Review: In Flames “Clayman” [Nuclear Blast]

Review: In Flames “Clayman” [Nuclear Blast]

- in Reviews
Score 94%
94 %
User Rating : 4.3 (2 votes)

The view from the top remains unclouded

Two years ago I wrote a scathing review about how immensely pitiful the 2020 EP version of this record turned out. A hideous re-recording of one of the most infamous melodic death metal records ever, released by the perhaps most divisive metal band of the 90s and 2000s.

Today, there is nothing divisive about this formation anymore, since most of us generally agree upon the fact that In Flames took a turn for the worst later on but let’s go back to one of their most discussed albums because Clayman depicts the proverbial landmine, where the general consent among listeners keeps falling apart in every single discussion since its original release.

Is this the record where Anders Fríden truly started experimenting with his awkward, oddly irritating high-pitched “harsh” vocals? Yes, indeed. Is this the record where In Flames threw themselves into the sewers of the scene to never return again? Not yet, not quite! Shoving nostalgia aside (which is not entirely possible, I gotta admit that), Clayman is still the crowning moment of their lengthy career. There have been genre-defining elements and tracks on all of their previous releases (and about zero on their post-2000 output), but this opus here is the melting pot of all their trademarks, showcased in a cohesive 45 minute package without any weak songs.

With the predecessor Colony already foreshadowing what was to come with Clayman (a beefier, brighter production job, some reluctant use of clean and spoken word vocals, keyboards, immensely more powerful drumming) there shouldn’t have been so many surprise elements for the initiated. Expanding on the groundwork of their previous creation, the experimentation within the boundaries of the Gothenburg sound had reached a kind of climax, resulting in some of the catchiest hook-driven heavy music there is without compromise in the songwriting aspects. No, Clayman is not complex, proggy melodeath with sophisticated, intricate rhythm structuring and yadda-yadda-yadda… it’s just a very unique form of metal that immediately plants its seeds deep into your skull like the most assertive of pop music, but without the shallowness of many fetid acts in said scene. Why that remains to be a point of concern to many or even a bad thing at all is beyond my understanding.

If you managed to avoid this album (why would you?) until the present day, “Satellites and Astronauts”, “Pinball Map” and “Square Nothing” remain perfectly representative songs for the uniqueness of the band in this era. Despite the massive growth of melodic death metal and respective trend-following bands in the first half of the 00s, I’m still hard-pressed to find any material that sounds truly similar to the weird power ballad in space-like adventure of “Satellites…”, which is perhaps the most original song these guys ever wrote and features one of Fríden’s (few) finest “nu-style” shriek performances (+ a perfect chorus to boot) and one of their most beautiful guitar solos ever. “Pinball Map” has got the heaviest chugs and utmost thrashiness of their entire career with another perfect chorus and a bridge section that will turn your neck into apple sauce. “Square Nothing” compares the urgency of the latter with the spacey balladry of the former and wins through the impressive combination of the two extremes. If these songs don’t grab you in any way… well, that’s also beyond my understanding.

People who hated this when it came out more than two decades ago might remain hostile towards this album in 2022, but I’m still waiting for melodic death metal material to come out that’s actually stronger, more creative and simply better entertainment than either Dark Tranquility‘s Projector or – yes, indeed – Clayman.

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