In Flames
A Sense of Purpose


3.3
great

Review

by Jom STAFF
May 17th, 2008 | 876 replies


Release Date: 2008 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The legendary Swedes' ninth studio album is a slower, softer affair with a few irritating qualities; however, stellar instrumentation and admirable chance-taking make 'A Sense of Purpose' a refreshing listen.

When In Flames announced their ninth studio album title as A Sense of Purpose, the metal community was abuzz. Does the title have any significance to the direction the band elected to take on the album? Is it just a red herring? What exactly is the band's exact purpose and approach to the album? What do In Flames have to prove, if anything, since they stormed onto the scene in 1994 with Lunar Strain, which preceded fan favorites The Jester Race, Whoracle, and Colony? The short answer, of course, is nothing. At the turn of the millennium, Clayman began to indicate signs of the band's sharpened focus on harmony and melody, but this album yielded utterances that turned into full-blown complaints that the band had gone soft starting with Reroute to Remain and running all the way through 2006's Come Clarity. Come Clarity, in particular, was an astounding success for the band, arguably because it marked the first time the band was played on American radio - a notable and well-deserved accomplishment for these legendary Swedes. The band's prestige in the metal community is unquestionably distinguished, arguably because they have never written the same record twice. However, the aforementioned gripes intensified over the years, and they will continue to intensify with 2008's A Sense of Purpose.

The bottom line with A Sense of Purpose is this: fans of 21st-century In Flames will enjoy this record, as it is best described as a coalescence of Reroute to Remain and Come Clarity. The Reroute elements found on In Flames's latest offering are best highlighted in the album's song tempos and liberal synthesizer incorporation; for the most part, the album travels at a steady, moderate tempo, and the electronics and synthesizers are in heavy use on A Sense of Purpose. The Come Clarity allusions, meanwhile, can be heard in Jesper Strömblad's and Björn Gelotte's trademark harmonizations and melodies, coupled with a steadfast rhythm section in bassist Peter Iwers and drummer Daniel Svensson. Anders Fridén, who has recently become the oft-criticized vocalist, continues to strictly adhere to clean singing in his middle and upper registers, practically eliminating his harsher, coarser vocals save for a few memorable instances. In all, fans holding out for another 1990s-era In Flames record are going to have to bury those hopes and dreams. In Flames sound poised to continue down this more mainstreamed sound, and who can blame them, given the increasing successes of their 2000-and-on records?

This is not to say that In Flames have written the same album four albums in a row, because this is not the case. There are noteworthy improvements across the board: the two ax wielders' lead/rhythm dynamic is both improved and impressive, Svensson's machine-gun percussive shots and increased use of double bass and lower-end toms into his repertoire gives the record a pulse, and the layered synthesizers consistently accentuate the harmony heard on A Sense of Purpose. However, there are some unfortunate glaring weaknesses: Fridén's all-too-frequent, grating whines and phlegmatic clean vocals can completely decimate any momentum garnered by his bandmates (his harsher vocals have always better suited In Flames over the years), A Sense of Purpose's softer overall sound leads to a tepid album tempo, and it is difficult to decipher between the homogeneous track intros without multiple listens. Fridén's performance overall is good, but he shines best with his more aggressive vocal delivery. The biggest disappointment, however, is not in the album's tenuous vocal offerings or the slower tempos, but in its markedly less abrasive sound.

Despite the aforementioned faults, Svensson's and Iwer's thunderous execution, the atmospheric, sylphlike electronics and synthesizers, Strömblad's and Gelotte's zealous harmonies and melodies, and Fridén's better performances are what ultimately make A Sense of Purpose a great record. While tracks with shorter runtimes (e.g. "The Mirror's Truth," "Move Through Me," "March to the Shore") tend to be more aggressive - and therefore more appealing to longtime In Flames listeners - the Swedes can also write some powerful musical sagas (such as the aforementioned "The Chosen Pessimist," but also "Alias" and "Delight and Angers"). "Move Through Me" and "The Chosen Pessimist," despite being placed in sequential order at the album's apex, are practically polar opposites: the former is a more bellicose, assertive track bolstered by synthesizers and an abiding vocal performance, while the latter is an elegiac and epic 8+ minute juggernaut. Both serve as great tracks to illustrate the array of sounds heard on A Sense of Purpose, although they are not the best cuts on the album.

A Sense of Purpose's bookends, "The Mirror's Truth" and "March to the Shore," are outstanding tracks because they best showcase the band's strengths and highlight Svensson, Strömblad, and Gelotte. The album opener features a stellar opening harmony and solo as well as Svensson's agile double bass and pounding tom/snare combinations; as the song progresses, Fridén's rougher and cleaner layered vocals ("Should I join the feast, should I acknowledge the leash? / A future in captivity, I'm not who I'm supposed to be / Without even trying, let this night explode") are complemented by copious amounts of layered synthesizers and effects. "March to the Shore," a track that could easily be mistaken for a Come Clarity clone, effectively distances itself as soon as the new guitar progressions and deeper vocals kick in ("Everything has its end, I've done my deed, the final bullet was always meant for me / Pushing the faith, build on our rage / Falling ideals, broken seals, march to the shore: you are a killer"). "I'm the Highway" and "Alias" contain poltergeist and shadow imagery and symbolism, and Fridén incorporates these darker personas with admirable ease ("I am my deepest shadow, something I can't ever neglect / Rise above these ashes before they fade away / In dark moments, I know better; within destruction, I see clearly" as heard in "I'm the Highway," and "Don't believe the mask, it attempts to lie . . . / Don't tell me - tell my ghost - 'cause I blame him for all I don't want to know, I found secrets about life untold," as taken from "Alias"). Another track that deserves to be singled out is the anthemic "Condemned," which contains insanely catchy guitar hooks, spectacular drumming, and an engrossing sing-along chorus that highlights one of Fridén's best moments on the album.

As evidenced by these examples, Fridén's darker-tinged lyricism also continues to revolve around themes of discord and dissention, but also delineates themes of extrication and redemption. Also, if listeners picked up The Mirror's Truth EP this year, they will find "Eraser," "Tilt," and "Abnegation" (not the same version you heard previously, by the way - this revisited version is clearly superior in every area) on the Japanese release of this record. "Eraser," in particular, is definitely a worthwhile listen for its near-industrial vibe, incendiary guitars, and dominating drum performance. These pseudo-B-sides are a definite improvement over duds such as "Sober and Irrelevant" and "Sleepless Again."

If In Flames haven't already alienated fans clamoring for another Whoracle or Colony, they surely will with this album. However, fans who have come to adapt to the band's softer, more melodic style will come away pleased with this record. There are a number of aggravating qualities to A Sense of Purpose, especially Fridén's Byzantine vocal performances and a notably softer, sometimes weaker sound, but Iwers' growling, tenacious bass lines are always heard with remarkable clarity, Svensson delivers an impeccable drumming performance, and Jesper Strömblad and Björn Gelotte unquestionably shine as one of the best guitar tandems in metal today. A Sense of Purpose also flows pretty well; for the most part, each track seems to sonically bleed into the next with little disengagement or distraction. In all, In Flames indicates that they have a crystal-clear sense of purpose: to continue to explore multiple avenues and arrangements, further their musical dexterity by taking chances, and forever embrace the challenge of remaining a relevant force in the metal world.

Jom recommends:

Move Through Me
Condemned
The Mirror's Truth
Eraser



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3
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Comments:Add a Comment 
violentmog
March 25th 2008


73 Comments


Great review, I feel the same way. This album is good but not great, yet not horrible by any means.

DWittisarockstar
March 25th 2008


1501 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Good review, I can't see how Alias isn't a recommended track though. That synth is so sick.

Jom
Staff Reviewer
March 26th 2008


2713 Comments


Nicely done. I would have mine review out if I could right now.

Well, go ahead and post it, just be sure to link to the mySpace stream in your review / in the first comment. I got an advance! :D

VicariousIntent
March 26th 2008


1600 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Very nice review, you've explained everything so well I'm hesitant to put out my own review when the time comes. Really very well done.

rasputin
March 26th 2008


14555 Comments


I don't expect much from this. Good review nonetheless.

ninjuice
March 26th 2008


6760 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

We're allowed to rate it if we've heard the stream, right?
Right now this looks like a 3.

rasputin
March 26th 2008


14555 Comments


yeah, you can rate it whenever.

botb
March 26th 2008


9783 Comments


i will need to let this settle and hear it a few more times before i can rate it. that's fosho.

Kage
March 26th 2008


1172 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Nice review, Jom.

I can't see this being a 3.5 for me, though based on what I've heard. Maybe a 2.5 or 3, like you said.

Pebster49
March 26th 2008


2993 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Im starting to really like this record...minus the first 3 songs and its as good as Clayman....so im on the border of 3.5 and 4.

kyleisgreat
March 26th 2008


79 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

The chosen pessimist was the only song that really stood out to me... his lyrics were pretty bad on the whole album though!

btw nice reviewThis Message Edited On 03.26.08

Captain North
March 26th 2008


6792 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Personally I like the album as a whole, alot more than any of their older stuff (but I'm a 00's kid, what do you expect?). The Chosen Pessimist and Alias would have to be my favourite songs, but the whole damn lot is good...well, except for the downsides of Delights and Angers (could have been on STYE) and March to the Shore (as mentioned, could have been on Come Clarity).

Altmer
March 26th 2008


5652 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Yeah my rating for this is around 2.5/3 territory. I'll have a review up for this as well considering I'm the kind of fan that really dug those old albums you mentioned, specifically Jester Race and Colony, but also Clayman. I haven't been too thrilled with their newer stuff though.This Message Edited On 03.26.08

Willie
Moderator
March 26th 2008


16149 Comments


I liked this album... I thought it was the best since Colony. Now if they could get the Soilwork singer and put him into In Flames we could have one really good band.

Digging: Mors Principium Est - Dawn Of The 5th Era

Altmer
March 26th 2008


5652 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Getting the Soilwork singer would be trading a bad vocalist for a meh one.

Willie
Moderator
March 26th 2008


16149 Comments


Getting the Soilwork singer would be trading a bad vocalist for a meh one.
Well, if you have a bicycle and upgrade to a Toyota Corrolla then it's still going to be a great improvement ;)

Altmer
March 26th 2008


5652 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I'm gonna keep the bicycle where I live. Over here using bicycles to commute is much easier than using cars. This Message Edited On 03.26.08

Wizard
March 26th 2008


19648 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Excellent review Jom! I listened to this a couple times last night and was quite impressed. You summed up my thoughts about this album perfectly.

Digging: Horseback and Locrian - New Dominions

south_of_heaven 11
March 26th 2008


5438 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

While I find myself really enjoying this review, I also find myself really hating this album. It's filled with laughable melodies and even worse lyrics/vocals.

1.5/5

Cesar
March 26th 2008


2732 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I realized that a reason why I can't enjoy this as much as I should is the vocals. In the songs that the vocals are good they do very well, but in the songs they are bad it is extremely bad. I find the album to be kind of inconsistent and a few of the songs are epileptic and are being hold together by the same guitar melody running through it.

Besides from that and a couple of songs that are bad all around
very bad, this album is solid and the music & melodies are overall excellent. 3.5/5 for me, Come Clarity is better.
This Message Edited On 03.26.08



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