For any of you that haven’t read my review of “Come Clarity” or seen some of posts in the TMO forums, I’m an absolutely huge fan of IN FLAMES. I readily and openly admit to being a fanboy that gets as giddy as a schoolgirl at anything involving the Swedes. So keep in mind that anything I say here is going to be at least somewhat biased and slanted.
So here we are again, a little over two years removed from their last album, and IN FLAMES is presenting their newest work, “A Sense Of Purpose”. From the get go it’s noticeable that the production is a little less weighed down than “Come Clarity”. The band has also continued its turn back towards the melodic leads of yesteryear, while still looking toward the furthering of their modern sound. I’ve read where people have compared “A Sense Of Purpose” to “Colony” and “Clayman”, but I simply don’t hear it. Granted the amount of leads and solos are starting to creep back to the levels of those days, but the overall sound is definitely a continuation of where IN FLAMES has been heading over the last three albums. Although I will say that “Come Clarity”, and now “A Sense Of Purpose” sound like a more natural continuation from “Clayman” than “Reroute To Remain” and “Soundtrack To Your Escape” did.
Anyway, guitarists Jesper Strömblad and Björne Gelotte get back on track with lots of intertwining melodies and some nicely creative solos. The soulful solo in “Sleepless Again” had me hitting the rewind button a couple of times; the solo in “Move Through Me” is vintage IN FLAMES through and through; the first solo in “Sober And Irrelevant” simply rips (that’s right, there’s two solos in this song, the second sounding like older IF); and the solo in “Condemned” is just enjoyable. Anders Fridén, love him or hate him, continues his vocals in the same direction he’s been heading. His growls have gotten much lighter and he continues to work at developing his clean vocals, which leads to a few really catching choruses, most notably “Alias” and “Delight And Angers”. There is also an increased use of growls and clean vocals dubbed together, which should make things interesting in a live setting. Peter Ewers bass work is sturdy as always, providing an ample backbone, but the bass mix is buried a bit this time so Peter doesn’t get to shine as much as I’d like. To these ears, the all-star performance goes to drummer Daniel Svensson. Partially due to his drums being mixed a bit louder than normal, and partially due to Daniel obviously working his ass off, his performance on “A Sense Of Purpose” shines and drives the whole album. There’s also an increased use of keyboards on the album, at times seeing the instrument even brought to the forefront, bringing to mind some of SOILWORK’s various moments.
Songwriting has always been IN FLAMES specialty, and “A Sense Of Purpose” is no different. However, the writing is a bit less direct than it has been over the last several albums, and may take certain listeners (myself, for one) a few spins for everything to sink in. Once the album does sink in, it’s ultimately catchy and memorable, as IN FLAMES has undoubtedly strived to become. The best tracks, in my opinion, are the faster, driving songs such as “I’m The Highway” and barnburner, “Sober And Irrelevant”, which proves that IN FLAMES is anything but irrelevant. The groove of “Alias” is also different than anything the band has ever done, but works nonetheless. The only real head-scratching song to be found is the rather aimless, eight-minute ballad (for lack of a better term), “The Chosen Pessimist”. Ander’s voice is in full-on whine mode, and the song never really goes anywhere. It does get heavier towards the end, which is nice, and after repeated listens it also starts to grow on you, but the song as whole is somewhat of a failed experiment. The last four tracks are amongst the heaviest and fastest of the album though, which more than makes up for the drudgery of the ballad.
As with anything that IN FLAMES releases that doesn’t sound like a carbon copy of “The Jester Race” or “Whoracle”, there is going to be a very polarizing effect associated with “A Sense Of Purpose”. There’s likely to be equal numbers of those who love it, those who hate it, and those who simply stopped caring four albums back. I’ll have to admit that “A Sense Of Purpose” is far from IN FLAMES’ finest work, but it’s right up there with the best that the band has released recently. And I, for one, couldn’t ask for anything more.
(Online April 19, 2008)