PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

In Flames: A Sense of Purpose

Get past the atrocious cover art, and you've got a quality album from the Swedish veterans.


In Flames

A Sense of Purpose

Label: Koch
US Release Date: 2008-04-01
UK Release Date: 2008-04-07
Amazon
iTunes

It's been a long, long time in the making, but In Flames' 20-year run is finally starting to yield some positive results in North America. Ever since the controversial shift towards a more accessible sound on 2002's Reroute to Remain, the Swedish melodic death metal pioneers' North American popularity has been snowballing, thanks in large part to the decision to tour the continent extensively, winning over new young fans along the way. All the while, the band has made some shrewd moves to increase their exposure, such as landing a spot on the Ozzfest main stage and co-headlining Sounds of the Underground, while their signing with trendy hardcore label Ferret was a particularly significant coup, as 2006's Come Clarity went on to become easily the band's biggest-selling album in America to date, bolstered by an aggressive marketing campaign geared towards the metalcore-listening, Hot Topic-shopping, Guitar Hero-playing teen crowd.

Despite the fact that Come Clarity achieved a near-impeccable balance between the speed and aggression of In Flames' early period and the hook-oriented direction in recent years, there is still no shortage of curmudgeonly metal dudes who grumble that The Jester Race and Colony are far superior to their more melodic approach of recent years. While the early In Flames vs. latter-day In Flames argument will likely never cease, the band, to their great credit, has stubbornly kept their gaze forward, and although their incendiary, influential days are behind them, they've managed to settle into a comfortable niche over the last six years. The willingness to experiment is still there, but unlike the brash arrogance of a young hotshot metal act, these guys continue to resolutely choose a more subtle route, exuding the assuredness that only a veteran band can do.

There are times on their ninth album A Sense of Purpose where In Flames might be trying to be too subtle and understated in their approach, tending to play it a little too safe, but that hardly means that they're coasting. The record continues right where Come Clarity's more sedate moments left off, focusing on steady, mid-tempo arrangements, allowing the increasingly confident vocal work of Anders Fridén to dominate. Fridén will be the first to tell you his singing voice isn't that great, but especially over the course of the last four albums, he's developed a strong, albeit idiosyncratic singing style that serves as a counterbalance to his more robust snarl, and on the new CD, his vocal melodies have never sounded stronger. "Sleepless Again" and single "The Mirror's Truth" both benefit hugely from Fridén's continued growth as a singer, while the audacious melodies and gang choruses of "Alias" and "Delight and Angers", although straying perilously close to post-hardcore, are carried entirely by Fridén's delivery.

Meanwhile, guitarists Jesper Strömblad and Björn Gellotte continue prove to be one of the steadiest guitar duos in metal, their calling-card blend of crunching riffs and melodic staccato picking never flashy, but always classy. "Disconnected" and the dual harmony-laden "I'm the Highway" both feature some of their most textured performances to date, and later on in the album, more muscular songs like the ferocious "Sober and Irrelevant" and the majestic "March to the Shore" hearken back to the days of 2000's Clayman, bringing the disc to a strong conclusion.

The one make-or-break track on A Sense of Purpose, though, is the eight-minute epic “The Chosen Pessimist”. Fitting somewhere between the sedate, steady prog rock thrum of the Gathering, System of a Down's more restrained moments, and the introspective, unflinchingly miserable strains of Radiohead at their mopiest, it's the boldest excursion In Flames has ever undertaken, the understated instrumental arrangement (E-bow here, synth there, strings over there) putting Fridén 's quavering voice front and center. A few years ago, he could never pull this off, but Fridén delivers, big time, during the key first half, his fragile tenor Yorke-like in a way, but just avoiding parody. When the full band erupts into the grandiose, elegiac climax, the emotional payoff is massive, Fridén 's howls underscored by cascading synths.

If there's one fault that can be found on A Sense of Purpose, it's that its pace can get redundant upon first listen (12 tracks is stretching it a bit), plus it lacks the huge arena-appealing hooks that Come Clarity had in spades, as nothing quite matches up to tracks like "Take This Life", "Leeches", "Dead End", "Come Clarity", or "Crawl Through Knives". However, like Reroute to Remain, the album benefits greatly from patient listening, making it a worthy addition to the catalog and continuing one of the more impressive second-decade rebirths we've seen from a metal band.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.