IN FLAMES is a band that never seems to want to stand still. Since taking the stylistic turn heard on "Reroute To Remain" that caused many longtime fans to cry "sell out," the Swedes have continued to evolve and experiment with each release. While that disc, along with "Soundtrack To Your Escape", may have left a slightly bitter taste in the mouths of those who didn't jive with the band's more accessible and tuneful approach to songwriting, said albums did serve as springboards for the career-defining "Come Clarity". By merging elements of past and present, IN FLAMES reemerged as a brand new beast and proved they could still dominate. Still, the question remained as to whether IN FLAMES would be able to follow up with an album of equal or superior quality. After spending some time with their latest effort, "A Sense Of Purpose", the best answer I can give would be — almost.While keeping one foot firmly planted in the ground that spawned "Come Clarity", IN FLAMES takes a sizable step in the direction of mainstream metal with the other. The end result is a solid, albeit contrived (at times) endeavor. "A Sense Of Purpose" kicks off with the simple, yet effective muscular riffing of "The Mirror's Truth". I found this to be a decent tune, but still wasn't entirely convinced. Despite a thin layer of lyrical cheese, the chorus on "Disconnected" is downright undeniable. It's times like this where vocalist Anders Fridén shines. Give this one three or four listens and you'll be singing right along with him. Early on, you can plainly hear that "A Sense Of Purpose" is based around a set formula, dictated by Fridén's volley between his raspy and clean voices. They do manage to play with said formula a little by adding random acoustic interludes, well-placed bridges and a handful of short, but sweet guitar solos. Guitarists Jesper Strömblad and Björn Gellote manage to push the envelope a bit with their harmonized twin-axe attack on infectious tracks like "Alias" and "I'm The Highway". By and large, this is a far less adventurous outing than the last few we've heard from IN FLAMES, save for the eight minute standout "The Chosen Pessimist". A world apart from the 11 other condensed and calculated songs on the disc, this is a dark and moody epic that can either wrap you up in the throes of its projected depression, or just bore the hell out you; depending on your mood at the time. After an abrupt ending, the aggressive attack of "Sober And Irrelevant" is just forceful enough to shock your system back into go mode. It's at this point that the album really climaxes with a trio of tunes ("Condemned", "Drenched In Fear" and "March to The Shore") that lay to waste any notions that IN FLAMES has lost their edge by delivering massive grooves, striking guitar melodies, and a sense of seething anger not felt anywhere else on the disc.
As it stands among the rest of IN FLAMES' catalogue, "A Sense Of Purpose" probably won't do much to cheer up those who are already pissed off at the band's evolution. Anyone else won't have any problem sinking their teeth into this one. Sometimes it hits, sometimes it misses, but ultimately this is a well-written affair that tends to grow on you with each listen.