IN FLAMES – A Sense of Purpose (2008)

In Flames - A Sense of Purpose The first big hint that, with A Sense of Purpose, In Flames are targeting the counterculture mainstream with every gun barrel they’ve got is the cover. Just look at it. It’s a ghastly melding of faux-Johnny The Homicidal Maniac and the color palette of As I Lay Dying’s Shadows Are Security. The Hot Topic crowd will love it.

While it’s true that In Flames were one of the first bands to tweak their sound for American approval, they’ve actually been more successful than some of their Swedish brethren (like Soilwork, who started sliding down hill with Figure Number Five, and have just kept going sense). Reroute To Remain, while a blatant shot for the MTV2 crowd, had a few decent songs on it. 2006’s Come Clarity was a (semi) return-to-form, an album which melded In Flames old and new, an album that was just as likely to please fans of The Jester Race as it was fans of Soundtrack To Your Escape (and of course, the naïvete of the latter audience would make the relevance of Come Clarity all the greater).

Well, now they’ve made this. I’m at a loss for words. It’s hard to describe how awful A Sense of Purpose is. It’s easily the worst In Flames album. But it’s so much more than that. This is the album that every talentless group of angsty teenage hacks throw together in a basement while their parents are off at work. This is something even metal neophytes will tire of quickly, because honestly, how many of them will still listen to this once they stumble across Colony (and they will stumble across Colony – albums like Colony do not stay undiscovered for long).

A Sense of Purpose is so awful that it’s hard to be constructive about it. The vocals are laughable; Anders sounds like a shadow of his former self. No. I take that back. He doesn’t even sound like he ever knew his former self. The death growls that graced the The Jester Race are gone, presumably forever. They have been replaced with a third-rate Chester Bennington imitation.

The guitar work is extraordinarily watered down. The “solos” here function as little more than phoned-in reprieves of mediocrity; they have a peculiar lifelessness to them, and they are completely lacking in any imagination. Anyone hoping to hear something along the lines of the solo from December Flower will be sorely disappointed. Then again, it’s a safe bet that anyone familiar with December Flower is either already sick of In Flames, or ambivalent about them.

The album begins with the single, The Mirror’s Truth. I have no idea why the band chose this to be their single. I mean, they could’ve really chosen any song; they all sound the same, and I don’t mean in that in an admirable way, like “wow! these songs are INTENSE!” – I mean that in a “why am I still listening to this?” way. The song unfolds with a total lack of energy, emotion or musical prowess, and sets the template for the rest of the album: mid-tempo riff, fake “solo”, power chorus, repeat.

Mercifully, most of the songs on the album are short (a blessing, in that typically the only valuable aspect of any individual song is that it ends). But A Sense of Purpose ruins even this with The Chosen Pessimist, the longest In Flames song to date (it clocks in at around eight minutes). Well, it sucks (obviously, because it’s on A Sense of Purpose). The first 3 minutes are a three note motif that’s essentially a simplification of the main melody ofThe Jester’s Dance. Nothing much happens. Then Anders begins to sing. His vocals here are truly nauseating; he sings clean almost the entire time, and he sounds like a bastard child of Johnathan Davis that’s being forced at gunpoint to “emote” on American Idol or something. Anders has never been a good clean vocalist, but here, his performance is simply unforgivable. The additional exposure of the lyrics here doesn’t help matters (as he whines, “tell me which side I’m on/approaching constant failure…”). The song ends with some strings and a go-nowhere guitar line; this juxtaposition would be nice if the song actually built to something. But it doesn’t. I can almost see the band chattering excitedly to one another: “hey guys! strings will help make this song emotional! right?”

I’ve had a tough time trying to review this album. It’s so awful that much of it simply defies the context of traditional reviews; a song-by-song analysis would yield nothing, as they’re all essentially identical in scope and execution. The simple truth is that much of the music here simply isn’t worth writing about. It’s only worth avoiding.



2 Responses to “IN FLAMES – A Sense of Purpose (2008)”

  1. Tell us what you really think….

    Every time I think about modern day In Flames, I put on “December Flower” and drive really fast, and then I feel better.

  2. […] That album, released right before the US melo-death movement began to turn its European purveyors (In Flames, Soilwork, Dark Tranquility, etc.) into mere shadows of their former selves, was (in retrospect) an […]

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