As the years pass, the memories still last, when the sky is clear we will remember. In Flames’ love letter to their mid era.
I, The Mask is an album revolving around angst and pain which fuels a lot of mid era In Flames material. Everything from the lyrical themes to Anders’ reinforced vocal aggression demonstrate that even throughout shifting line-up changes and battling bad press, the band in recent years, the band can still deliver something great.
The first half of the album are what I believe to be the strongest output from the band since 2008’s A Sense of Purpose. Album opener Voices sets the framework well for things to come; lead synths blend into aggressive riff heavy guitar work as Anders growls in a way we haven’t heard in the best part of ten years.
Everything from our opening track through until Follow Me show an understanding of what the mid era for the band represented. This was the time between 2002’s Reroute to Remain and 2008’s A Sense of Purpose, where an alternative modern metal sound was preferred over their established melodic death metal flavours that had made them world famous.
Tracks in the former part of the album do an amazing job in demonstrating exactly why In Flames are one of the most revered melodic bands in the genre to this day. Call My Name and the previously released I Am Above show off all the hallmarks and staples of the best that this band can offer in modern times; powerful and fast verses that bolster up an impressive sweeping and catchy chorus, permeated with hooks and screaming, mixing in that blend of harsh and clean vocal styles.
I, The Mask, despite dealing with some complex themes of loss and regret, is up beat and bright throughout. It’s a large sounding and inspired release which capitalises on the raw emotion and masterful execution of lyrics by Anders in his strongest written material since 2004’s Soundtrack To Your Escape, up there with arguably their darkest period.
Speaking of Soundtrack To Your Escape, what I believe to be the band’s best produced album in their modern era, Howard Benson does an excellent job on bringing a sharp and clean but heavy and crisp flare to everything on this record. Despite also producing 2016’s Battles, Benson has adapted to the band’s evolved sound structure and finally given the majority of Rickard’s drum work the depth and weight it deserved on the prior record. Everything is well balanced and flows incredibly well with no point on the album where loudness war takes place as in Come Clarity’s battle for instrumental dominance did in areas for example.
Anders undertook vocal coaching lessons three times and week and it shows masterfully here. His new and improved growls and high pitched fried screams are unparalleled to anyone in the industry at the moment. Anders has been experimenting with clean vocals in varying degrees ever since 2000’s Clayman and only grew more confident using his clean range since. I can confidently say that all the training and the effort paid off and when Anders effortlessly switches between growls, screams or hitting those new found high notes, it all comes together wonderfully and should be commended as such.
Bjorn Gelotte demonstrates some of his most inspired guitar riffs since 2008’s A Sense of Purpose or 2011’s Sounds of a Playground Fading here, with the occasional lick or track bringing back found memories of Colony, Come Clarity and Reroute to Remain found in certain moments on Deep Inside and All The Pain in particular, acoustically or otherwise.
It’s in the second half of the album where the momentum for I, The Mask begins to come wain. With such a promising start, my hopes were high that this album could have reached the upper echelon of their catalogue, yet the cracks unfortunately begin to show rather obviously. I believe this point to be made excellently represented by the prior released track (This is our) House, a contender for what easily could be the worst song In Flames have ever released.
Building upon the idea first explored in 2016’s Battles with the song The Truth, the children’s choir meant to excite a huge crowd reaction, once again falls flat on the record. (This is our) House is an awkward song which seems to be there to fill for space and I believe the album would be much stronger with it omitted. ‘
This is the fight, the fight for our lives, scream out loud this is our house’ Anders says this song is a general call-to-arms yet there is no anger, aggression or energy to any of this song to speak of. The weakest vocal performance on the album by far, maybe by Anders ever recorded, uninspired four chord riffs from Bjorn and a frankly underwhelming debut for newcomer Tanner Wayne behind the kit, who filled in for the underrated Battles drummer Joe Rickard, a waste of a cool idea that might be executed well one day.
The second half of the album following on from that song display a conflicted range of emotions and musical influence that whilst varied, can’t quite decide on a solid foundation for what it wants to be and this erratic writing style shows both the strongest and weakest elements of modern In Flames. We Will Remember for example is a track that took a lot of listens for me to fully appreciate.
In a song littered with constant callbacks to the band’s prior material, ‘We have crawled through knives and artifacts, we had a purpose and a reason behind space and time’ or ‘From the colony to the hives, I’ve come to realise it’s not an ordinary story’, We Will Remember stands out as the band defiantly saying that they know where they came from and they still retain the same fire that fueled the flames all those years ago.
The same Reroute to Remain and Soundtrack to your Escape era darkness and aggression can be found in Burn aside from a few modern liberties with the chorus. It’s only as the album draws to a close that I begin to understand how I, The Mask came into existence and where things began to tie together and fall into place.
It’s in the title track that speaks a thousand words to me and this is where I realised that we are listening to the best that the modern era of this band will ever be and I am elated at the results. What is the mask? Is it the jester? Is it the band trying to adhere to its older identity? It’s entirely up to speculation and what you believe. The chorus tells us, ‘Who am I? So many faces dressed in rags for all to see, Here I am in the mask, the jester that wants to be free’.
Freedom comes at a high cost and It’s to my understanding that the band knows they will never please everyone and they aren’t trying to. I won’t pretend that everything here is for me, but this is my favourite band of all time and it’s an incredible album full of amazing ideas that sometimes falter through experimentation and struggling with that identity of who and what they want to be in 2019.
With that said, I genuinely do love I, The Mask. Were I to rank it on my listing from a few weeks ago it would place at number 8, up there in my mind with Come Clarity and Reroute To Remain in terms of impact, aggression, production, the staying power of the choruses and general darker themes.
Anders described every album the band creates a photograph as to who they are now. In Flames aren’t the angry Gothenburg kids anymore making music inspired by Ceremonial Oath and Iron Maiden, they aren’t influenced by 2000s nu-metal bands or proving ground in the Sony rock territory, I, The Mask feels like the band is finally comfortable in their identity, that they have found their footing and will only get stronger from here. If they can commit to a sound they want to pursue instead of searching, they will once again make records up there as their best of the best. Until then, It’s a love letter to their mid era sound that can’t fully commit to what it wants to be, but when the band finds focus here, they make music that’s truly special. Not everything flows together seamlessly and its a little fragmented because of that yet despite that, I, The Mask is a confident return to form in almost every respect. In Flames we trust, and always will.