Five years ago, In Vain released Ænigma, a complicated 60 minutes of progressive death/black metal and now In Vain returns with Currents, bringing an equally complex blend of metal styles that goes even beyond their previous release in a collection of songs showcasing songcraft and strong, heavy performances.
Given the progressive death/doom label and their home in Norway, expectations are high for In Vain, a band that has been around for at least 11 years. In 2007, their debut album, The Latter Rain, was released and received critical acclaim as well as a sense of wonder over the epic feel of the album which featured nearly 20 additional musicians. As is often the case with new bands, critics were not so fond of the bands sophomore release, Mantra, in 2010. For Ænigma and now Currents, the band brought in Jens Borgen (Opeth, Soilwork, Borknagar) to handle production and mixing duties and as expected the album had an impressive powerful sound. Guest musicians always seem to show up on In Vain albums and notable for Currents is that Matthew Kiichi Heafy of Trivium makes a guest appearance on “Soul Adventurer”. As a driving theme for the album, the band talks about the shifts and changes happening in our time, from migrations and movements of people, traditions, and cultures to dramatic changes in lifestyles and traditions that challenges old patterns and create tensions and opportunities.
In the five years since I reviewed Ænigma, I honestly had forgotten a bit what In Vain sounded like and my general memory was that they were a bit toward the doom side, but I still liked their previous album. So imagine my surprise when “Seekers of Truth” almost seems to open with thrash. Less than a minute into the song though there was a smooth but large shift into more of what I remember with the arrangement becoming much more complex and the guitars layering in and slowing down while the bass drum line actually seems to pick up speed. Overall, the wall of sound after the shift almost seems like a symphonic interlude. The underlying melody within those sections really works and contrasts nicely with the gruff vocals and clean shouted backing vocals. Later in the song are some extended guitar solos trading back and forth that are at once equally impressive and perfectly blended into the song as the vocals pick up intensity and a sense of urgency makes an appearance.
“Soul Adventurer” features clean vocals and an opening that seems far from death/doom metal. The song also serves as a great example of how In Vain can shift from a guitar riff-driven section to one that seems more symphonic but do so in a way that seems familiar to the listener. Following some more good lead guitar work the song goes into the opening riff and that is where the production quality really makes a difference as the silence in the staccato riff is very loud, lending power to the drums and guitars.
Things get a bit heavier and darker in “Blood We Shed” for a while but then the darkness and doom is interrupted by keyboards that sound straight out of 1970’s arena rock accompanied by a chorus of backing vocals that has a bit of a Queen feel to it and even goes acapella for a bit. Certainly a different combination of elements to bring together. The song itself later takes a turn toward the dark and heavy, contrasting with the beautiful elements earlier and ends with growled “Blood We Shed” being repeated long after the music has stopped. Throughout the album, Tobias Øymo Solbakk provides solid drum work of the kind that becomes more impressive with every listen as more fills and changes in time and tempo become heard. While perhaps a bit quiet in the mix for my taste, the drums are plenty loud and distinct. “En Forgangen Tid” continues with the epic choral voices, organ, and drumwork as was heard in “Blood We Shed”.
For “Origin” a funky bass line opens up the song, which was nice to hear as the bass, while providing a key part of the sound had been nearly relegated to supplying the rumbling accompaniment to the drums. Interestingly, the opening guitar chords for the song combined with the bass instantly brought me to Rush, to give you an idea of where the song seemed to be headed. The growled death vocals removed any Rush expectations. I really like the clean vocals in the track as they supply more emotion than the growled death vocals and when the clean vocals seemingly break down into ragged screams their power becomes more evident.
Almost as if to signal the end is near, “As the Black Horde Storms” erupts into what could almost be a symphonic-influenced black metal song from the blast beats to guitar tones and riffs often found in black metal songs, conjuring up thoughts of Antestor and the like for at least parts of the song, while other sections fit more with what was heard earlier in the album. Given the frantic pace, black metal elements and bits of frenetic guitar work, this ended up being my favorite track on the album. To those who know In Vain and are wondering, yes, there are saxophones….and for those doubting this, check out the epic closer to the album…
In Vain have picked up where Ænigma left off and subtly refined the complexity to the point where the songs all become epic in their own right. On Currents, In Vain showcases their abilities at combining great instrumentalists with strong production and a vision for crafting complex arrangements while keeping the songs accessible. While far from my favorite genres, this album surprises me with every listen.
Written by John Jackson
1. Seekers of the Truth
2. Soul Adventurer
3. Blood We Shed
4. And Quiet Flows the Scheldt
6. En Forgangen Tid (Times of Yore Pt. II)
7. Ghost Path
8. As the Black Horde Storms
9. Standing on the Ground of Mammoths
Johnar Håland – Guitars and bgv
Andreas Frigstad – Main vocals
Sindre Nedland – Vocals
Alexander Bøe – Bass
Kjetil Pedersen – Guitars
Tobias Øymo Solbakk – Drums
“Will the Sun Ever Rise ?” (Demo, 2004)
‘Against the Grain’ (Single, 2013)
“Ænigma” (2013) [review]
Record Label: Indie Recordings
Release Date: 26 Jan. 2018
Lyric video for ‘Seekers of Truth’
Video for ‘Soul Adventurer’