IN FLAMES TRY TO FIND THEIR SENSE OF PURPOSE BUT MISS BY A LITTLE
There’s been much argued over and said about the new In Flames record A Sense of Purpose, but until now not much has been said by us; better late than never. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed by A Sense of Purpose, In Flames ninth proper album. It’s not that the band haven’t moved forward — they have — or that I feel they’re “selling out” — I don’t. It’s just that A Sense of Purpose feels like In Flames settling into a groove, getting a little too comfortable, and not pushing themselves to write an amazing album. Rather than opting to push the envelope, the band seem content to do what’s expected of them. The bottom line: A Sense of Purpose sounds like In Flames trying to write In Flames songs, or songs in the style of In Flames… as opposed to In Flames just writing songs.
And the songs on A Sense of Purpose are a great place to start since the songs have always made this band so great. While there are some good tunes like “Sleepless Again,” “I’m the Highway,” and “March to the Shore,” nothing here has the immediacy and punch of a “Pinball Map” or “Behind Space,” or even “Only for the Weak” or “Take This Life.” The songwriting strikes me as a real swing and a miss, seeing as In Flames seems to have chosen a consciously more pop-friendly format and sound this time around. So if songs were the focus, where are they great ones? Not here.
Pop song structures or production aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but this just wasn’t the direction I hoped In Flames would go. Instead of experimentation and branching out In Flames have opted for the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” maxim with their song structures. The 8+ minute “The Chosen Pessimist” is a welcome departure and an album highlight, with neo-classical clean electric guitars and various electronic bibs and bobs serving as the basis for the 2:20 intro before Anders even mutters one vocal. The rest of the song is an emotional roller coaster, altering between down-tempo, atmospheric — but not ballady — passages, and soaring distorted guitar / string crescendos. It’s kind of a Swedish, rockified Portishead, very un-pop and a departure for the band for sure, a welcome one at that. I wish the band had explored this direction a bit more.
But back to the 11 other songs, the production doesn’t help matters. The guitars sound empty and weak, the drums dull and lifeless, and Anders has opted for his sung scream/whine approach pretty much the whole time which is always out front in the mix. There are plenty of great riffs, harmonies, and solos too, courtesy of band-founder Jesper Stromblad and Bjorn Gelotte — it’s too bad they aren’t emphasized. The one plus: for once in the year 2008 the bass on a metal record is actually audible.
Still, In Flames should be commended for choosing not to repeat themselves and moving forward, even if the direction forward they’ve chosen isn’t one that I like. The band should be saluted for never repeating themselves throughout their career, and with A Sense of Purpose they certainly didn’t repeat what they did with 2006’s Come Clarity, a record which drew ire from many but I actually loved. It had aggressive progression and was chock full o’ songs all the way through, two traits this new record lacks.
Ultimately if In Flames end up having a long, prolific career — and they’re already off to a great start — I doubt A Sense of Purpose will be one of those albums that’s looked back upon as a must-own. There have been and will be better and there have been and will be worse. This record? In the year 2020 we’ll look back and it won’t be essential.