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  • “Clayman” is, simply put, an indescribable achievement in the metal genre, making much of what preceded it sound downright obsolete. It’s as melodic as the best classic metal, as precisely played as the best thrash metal, and almost as intense as the best death metal. In other words, it’s sort of like Iron Maiden meets Megadeth meets Carcass. With musicianship and creativity to spare, In Flames were at the top of their game with “Clayman.” As “Clayman” amply demonstrates, In Flames are one of the most talented metal bands walking the Earth today. Anders Frieden is a terrific vocalist, easily one of the best in metal. He delivers his throat-ripping screams with the utmost intensity, without abandoning the melodic sensibility that defines In Flames’s sound. There’s some diversity to be found in Anders’s performance as well: the foreboding near-whispher on the opening “Bullet Ride,” and “Only for the Weak,” the clean singing on “Square Nothing.” The band behind him, led by guitar hero Jesper Stromblad, is equally astounding. They tear through a constant succession of razor-sharp riffs, hard-driving guitar harmonies and complex rhythms, and they make it look easy. Many bands wouldn’t even attempt the song structures that In Flames pull off routinely.Above all, “Clayman” is a triumph of songwriting. This album has some of THE best melodies I’ve ever heard, in any genre. More importantly, though, In Flames don’t just try to coast on their impressive melodies. On almost every song, the band deftly mixes foot-tapping catchiness and head-banging heaviness. One minute they can seduce you with an addictive melody or guitar harmony, the next they can aim straight for the jugular with a volley of heavy riffs and harsh shouts. It works the other way, too: In Flames know exactly when to take a break from heaviness and lighten things up a bit. They’re intent on not sticking with the same sound for too long, giving the listener a nice variety to chew on.Although the songs on “Clayman” are only about four minutes long on average, most contain more energy and chops than many entire albums. The masterpieces come early and often on this album. “Bullet Ride” features some whispered vocals and acoustic guitars in the verses, but it’s just a setup for the anthemic and heavy chorus. “Pinball Map” starts out with machine-gun riffing that sets a new standard for catchiness before giving way to an equally memorable melody. “…As the Future Repeats Today” is just plain mesmerizing, with time signatures and guitar harmonies that will slay even the most discriminating metalheads. “Square Nothing” starts out as a soft, acoustic ballad, but then stops on a dime and turns on the heaviness out of nowhere. “Brush the Dust Away” is another classic, with ripping guitars, a chugging bassline, and some wildly infectious grooves.What’s most impressive about “Clayman” is that I have to fight really hard to keep myself from commenting on every single song (wouldn’t want to put any readers to sleep). Pretty much everything here is no less than great. I think “Clayman” is definite improvement from its predecessor “Colony,” and maybe even better than “Whoracle” and “The Jester Race.” But ranking this album in the In Flames catalogue is really beside the point. All you need to know is that “Clayman” is brilliant in every sense of the word. If you don’t have it yet, what are you waiting for?

    Posted on December 20, 2009