The problem with being considered cutting edge is that, sooner or later, your fans will deem one release to be the pinnacle of your achievements and subsequently spend the rest of their lives berating you for not having remade it ad nauseam. For In Flames, fans seem split on exactly which album is best, but certainly ‘clayman’ must lay claim to a large degree of affection with the result that albums like the much derided (and actually rather good) ‘reroute to remain’ and the criminally underrated ‘sounds of a playground fading’ have been pilloried, despite the band admirably striving to expand their once pioneering sound. In truth ‘siren charms’ will do little to assuage the fan base wanting ‘clayman’ 2, but it is arguably the band’s strongest and most experimental effort since ‘come clarity’, itself a fine release, and it will certainly appeal to those fans who admire In flames’ ability to mix massive riffs with huge swathes of melody and the occasional electronic flourish.
Opening with ‘in plain view’ the band waste little time, a synth driven intro giving way to huge, pile driving riffs and harmonised solos and, if Anders Friden is indulging a cleaner vocal style than previously, in all honesty it actually fits the band’s more dynamic approach to song writing. This being In Flames, the song also boasts a monumentally huge chorus and whilst the band are hardly pushing the boundaries of their world, it is certainly a powerful, melodic opening track that starts the album off on the right foot. With an intro that steps boldly into Pantera territory, ‘everything’s gone’ is a brutally heavy track that features world weary vocals that explode into raw-throated screams as the song accelerates towards its chorus. It’s an early highlight that sounds like a cataclysmic mash up between Devin Townsend and Pantera and it is pretty awesome. ‘Paralyzed’ underscores the diverse nature of the album, the band indulging a radio-friendly style that will irritate as many fans as it impresses. Very much a pop track, it is driven primarily by stuttering electronica with guitars kept very much to the background until the chorus, but for those with a taste for heavily melodic music with only a nod to the death metal that typified the band’s early material, ‘paralyzed’ is an interesting departure from the template which suggests an unhealthy love for eighties new wave and hard rock. ‘Through oblivion’ does little to up the pace, once again operating in the realm of eighties pop (think Sisters of Mercy) with a heavy emphasis on atmospheric electronics and clean vocals. It’s not a dissimilar move to the shift Paradise Lost made on ‘one second’, the band’s gift for melody remaining undimmed, but the music shorn of the scarifying metal that was once its stock in trade – clearly it is something that will divide opinion, but there is no question that In Flames are very good at crafting heavy, guitar orientated pop music.
With rather heavier riffs to the fore, ‘with eyes wide open’ is rather more typically in flames, although even here the band strip the verse right down to the essentials, allowing Anders’ voice plenty of room to breathe as the band weave a rather more atmospheric sound around him. The title track, with its stuttering guitar introduction, is an awkward, introspective beast that has a taut dynamic pulse and a chorus that reaches for the heavens with its chugging guitars whilst Bjorn Gelotte and Niclas Engelin trade energetic solos elsewhere in the track. Heading back into rather heavier territory, ‘when the world explodes’ is a satisfyingly explosive track that makes good use of jabbering electronica, giving the song a vaguely industrial feel, whilst the backing vocals from Emilia Feldt are an unexpected and welcome addition to the song, the band expanding their sonic palette once again. Opening with a weird, eighties-esque guitar line, ‘Rusted nail’ sounds like In Flames covering System of a down, with the electronics once again underscoring the guitars neatly and giving the song an urgent feel, although the chorus is pure In flames, with its chunky, melodic riffs and roared vocal lines. A mid-paced chugger, ‘dead eyes’ is possibly the one track where the electronics go too far in detracting from the guitars, rendering the song rather flat and weak. It does bear repeated listens, as the melody slowly shines through, but it is on this track more than any other that the criticisms of the band watering down their sound feel particularly pertinent. In contrast ‘Monsters in the ballroom’ is an awesome track with a taut groove and plenty of power behind it. it gets the album back on track just in time for its conclusion, the hook-laden ‘filtered in truth’.
For those who wish In Flames had never progressed, ‘Siren charms’ will hold little promise. There are plenty of heavy moments, but the overall feel of the album is one of experimentation with the band taking bold steps away from their trademark sound without completely breaking faith with it. Whether you enjoy the album will depend largely on how far you’re willing to be swept up in the band’s melodramatic melodies and eccentric stylistic departures, but for those who are willing to indulge the band’s experimental playfulness, ‘Siren charms’ is clearly a very good record indeed. Certainly it’s a cleaner, leaner, more melodic In Flames than heard previously and the emphasis is far more on clean vocals and monstrous hooks than ever before, but the result is a record which rewards patience and repeat listens, slowly growing upon the listener. Whether you’re prepared to give it that much time, of course, depends on you, but there is a strong argument that ‘Siren Charms’ is a solid, melodic rock record that sounds far more natural to who the band are now, some twenty-four years after their formation. Powerful, memorable, but surely not to everyone’s taste, ‘Siren charms’ is a fine, but ultimately divisive record.