In Flames - A Sense of Purpose Review

After much thought, I decided on the one word that sums up In Flames’ 18-year career: polarity. When it comes to the Swedish metallers discography, there’s no middle ground amongst their fanbase. The Gothenburg purists despise In Flames recent fascination with synth-heavy alternative rock while new fans listen to The Jester Race and wonder why lead vocalist Anders Fridén is so angry.

With A Sense of Purpose - In Flames’ 9th full-length album - the aging Swedish metallers continue to nurture newly planted musical roots that were first heard on 2004’s Soundtrack To Your Escape. For the vintage In Flames contingent, your nightmares aren’t over. A Sense of Purpose tip-toes on a thin border between accessible melodic death metal and mainstream alternative rock that’s a far cry from the days of Lunar Strain’s complex melodies and lyrics.

Compared to 2006’s Come Clarity, A Sense of Purpose finds In Flames moving at a curiously slower pace. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s a new level of maturity. In Flames are content with allowing mid-tempo rhythms, Anders’ clean vocals and lyrics to stand as A Sense of Purpose’s main attractions.

Unfortunately, Anders lyrical content approaches levels below mediocrity and his Emo-esque wails only accentuate the simplistic verses. Out of every In Flames album to date, A Sense of Purpose offers the most mainstream-friendly lyrics and vocals. On “Disconnected,” Anders bellows “You receive what you give / And this is like nothing / I feel like shit / But at least I feel something” like a famished kitten starving for warm milk. The basic chorus hooks continue on “Alias”, which despite a catchy synth arrangement, can pass off as an elementary Sesame Street sing-a-long.

For roughly the first six tracks of A Sense of Purpose, In Flames never turns off the cruise control. Opening track “The Mirror’s Truth” sounds virtually indistinguishable to “Disconnected,” right down to nearly identical time frames when driving guitar riffs lead into Anders high-note howling. Same can be said for the repetitive guitar work on “I’m the Highway.”

However, In Flames starts to show faint signs of life towards A Sense of Purpose’s second half. Experimentation runs rampant on the 8-minute “The Chosen Pessimist,” yielding satisfactory results. The brooding synth work compliments Jesper Strömblad and Björn Gelotte downhearted guitar melodies, creating a song that feels emotionally genuine. On album closer “March to the Shore,” In Flames revives their aggressive tendencies by roaring out the gate with a melodically punishing groove riff.

But A Sense of Purpose’s three best tracks will remain unbeknownst to most. Why? Because they’re only available as bonus tracks for A Sense of Purpose’s Japan release. The opening synth/guitar combo on “Eraser” leads into a killer melody that’s capped off with a brief, but clean, solo. Both “Tilt” and “Abnegation” (the latter also available on Bam Margera’s Viva La Bands, Vol. 2) offer more complex song structures than a majority of A Sense of Purpose’s original 12-tracks. It’s mind-boggling as to how these bonus tracks didn’t make it on the worldwide release. Call it “International polarizing.”

"A Sense of Purpose" is on sale April 4, 2008 from KOCH.

Jason Perry


New Reviews