Album Review : In Flames - Reroute to Remain (2002)
In Flames is a band I've always wanted to enjoy more than I actually did. They always were creative geniuses, standout songwriters unafraid to blend sophisticated melodies, catchy guitar riffs and traditional Scandinavian music influences to imbue their brand of melodic death metal with staying power. They never seemed invested in their own musical identity, though. In Flames appeared to be increasingly bored and frustrated with the limits of melodic death metal on every new album and eventually underwent somewhat of an identity crisis. And their fans (self included) didn't like that. Was it so bad, though? Did we get In Flames' intentions all wrong? I've listened to Reroute to Remain, the first album of the second era of their career, for the first time in over ten years and well... perspective can be a motherfucker.
The main complaint against the "new" In Flames is that they aren't playing metal anymore. This is technically correct. Reroute to Remain is more of an angry and impassioned alternative rock record with intermittent growling vocals. There are death metal riffs on the album, but not one true blue death metal song. Does it really matter? I suppose it depends what you expected from it. If you were hoping for In Flames' classic cerebral brand of headbanging, I can understand why Reroute to Remain sounds like dad rock to you. The opener (also the title song) features keyboards and a clean hook with a hint of pop sensibilities. The guys aren't exactly drawing the full potential of their instruments, but who cares if the song's great? It's just very different. Not to the point you start wondering what the fuck In Flames doing with their career, but I get why people were confused.
The follow-up song System is only growled in the verses. The bridge and the chorus are sung clean and work amazingly well with each other to build momentum, to a point the growling sounds out of place. It's one of my favorite songs on the album. Trigger and Cloud Connected were the two singles promoted from Reroute to Remain and while both are excellent songs, but the atypical, synth-infused Cloud Connected is by far the most memorable of the two. They really committed to using a sound that doesn't belong in metal on that one and it paid off. The overlay of styles on the song makes it catchy and appealing to a broad audience. Reroute to Remain is all about deconstructing In Flames' identity as a metal band and whenever they commit to it, the result is often great. Songs like Dawn of a New Day and Metaphor are moody, atmospheric. They have a folk-ish quality to them and it works well because In Flames really embrace their need for change on it.
Perhaps the only conventionally enjoyable song on Reroute to Remain is Watch them Feed, which is great and not quite out of place on the record. It's somewhat of a crowd pleaser with a powerful and memorable chorus: No purpose/No Scorn/No sorrows will be wasted on you. It's a hidden gem on this album. The downside of Reroute to Remain is unfortunately Anders Friden's vocals, which are all over the place. They are most often drowned out by the guitar and the drums in the production, but it get ugly when they peek through. He pushes his range so high on the chorus of Dawn of a New Day, otherwise a great song, that is becomes unbearably nasal. Anders sounds like has a congested nose on Genesis' cover Land of Confusion, which closes the album. It's grueling. It's like learning how to sing in this new stle and can't quite control his voice.
My friend Bob (who got me into In Flames) and I always suspected that this new direction taken on Reroute to Remain was the byproduct of Anders Friden losing his voice and needing to adapt in order to keep the band going. In hindsight, it's still quite possible but this shift was clearly hinted on the precedent album Clayman, where they cut ties with their more classic melodic death metal style. Reroute to Remain is just an evolution down that path and while it features perhaps the most inconsistent vocal performance in In Flames' discography, it's where they really embrace their need for change and commit to it. It's a divisive record, but you can't blame it for being inconsistent like other In Flames records earlier on their career. Every song has an identity of its own and all share this transcendent, dreamlike quality to it that is the concept of the record (14 songs of conscious insanity). It took me fifteen years to appreciate Reroute to Remain for what it offered and it might just prompt me to reevaluate In Flames' entire catalog.
And you? What did you think of the album? Do you like In Flames? If so, what did you think of that mid-career shift? Leave a comment here or on Facebook!