Three years after In Flames revitalised themselves in many people's eyes with the highly enjoyable Sounds Of A Playground Fading, the co-pioneers of the Gothenburg Sound have returned with their eleventh album Siren Charms. As the In Flames sound has been steadily evolving (or devolving in some people's view) since the early 2000's it was fairly safe to say that this would not be "Playground part 2" but it is always interesting to see what direction a new In Flames album will take.
Siren Charms is definitely an evolution, not a revolution in the In Flames sound, but whether it's a good one is debatable. As with all In Flames albums there are moments to be enjoyed; Opener In Plain View makes for a fine beginning (and works very well as a live opener) and would sit comfortably on any of the last three In Flames albums. Second track Everything's Gone sounds like it's been lifted from Soundtrack To Your Escape (that's a compliment for those who aren't too fond of that particular album) while Paralyzed includes a nice clean vocal turn from Anders Friden and a nice solo but the riffwork sounds too watered down and low in the mix to give the full impact the song feels like it should have.
Siren Charms features far more clean vocals from Anders Friden than any previous release, and it is clear he has worked hard on his clean vocals as have improved noticeably, save for the spoken word turn on the album's title track which is horrible for lack of a better expression. The problem is that many of the songs to feature this style of singing are so far removed from what one might expect from In Flames that to a large part of the fanbase they will just not be palatable. In the past In Flames have proved very adept at "the metal ballad" (think Come Clarity's title track for example) but songs like Through Oblivion and to a lesser extent With Eyes Wide Open are virtually approaching soft rock territory and it's a step too far.
Moving into the second half of the album, When The World Explodes features a guest turn from Swedish soprano Emilia Feldt which will work for some people and not for others. Rusted Nail is the weakest lead single of possibly any In Flames album (though it does gain some life when you see it in the flesh) while of the remaining songs only Monsters In The Ballroom makes any kind of impression at all.
Ultimately, Siren Charms is quite a disappointing album overall. No one is realistically expecting In Flames to make another Colony or Jester Race but Sounds Of A Playground Fading showed they could update their sound and still sound great in the process. Sadly Siren Charms feels like a giant step backwards from that. One wonders just how much of an impact that this album being put out on a major record label (Sony) if any had on the sound of this album. That will probably never be known but In Flames are capable overall of much better than this.