There are some who prefer their metal uncomplicated and for those, Ænigma is not for you. In Vain have assembled nearly 60 minutes of progressive death/black metal in this release, and as you may surmise from the description, there are complicated arrangements, long songs, and an overall majestic sense and feel to the album.
Norway’s In Vain released their first album, The Latter Rain, in 2007 to great reviews, many of which commented on the epic feel of the project that was certainly influenced by the nearly 20 additional musicians used in the recording. Many of the same critics were not quite as fond of the follow-up album, Mantra, that was released in 2010 as it seemed to be a bit of departure from the progressive black/death metal sound many were expecting. For Ænigma, In Vain enlisted Jens Borgen (Opeth, Soilwork, Borknagar) to handle production and mixing duties and as one would expect with that pedigree, Ænigma certainly carries that towering sound. Again, guest musicians play a role in an In Vain album, with Lazare and Cornelius from Solefald notably adding their skills to the mix on some songs.
Musically, Ænigma is difficult to accurately describe, it’s one of those things that are best experienced. Each song has a number of different elements and subtle touches and additions that add so much to the whole experience. Vocals range from the black metal shrieks to the deep growls of death metal and then even some clean signing to further add to the flavor of the songs. Drums cover everything from blast beats to galloping double bass parts to regular fast metal beats and everything in between. One aspect of the overall sound is that there is a feeling of an almost overwhelming wave or wall of sound through much of the album, almost as if everything were mixed too well, so that nothing stands out except for the sheer power of the music. While this certainly adds to the epic, majestic feel of the album, I’m not overly fond of this approach. At times, this wall of sound is broken up by guitar solos and those are excellent and fit within the overall feel of the album.
In general, all the pieces of the album fit together seamlessly, which is quite a feat given all that is present and this is where the “progressive” label comes into play. Some of these songs almost feel to me as if they were the product of an evolution in progressive rock. There is almost a sense of arrogance with the overall tone and feel of the album. It is one of those albums when you first hear it, you know right away that the band members have an enormous amount of talent. The only song that just seemed to be out of place and not really fit is the mostly acoustic instrumental “Southern Shores” although as an extended intro to “Hymne til Havet”, it does work.
The album concludes with the nine minute song “Floating on the Murmuring Tide” and that song seems to contain nearly all the elements found on the album, from black metal vocals to soaring clean vocals, loud guitars, and even saxophones. Yes, you did read that right, saxophones. Halfway through the song is an acoustic guitar interlude that leads in to some electric guitar and drums and then after a minute or so longer, the rest of the band joins in, including more saxophone. In Vain are not afraid to experiment and cross genre boundaries in their recordings and they certainly have the overall musicianship to pull it off. The result is a heavy album that is very listenable at the same time. There really is not a bad song on the album. Unfortunately, I feel as if it may be too well assembled as many of the unique elements simply do not stand out and are easily missed, especially to the casual listener who may not know what to expect.
1. Against the Grain
2. Image of Time
3. Southern Shores
4. Hymne til Havet
5. Culmination of the Enigma
6. Times of Yore
7. Rise Against
8. To the Core
9. Floating on the Murmuring Tide
J. Haaland – Guitars and backing vocals
A. Frigstad – Vocals
S. Nedland – Clean vocals, piano, organs and backing vocals
S. Reinhardtsen – Drums
K. Wikstøl – Bass and hardcore vocals
K. D. Pedersen – Guitars and backing vocal
Will the Sun Ever Rise ? Demo (2004))
Against the Grain, Single ]
Record Label: Indie Recordings, March 2013
Video below: Ænigma album teaser
Video below: Against The Grain