In Flames - Sounds of a Playground Fading

So I've just slipped on the headphones and hit play on the new In Flames album while firing up Microsoft Word. What can I expect from this latest release "Sounds of a Playground Fading"?

I've been an In Flames fan ever since an impulse purchase of "Jester Race" but I haven't always liked everything they've released. The last few albums have led me to expect a good album that is nevertheless flawed by the fact that everything in the mix seems piled one thing on top of another. This leads to the vocals being buried or just hard to distinguish from the rest. Separation in the different layers of a song is a good thing. These last few albums have made me sad.

But now I am happy. I don't know if it took the departure of guitarist Jesper, or whether that departure just caused the band to look at recording and mixing differently, but the final product that I'm listening to now sounds so much better. There is a feeling of space in between the instruments and vocals that has always been lacking with In Flames albums, and it really makes the songs sound SO. MUCH. BETTER. I can hear the vocals without trying, and oh, listen, there are the guitars; no longer the wall of noise.

To be honest, this isn't my first taste of the new album; I recently listened to the song "Deliver Us" on YouTube. I wasn't expecting much, but after about a minute I had to start the track over and really pay attention. The song had space, it had room to breathe. I really don't have the words to describe it, but damn, I liked what I heard.

After listening to "Deliver Us" a few times I had to Google the release date for the whole album because I couldn't wait to hear more. Alas the release date was still awhile off, so I steeled myself for the wait. Luckily I was able to get an advance copy of the album yesterday and now as I write this my ears are joyous. The one song was not a fluke, the rest of the album sounds good as well.

People have been crying for years now that In Flames has sold out. I can't argue that they have moved far away from their death metal roots (though the music itself was never really typical death metal, I always thought they were like the Iron Maiden of death metal.) I've never really had an issue with that myself; I've felt like the music just got more interesting. And I'm never going to bash someone for learning how to sing clean vocals. Besides, it's not like they got completely rid of the harsh vocals. Some people can pull this off and call it a natural evolution, while others just seem like they are pandering to the masses to make a buck. I think In Flames is the epitome of the former. If anyone can pull off a transformation like that this is the band to do it. "Sounds of a Playground Fading" is the next step in that evolution.