren Charms”.

To my ears, the album’s weakest moments come when In Flames attempt to sound as if they are still a heavy band. “Everything’s Gone” sounds like a disjointed mess of throwaway deathcore riffs, and “When the World Explodes” unsuccessfully meshes aggressive verses with melancholic female vocals on the chorus. The latter song is particularly jarring, as about two thirds of the way through the heavy track gives way to ethereal electronics that build up to a harmonized duet vocals in the last chorus reminiscent of something Sisters of Mercy could have created. The heavy parts feel tacked on at best, and while it may sound like heresy coming from a guy who still thinks “Whoracle” is In Flames’ finest moment, the band might have been better off going all out in their poppier direction. There are times when “Siren Charms” sounds like a metal band trying to write a pop album while forgetting that their playing style is still firmly rooted in the heavier genres, and as a result creating an odd hybrid that is not metallic enough for the purists, yet not convincing enough for the alternative music fans. While In Flames summons sufficient nostalgia for the sounds of 1997, it is not the sound of In Flames of that era, but rather of what was considered popular at that time.

It would have been easy to dismiss “Siren Charms” as a misguided attempt to chase the style that is about twenty years too late, but there is something about the album that is oddly, well, charming. Maybe it is the incremental addition of those old-school melodies that creep up during the poppiest moments on the album; maybe it is a distinct mood that reminds me of long days of my own vintage 1990s teenage angst; maybe it is that some of these songs are actually rather pleasant in spite of Friden’s vocal limitations and the band’s sometimes questionable stylistic decisions. When all is said and done, I have enjoyed “Siren Charms” quite a bit, though it is by no means an album of the year candidate or even a particularly great album. It is flawed, occasionally disjointed, and has a few moments that made me wonder what the band was thinking, but on the balance, there are more good parts than bad. If you scoff at anything In Flames released after “Clayman”, this is definitely not an album for you, but if you have found something to like on the last four or five In Flames albums, you could do far worse than “Siren Charms”.

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