Review Summary: Another In Flames album, another style change, yet strong production values and relentless drumming remain, even if not quite as spectacular as previous albums
Album number nine is most certainly impressive for any band, and an album that occassionaly shines through with some of their best work to date is even better. What In Flames undertook in 2000 with Clayman (still their most consistent album in my opinion) was a major stylistic change, partially leaving Death Metal's usual constraints behind and adapting a slightly more fun, american sound that not only expanded their fanbase, but brought around some of modern metals finest works. However, the main problem with A Sense of Purpose is its an under-achiever, and at times feels simply lazy, exactly the same problem with 2004's Soundtrack to Your Escape.
But lets start with the good stuff. Yet again, In Flames have made an album that many could argue incorporates some of the groups finest work to date, especially in the signature guitar licks that have helped make their work so distinctive in a genre cluttered with many so-so bands. Tracks such as "The Mirror's Truth", "Drenched in Fear" and "March to the Shore" are littered with these aforementioned techniques, and they help raise the album from an average par status. They also mean that they actually make this album sound like the group actually believe in what they are playing. "
"The Mirror's Truth" kicks into life with some nasty fretwork that almost sounds like punk, followed by a nice snare fill and a brief pause, before the albums most balls out track lurches into life. The chorus in this song is, for me at least one of In Flames best, partially because Anders actually proves his singing voice is actually rather good. Another song worth a shout for its chorus is "Condemned" that is not only the albums heaviest track, but because Anders gives us some superb growling in it, right on par with his best vocals from "Come Clarity". "Drenched in Fear" partially works so well because it sounds like the slightly worse half brother of "Crawl through Knives" and "Pinball Map" but is probably the best song on the album to show of Gelotte's and Stromblad's workmanship. The song is, at least from a guitar players perspective, brilliant. The album's final track, "March to the Shore" is probably the only one In Flames "old" fanbase will care about. Sounding like it should belong on "Come Clarity" it features a good, yet simple guitar solo and rather interesting vocals from Anders due to the presence of Anders old school death growl coming through in the background of each verse, right before the chorus. By far this album's best track overall.
However, with the change has come several bad points for the album. One of them is that this record sounds like it has been polished until it gleams and as a result has very little substance. "Delight and Angers" starts out with a promising heavy crunch of guitar, yet fades into a weak vocal performance and weird bridging sections that are unfortunately constant throughout the album. "Disconnected" suffers from the same fate, starting out promising and then falling flat, mainly due to Friden's contribution. At least this one has a good bridging part, unlike its follower "Sleepless Again". Starting off badly, with repetitive guitar and finishing badly with Anders weak vocals, this is by far the albums worst track.
Obvious American radio hit-friendly "Alias" in many ways feels like "Only for the Weak" without the trimmings, and to be fair is pretty catchy, but yet again suffers from weak bridging parts, going into a mid section that doesn't go anywhere. One of the albums most disappointing tracks for me however was "I'm the Highway", starting out with a great guitar line that sounds like "Colony" through and through, but again falls short as the band fail to build upon it. That said, the last minute or so of this song is actually pretty good, with Anders stepping up the vocal contribution considerably and to good effect.
So, in conclusion, A Sense of Purpose is certainley worth a shout, mostly due to the fact that it is, in many ways In Flames best attempt to return to their roots in all four of their "new" style albums. Gelotte's and Stromblads guitar work is, for the most part great, especially on "The Mirrors Truth", "Condemned", "Drenched in Fear" and "March to the Shore". The album also in parts is varied beyond first imaginations, especially on the eight minute epic "The Chosen Pessimist". But, perhaps like all bands after such a good career, "A Sense of Purpose" at times sounds laboured, unimaginative and everything an In Flames record shouldn't be-boring.
1. The Mirror's Truth
2. The Chosen Pessimist
4. Drenched in Fear
5. March to the Shore