It was more than a decade ago when I was first introduced to In Flames, the Swedish band that unearthed an entirely new realm of metal amid the stagnant American scene. And while trends have come and gone throughout the course of their lengthy tenure, the band remains a solid testament to what heavy music should be.

Sounds of a Playground Fading is the band’s tenth release overall and first since the departure of founding member and guitarist, Jesper Strömblad. Despite this startling shift in personnel, the band forged ahead to deliver their most solid outing since 2004’s Soundtrack to Your Escape. And while many may cry “sell out” to Sounds’ more commercial approach, the music speaks for itself and proves that in metal, “louder, faster, heavier” is not always the best bet.

As with past releases, Sounds of a Playground Fading showcases the band member’s extreme versatility and total command of their instruments. The songwriting is extremely solid, extending an obvious progression from their more recent releases and favoring simplicity over the bromidic genre norms. The title track, for example, opens with a clean, subdued introduction that later develops into one of the band’s best riffs to date, a clear exercise in restraint for guitarist Björn Gelotte, who’s virtuosic talent is bared tastefully through the outing, unlike most players of his towering caliber.

The album’s first single, “Deliver Us,” offers a similarly controlled build-up before exploding into a sea of catchy riffs and hooks, with frontman Anders Friden taking his vocals to the next level, singing and screaming with a new-found assurance. The following tracks carry the band’s signature guitar work, laden with dual harmonies and solos that rarely disappoint, while drummer Daniel Svensson’s rhythms carry a strong and relentless precision.

Over the course of 13 tracks, Sounds of a Playground Fading covers an expansive spectrum of rock and heavy metal. From start to finish, the band has used the outing to demonstrate their preeminent malleability, shifting through vocal ranges, speed, and overall mood. By closing the album with two of its strongest tracks, “A New Dawn” and “Liberation,” they end with a crushing culmination. It’s reputedly the work of a band in the midst of their prime, not two decades into their incessant careers.

What’s increasingly impressive with Sounds of a Playground Fading lies in In Flames’ seemingly effortless ability to create sharp, memorable hooks through each perfectly timed track. And although in some ways, the album may lack the fervor of The Jester Race or Colony, it’s extreme vivacity is undeniable. Sounds of a Playground Fading displays a new chapter in the band’s stylistic expansion, proving that even without Strömblad, In Flames remain a force to be reckoned with.

Sounds of a Playground Fading track listing:

  1. Sounds of a Playground Fading
  2. Deliver Us
  3. All for Me
  4. The Puzzle
  5. Fear is the Weakness
  6. Where the Dead Ships Dwell
  7. The Attic
  8. Darker Times
  9. Ropes
  10. Enter Tragedy
  11. Jester’s Door
  12. A New Dawn
  13. Liberation

For more info on In Flames:

Official Site