Nuclear Blast
rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. The Beginning Of All Things That Will End
02. State Of Slow Decay
03. Meet Your Maker
04. Bleeding Out
05. Foregone Pt. 1
06. Foregone Pt. 2
07. Pure Light Of Mind
08. The Great Deceiver
09. In The Dark
10. A Dialogue in b Flat Minor
11. Cynosure
12. End The Transmission

Accidental pioneers when barely out of their teens, IN FLAMES should have little to prove. Such was the enduring impact of early records like "The Jester Race" (1996) and "Whoracle" (1997),  that the Swedes are held in particularly high esteem by generations of metal fans. The fact that they (and AT THE GATES) inadvertently spawned the US metalcore movement is either another grand achievement or cause for slight embarrassment, but it is hard to imagine modern metal in its current form without IN FLAMES' ground-breaking contribution.

There is, of course, a rather large elephant in the room. IN FLAMES' musical trajectory over the last 20 years has been controversial, albeit particularly among older fans for whom the likes of "Colony" (1999) and "Clayman" (2000) are unassailable benchmarks. Arguably ushered in by 2008's "A Sense Of Purpose", the band's gradual shift into more melodic and, more importantly, less heavy territory has never sat well with a large chunk of their audience. In recent times that has been particularly evident, with albums like "Battles" (2016) and "I, The Mask" (2019) receiving a mixed response, and so it would be easy to be cynical about "Foregone", which is exactly the kind of full-throttle return to the old  IN FLAMES sound that many devotees have been craving for years. In reality, this is simply the next step along the way for a band that have continually evolved over 33 years. If it just felt right to get heavy and gnarly again, then so be it, particularly when what emerged from that reconnection with the past demonstrably reinforces the wisdom of the decision. The presence of guitarist Chris Broderick, alongside mainstays Anders Fridén and Björn Gelotte, adds a bit of extra gravitas and bottom-end crunch, too.

In fact, for anyone who discovered IN FLAMES post-"A Sense Of Purpose", "Foregone" is going to come as a surprise. This is the band's heaviest album since "Clayman", and possibly even their heaviest ever, given the heavyweight sonic output that advanced studio technologies allow today. The singles made that pretty clear, while also avoiding the obvious trap of sounding too much like the old days for critical comfort. "State Of Slow Decay" was the first one released, and it's an instant classic. Herein lies the template for the new IN FLAMES album: take the heaviness and most recognizable tropes from those early albums, and apply them to the kind of sophisticated, nuanced songwriting that the Swedes have been focused on over the last ten years or so. Yes, it's the belligerent roar of IN FLAMES at full pelt that grabs the attention, and Gelotte's riffs proudly scratch that "Clayman" itch, but this is an upgrade, not a re-tread.

The same can be said of every one of these songs. "Meet Your Maker", "Bleeding Out" and "The Great Deceiver" are all blessed with giant, rapacious melo-death riffs, with each blossoming into a grand melodic refrain that IN FLAMES almost certainly wouldn't have attempted back in the distant day. "Foregone Pt.1" is an absolute beast of a song, and the closest this album comes to outright melodic death metal, blastbeats included. "Foregone Pt. 2" is a moody, mid-paced affair with multiple dynamic shifts and at least two riffs of startling size and weight. "In The Dark" is an ingenious maze of grinding, deathly riffing and prog metal theatrics, topped off with an arena-sized chorus. "End The Transmission" hammers all previous points home with some serious, four-to-the-floor chug, a strong blast of world-weary angst ("Nothing makes sense and no one's listening…") and Fridén's gnarliest vocal performance in over two decades.

We can't welcome IN FLAMES back because they never went away, but this does feel like a sort of homecoming, or at least a reward to grumbling old-school fans for loyalty through those experimental and occasionally divisive years. It's probably neither and we should all stop being quite so self-absorbed. What really matters is that "Foregone" is the finest album to bear the band's name since at least "Come Clarity". Don't be surprised if they make an ambient jazz record next, but right now this sounds like the best of all possible worlds and a late-career triumph.

Author: Dom Lawson
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