Music fans can be a fickle bunch, but it seems that metal fans in particular can be especially fussy. When a band changes their sound (or image for that matter) fans of the band in question raise hell. The most obvious and notorious case that comes to mind is back in the mid nineties when Metallica cut off their hair and experimented with slower, blues-tinged hard rock instead of their signature thrash metal crunch. Granted, Load and ReLoad weren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but the backlash the band received for flexing their creative muscles was definitive, and in my opinion, really unfair. For any lesser of a band, those records would’ve been career killers, even the mighty Metallica took well over a decade to recover.
If you’ve been paying any attention for the last handful of years to Swedish melodic death metal pioneers In Flames, you could see them potentially heading towards the same fate as alt-Metallica. The last few chapters of the In Flames discography has seen the band make subtle changes in their signature sound, much to the chagrin of their rabid fanbase. But it wasn’t until the band released “Rusted Nail,” the first taste of Siren Charms earlier this year, that saw fans collectively lose their shit. Clean singing? Electronics? Slower Tempos? BOOOOO! HIISSSS!
I came to the In Flames party a little late in the process. I was introduced to their album Colony around the time it came out, and from the second the dual guitar lead of “Embody the Invisible” tore out of my speakers, I was hooked. I had never heard anything like In Flames before. It was heavy, but melodic, powerful yet emotive. It’s still one of my favorite records of all time and I’ve really enjoyed each subsequent release since, in spite of the stylistic shifts that slowly began to take place. But even with my appreciation of In Flames’ ever evolving sound, I was apprehensive heading in to Siren Charms. Could it really be as bad as everyone led on?
In a word, no. “In Plain View” is as good of an album opener as In Flames has had since the aforementioned “Embody the Invisible.” Sure, there are some more synth lines peppered throughout, and Anders does sing throughout the verses, but it’s still got the hallmarks of the classic In Flames sound. The guitar leads are as intriguing as ever and the chorus is flat-out massive. OK, so Siren Charms starts off on a high note, but surely it’s just a fluke right? I mean, isn’t this album supposed to suck?
But as Siren Charms goes on, it becomes abundantly clear that In Flames hasn’t really lost it at all. There are still brutally heavy moments throughout (“Everything’s Gone”, “When the World Explodes”) that will satiate longtime fans pining for a taste of classic Swedish melodic death, granted it comes with an updated feel. “Paralyzed” mostly follows closer to the bands more recent output but also showcases an incredible guitar solo that will leave you with your jaw on the floor, something that was missing on 2011’s Sounds of a Playground Fading and really, since the departure of longtime lead guitarist Jesper Stromblad. But even when the band takes out and out risks with their sound on Siren Charms, it comes across as a nice change of pace. “Dead Eyes” follows a decisively slower tempo before devolving into a swirling maelstrom of prog metal wizardry during the bridge. It’s completely unexpected and to be honest, supremely refreshing.
After repeated listens of Siren Charms, it becomes increasingly difficult to find anything actually bad about it. There are a few tracks that don’t really move the album along as nicely as they could, namely “Through Oblivion” and “With Eyes Wide Open”, but those missteps are mild at best and not even close to warranting the negative attitude surrounding Siren Charms. Even the heavily criticized “Rusted Nail” sounds right at home when presented in an album context.
So, does Siren Charms suck as bad as everyone says it does? Well, I suppose that depends on what you want from In Flames. If you’re looking for Whoracle part 2, you’ll probably be disappointed, at least a little. But if you’re wanting to hear a solid and innovative record from some of metals longest running players, Siren Charms is definitely worth a spin (or three). Metal fans can be just a brutal as the music they love when critiquing an artists work and sadly, In Flames seem to be the recipients of much undeserved criticism. Did In Flames step out of their (and their fans) comfort zones with Siren Charms? Sure, but many fans and critics alike are acting like Siren Charms is the second coming of Load instead of simply enjoying another fine chapter of In Flames’ evolution.