In Flames’ Foregone: 2-Cent Review

The end of the world is coming if the status quo continues. We all know that. But is there still a sliver of hope? That’s the question everyone is returning to — ironically, as we try to shake off the collective stupor that the global pandemic inflicted upon us.

It’s also the overarching theme of Foregone, the brilliantly crafted 14th album by Swedish melodic-metal masters In Flames. That’s right: metal. Whereas many of the band’s previous recent records fell under the umbrella of heavy rock, this 12-song tour de force delivers a punishing blow befitting the dire topic at hand.

To begin, Foregone is not a throwback record and does not find In Flames returning to the Gothenburg sound that was the hallmark of their early years. (If you’re looking for that, check out the Halo Effect, featuring a cadre of In Flames alums.) Rather, here we have modern-day In Flames’ strongest outing since Come Clarity.

More so than on any other In Flames LP, frontman Anders Fridén wrestles with the same issue throughout Foregone (as in, we’re screwed), making it their most cohesive body of work ever. And with this new journey, In Flames deserve another chance from those who fell in love with them early on, only to batter them later for the direction Friden took with their contemporary sound. Proving that point is the brilliant title track, which is divided into two catchy songs and also stands as In Flames’ most epic composition to date:

Not enough of a selling point? Then let Chris Broderick sway you. This is In Flames’ first record featuring the ex-Megadeth guitarist Chris Broderick, the muscleman guitarist who’s lighting up their concerts. His acrobatic solos are reason alone to explore the new terrain In Flames are carving out with their evolving sound. (Look no further than his spotlight moment at the 3:00 mark on “Bleeding Out.”)

Foregone also makes the argument that Fridén finally deserves credit for sticking to his guns as he evolved In Flames’ sound over the past 23 years. Give this guy props for diplomatically yet resolutely braving years of criticism from fans and critics for branching out in a different, more mainstream direction than his friends and peers.

As with Gothenburg’s other best lyricists, At the Gates’ Tomas Lindberg and Dark Tranquillity’s Mikael Stanne, Friden is maturing beyond expressing rudimentary anger, as all those guys did when they were kids isolated in their Scandinavian homeland. Lindberg has become the surrealist, Stanne the rationalist and Fridén the romantic.

His examination of humanity’s encroaching conclusion is riddled with references to the unavoidable calamity that is climate change, starting with the first song. While it marks the first-ever instrumental track to kick off an In Flames album — hard to believe for such a long-running metal band — its name is suitably “The Beginning of All Things That Will End.”

Fridén makes his entrance shortly thereafter, singing the following on “Meet Your Maker”: “In time, we all disappear … A countdown has begun/ At the end of the masquerade/ You’re time’s up, now there’s hell to pay/ It’s only down from here.” Making it clear he’s talking about environmental devastation, he references the decimation of forests and rivers, and almost certainly climate migration patterns when he addresses “the innocent washed away,” later on the record.

Fridén crystallizes his message on the irresistibly catchy single “The Great Deceiver.” No doubt waxing about COVID lockdowns, he growls: “Back to reality again/ Times are changing for the worse/ We are doomed, we are cursed/ Nothing but pain/ This is the end … The sky’s on fire/ And the angels cry. … An anxious world won’t forget … This is the final countdown.”

Issuing an album about the end of the world is eerily timely, so to speak, after last week’s announcement that the global Doomsday Clock has moved forward once again. (If you think metal fans are obsessed with doom, look into what atomic scientists are saying these days.) But Foregone could be considered, in many ways, the culmination of all the In Flames albums that preceded it.

Yes, they previously released a song called “The End” on 2016’s Battles. But whereas that record and much of the band’s past material found Fridén sharing his personal struggles with identity and mortality, on this occasion he mostly focuses on the welfare of the world. Take “In the Dark,” which features lyrics that simultaneously capture the essence of the 33-year-old band: “We will burn in the fire/ We will be branded in flames … Countless voices in the dark/ Speak of the end that isn’t far,” he sings.

All this begs the question: Does Fridén actually address whether there’s still a possibility for humanity to reverse all its self-inflicted damage? The answer, if you peer deeply into Foregone, is yes. “It’s not what you say, it’s what you do,” he screams on “The Great Deceiver.” It’s a sentence that contains a criticism but also, crucially, a positive message.

There’s still time to act. And there’s still time for In Flames — a band that has endured more criticism than any of its peers — to continue to win us over with newfound brilliance. Fridén closes with plea: “Nothing makes sense, and no one’s listening.” If you’ve ever liked in Flames, you owe it to them to be someone who does listen to Foregone — and hear all the sense it makes.

Artist: In Flames
Album: Foregone
Label: Nuclear Blast
Release date: February 10

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