IN FLAMES – Foregone

IN FLAMES – Foregone



As one of the 3 forefathers of the Gothenburg-based melodic death metal (aka melodeath), next to At The Gates and Dark Tranquillity, In Flames need no introduction. Every melodeath fan, which I count myself as one of, is intimitely familiar with “The Jester Race”¹⁹⁹⁶, “Whoracle”¹⁹⁹⁷, “Colony”¹⁹⁹⁹ or “Clayman”²⁰⁰⁰, while some may have even stuck around for “Reroute To Remain: 14 Songs Of Conscious Insanity”²⁰⁰² and “Soundtrack To Your Escape”²⁰⁰⁴ (but I don’t blame you if you did not) but it is after that last one that they are almost universally regarded to have started their decline in quality. It may have had something to do with line up toss ups: the founding guitarist Clas Håkan Jesper Strömblad moving on in 2011 and partially replaced by Gardenian guitarist Niclas Ingmar Engelin (who had been in In Flames in 1997 and 1998 but had left when Björn Ingvar Gelotte chose a guitar over the drums) or perhaps the well was really running dry but, although the subsequent “Come Clarity”²⁰⁰⁶ was excellent to these ears, a more stripped down “A Sense Of Purpose”²⁰⁰⁸ (which came with a more Korny logo which persists to date) was found wanting , the compositions and melodies simpler with good ideas mostly showcased through the more experimental tracks such as the innovative “The Chosen Pessimist”. The subsequent “Sounds Of The Playground Fading”²⁰¹¹, preceded by the fateful departure of Strömblad, was a mixed bag of styles, on one hand harkening back to the classic 90s days but, on the other, bringing new sounds and infuences, including the synths and computer programming with some songs barely guitar-driven (Where The Dead Ships Dwell), but I, for one, loved the album. And then “Siren Charms”²⁰¹⁴ happened, almost universally hailed as the band’s middle finger toward the old school In Flames fans, almost, since I kind of liked it. Contrary to the popular belief, In Flames were not downgrading to a single guitarist, retaining Engelin until 2021, but actually struggled for new ideas writing songs which did not require a twin axe approach, more rock than metal, to say nothing of the death metal which had gone AWOL (military: absence without leave) by then, so In Flames would mostly save the twin guitar approach for the stage. Two more albums, “Battles”²⁰¹⁶ and “I, the Mask”²⁰¹⁹ had their moments but now I, the fan, was AWOL, sticking to Dark Tranquillity who, no doubt, struggled themselves, but emerged victorious with the two recent albums a triumphant return to full form. Meanwhile, In Flames experimented and experimented until they actually concluded what every once great band before them, such Megadeth, Machine Head or Lamb Of God (and apparently even Metallica!), did: let’s go back to the sound that made us great in the first place. Why does it always have to take so long?

The first sign of a small Richter scale earthquake approaching was the “Clayman 2020” EP released in the middle of the global pandemic, the second, the fantastic throwback to the old days, the single “State Of Slow Decay” (2022) followed by the just as fantastic “The Great Deceiver” (2022) and “Foregone Pt. I” (2022), all 3 pure classic In Flames of the first 5 albums, and, finally, the more “Come Clarity” (think “Scream”) styled and experimental “Meet Your Maker” (2023) with its groovy verses and melodic chorus recalling “Reroute To Remain” (can you say: smart marketing strategy?). Meanwhile, the lineup fluctuated like it was Death, something In Flames is very well known for since their conception. Pär Anders Fridén had been originally the drummer for Dark Tranquillity, but later became their lead vocalist performing on their debut album, “Skydancer”¹⁹⁹³ but had left the band soon after and had joined In Flames in 1995, while Mikael Stanne, had left In Flames after the debut “Lunar Strain”¹⁹⁹⁵ and had switched from rhythm guitar to lead vocals in Dark Tranquillity and they stayed in their respective bands to date, so while we can call Stanne In Flames’ founder we can’t do the same for Friedén. That title belongs to the aforementioned Gelotte who had permanently switched from drums to guitar in 1998 causing Engelin to exit but stuck around to date. Friedén and Gelotte were joined by Bryce Paul Newman (2022-bass), Andrew Tanner Wayne (2018-drummer) and, in place of departed Engelin (2021)…Mr. Christopher Alan Broderick (2022) of the “Endgame” Megadeth fame, just what In Flames needed to be In Flames again! (pun intended). Then that line up recorded “Foregone”, released February 10th.

It is important to assert, right before we get to the main body, that “Foregone” is not the full return to form, not yet, anyway.That is, it will happen and likely sooner than any serious legal trouble for Donald Trump for his many crimes, but, for now, we can enjoy the biggest progress since at least “Come Clarity”. On the strength of “State of Slow Decay”, the ferocious punkish double chorused “The Great Deceiver” and “Foregone Part I” we can go even as far back as “Colony” for, finally, some undisputed death metal with the melodic, but most of the material is situated somewhere between “Clayman” and “Come Clarity” with everything in between. Already “Foregone Part II”, with its more balladic and therefore slower spin of the preceding “Part I”, the very same chorus slowed down, signals the direction of the rest of the album which “Bleeding Out”, with its, again, groove growled verses and a surprising melodic hardcorish chorus reminiscent of Helmet’s Page Hamilton’s one album side project Handsome, already hinted at. I, for one, embrace this groove verses/melodic chorus approach as much as the partial return to the death metal of the past, especially, since they are so catchy and grow on you very fast. Speaking of the two part title track, though, why they didn’t just make it one big epic track since that would be much more effective and there would actually be a point to repeating the same chorus in two songs back to back other than just the continuity from one part to the other which to me sounds like not enough of an excuse? While I do enjoy both parts as they are, especially since the acoustics in the second one strongly remind me of “Whoracle”, I rate it a whole point lower precisely for the above reason. Once you get over that, though, you’ll find yourself on the second half of the album with three excellent compositions and three just good ones, the second half a bit inferior to the first, the latter very close to a 5.5 mark and the former merely justifying the total score. Of the three excellent cuts, of “The Great Deceiver” enough has been written but “In The Dark” and, especially, the infectious “A Dialogue In B Flat Minor” (“Whoracle” much?) are both deserving of 5.5. The former is actually pure old school melodeath with a slower chorus, a track we can safely put on “Clayman” or “Reroute” but the latter is a much more varied affair, recalling, again, “Come Clarity” (think “Reflect The Storm”) for the verses and with the epic chorus so tragic and dramatic in delivery that you can actually feel Anders’ pain (to paraphrase former U.S. President Bill Clinton) except here you really do empathize with him and his internal struggle with the ghost in his head whom he fights everyday who “sometimes gets his way” as he’s “hearing him speak” so he knows that it’s real (a clear nod to “Square Nothing” on “Clayman”) all of which seems almost so futile you just want to hug him.

What I don’t find so engaging are the three tracks which all get 4.5 from me. “Pure Light Of Mind” opens the second half and is the most experimental track on the record, hearkening back, again, to “Come Clarity” for the balladic approach, sort of “Dead Again” minus the female vocals. Instead, and I must say that particular aspect is on a plus side, we get to experience how Friedén grew as a vocalist, his croons comparable to Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse on his best day. I appreciate the fact that, cleans or growls, his vocals are largely bereft of the Korny “uhs” and “ahs” “alldayIthinkaboutsexisms” Jonathan Davis is infamous for and Friedén is finding his own voice, kind of like Matt Heafy from Trivium. However, as a whole, the track reminds me also of some of the weaker material on “Sounds Of The Playground Fading”, that kind of stuff In Flames can write in their sleep, so I have mixed feelings. The heavily Toolish bassy “Cynosure” is, too, weird if rather structurally simple like some of “Reroute” or “Soundtrack” but has a cool chorus where Friedén asks “Who’s At The Wheel?” presumably a metaphor for a Universe nobody seems to control (hint: he’s evidently right, reality witnessing to spite the mainstream Christian mentality of “God in control”), as nothing seems to make sense, no laws or rules consistent and can’t be reilied on, shall we say, increasingly relative (hello, Dr. Einstein!), a feeling and subject matter which spills into the closing “End The Transmission”, easily the weakest link on the album, stylistically similar to but not quite as bad as “Your Bed Time Story Is Scaring Everyone” (Come Clarity), whereby Friedén exclaims in sarcastic exasperation “choose your side there are no winners, hell is overcrowded and heaven’s full of sinners” before another brief melodeath melody brings us closer to the end of this transmission.

Best since at least “Come Clarity” the 14th In Flames album in their 33 years of existence brings us very close to the In Flames we love and appreciate but some may find it not enough of the progress. To them I say, enjoy it in its own right, like you weren’t able to for the past at least 9 years. My prediction is that, if they don’t lose Broderick who is clearly the impetus for the change for the better here provided we are aware of his fame as the creator of “Endgame” but also “Th1rt3en” and the almost universally panned “Super Collider”, that he is a very versatile and patient guitarist (which, therefore, can be both In Flames’ saving grace and its downfall) so that if, again, they don’t lose him, that In Flames will, once again, be increasingly worthy of your money and time starting with this here “Foregone”.

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