Released: 2008, Koch records (USA) Nuclear Blast Records (Europe)
Reviewer: The Crimson King
At this point in the career of In Flames, fans of the band can generally be split into three categories: First off you have the “old school” fans who swear by their earlier albums that helped create and classify the now famous Gothenburg melodic death sound. These fans generally jumped off the fan bus somewhere around the band’s 2002 release REROUTE TO REMAIN (or in some cases even earlier with the CLAYMAN album), and basically disown anything the band produced after that. Second, we have the ‘nu skool” fans that were introduced to the band through MTV and Ozzfest, and generally jumped on board somewhere around 2004’s SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR ESCAPE. These fans generally prefer the band’s “modern” sound, with many scratching their heads when songs like “Moonshield” or “Episode 666” make their way onto a live set list. Finally you have “the lifers” who have been following, and sticking with, the band from the early days. While, in most cases, these fans vastly prefer the earlier work, they have found redeeming qualities with the songs and albums that the band has put out over the past few years.
Personally, I fall under the third category. I discovered the band in 1997 with WHORACLE and was totally blown away by the album. I immediately sought out THE JESTER RACE, and after hearing that, In Flames was solidified as one of my favorite bands. While those albums (along with COLONY) remain my favorites, I have also derived much enjoyment from albums like CLAYMAN, REROUTE TO REMAIN, and COME CLARITY. As far as I am concerned the only stinker they ever dropped was SOUNDTRACK (and even that had a few good songs). At least, that was, until I heard A SENSE OF PURPOSE.
With their new release, In Flames has redefined the term “bland”. The album serves up 12 tracks that are totally unmemorable. Throughout their career the band has always had their finger on the pulse when it came to melody. From the unforgettable, “sing along” like guitar leads ever present in their earlier work, to the (love em or hate em) catchy as hell choruses in songs like “Trigger,” “Only for the Weak,” and “Leeches”, the band’s songs always provided a hook. What A SENSE OF PURPOSE delivers is a collection of songs that sound more like b-sides and outtakes that weren’t good enough to make the past few albums (and depending on your opinion of those albums, that can really be saying something!). The lead single and the album’s first track, “The Mirror’s Truth,” is the closest thing the album has to “hit potential”. At just over 3 minutes the song keeps a decent tempo, hits us with a painfully short COLONY era guitar lead after the first verse, (which never shows up again in the song…or in any other song on the cd) and provides a memorable, albeit abridged, chorus. The song has holes galore in it, but being that it clocks in at 3:02 in length it does not give the listener enough time to really recognize its shortcomings. The same can’t be said for the next few tracks. For the most part they are indiscernible from each other. All are mired in mid tempo drudgery, boring guitar parts, and lyrics filled with all the angst and despair of you average 15 year old who just found out that Hot Topic is out of stock on the new Korn cd. The only song worth mentioning is track seven, “Move Through Me,” which picks up the pace a bit and again gives us a catchy chorus to latch onto. I think it is worth mentioning that this track is the second shortest on the album (3:08) next to “The Mirror’s Truth” and probably benefits from its compact length in the same way as mentioned before.
If you make it through the first seven songs you are “rewarded” with the 8+ minute “The Chosen Pessimist” which should easily go down in history as the biggest turd the band has ever recorded. Clearly meant to be the band’s experimental piece, the song is so sparse and uninteresting that the only thing it succeeds in doing is providing is a cure for insomnia. And one only needs to listen to Anders singing in the verses to see that he is now a full graduate, with honors, from the Jonathan Davis School of Vocal Styling. The album ends in similar fashion to SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR ESCAPE, in that some of the better songs are positioned at the end. While neither track is anything to write home about, both “Sober and Irrelevant” and “Condemned” are songs worth mentioning, with the latter providing the most memorable chorus on the album.
Overall A SENSE OF PURPOSE proves to be In Flames weakest album to date by far. That being said, I am sure there is a large section of their fan base that will get behind the album and enjoy it. In Flames proves to be on of the most difficult bands to review, since the cross section of their fans are so polarized in their views of what constitutes a good album by them. That is the reason I went into detail in the beginning of this review talking about the types of fans they have and the albums appreciated by them. This album will definitely play best to the previously mentioned type two fan, the individual who got into the band around the release of SOUNDTRACK and preferred that album over COME CLARITY. But even for that fan I feel like this album will ultimately be a disappointment. For the other two types of fans mentioned this album should be avoided at all costs. In the end the feeling you are left with after listening to A SENSE OF PURPOSE may be best summed up by Anders himself in the song “Disconnected” when he proclaims “I feel like shit…But at least I feel something”.