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Norway's In Vain deliver some more melodically crushing doomy progressive black metal with their second studio album, Mantra. As expected, the songs are longer than most, but the music is very enriching for the most part. The guitars have a very mournful, black metal strum to them for the most part (though on the first track there is a very interesting progressive solo where the guitar sounds like a keyboard). A lot of the more quieter, acoustic moments or other guitar solos sound a lot like something one would hear from Opeth, but the grandure is a bit lacking from Mantra's delivery. While there are great progressive elements on the album such as a chanting choir on "Wayakin" or the brief, blues infected "Mannefall," the album still feels very basic and not ready for the epic levels that a band like Opeth has reached; partially due to the vocals which are poorly done by In Vain's singer. The drumming is thick and sometimes lost in the rest of the music as it just beats incessantly; at times it is hard to tell if it is the bass you hear rumbling or the drums themselves.
Saving the vocals for last, they are a hit or miss. Opening with a poorly done black metal shriek, fans may get turned off instantly. However, the vocals also make good use a death metal grunt that sounds just slightly better, and a mourning clean voice that sounds the most fitting of all. The black metal screech is one of the most annoying of all while the grunt sounds very untrained. The clean vocals sound like a cross between Vintersorg of Borknagar and Jonas Renske of Katatonia. Sometimes there's two of them to really show how In Vain shines, especially on the acoustic hidden track "Wayphearing Stranger" where the sudden calm of the music really suits the vocal style versus the more poorly done harsher vocals. The good news is they complement the music well in the sense they don't overbear or try to ruin the atmosphere at certain moments. The harsh vocals stay with the more chaotic side of the album, and the cleaner ones serve for both the acoustic and electronic parts.
Due to the constant change and style and the progressive elements aloof, a lot may compare In Vain's vocal work and musical structure on Mantra to the recent Borknagar. Both bands are on the Indie label, but ultimately when it comes to experience, Borknagar takes the cake due to more experience. In Vain does seem to have a lot to offer through tracks like "Circle of Agony" where the progressive elements work with the death metal exquisitely, but they will have to step up their game in order to reach more lofty heights. As long as they continue focusing on their progressive metal abilities while crafting their own style and sound that doesn't sound too much like Borknagar (keep the clean vocals would be a great way of doing this), they should be fine.
Written for www.brutalism.com
Norway's In Vain are another band that grow quite harder to pin down, and there is really no need for such tagging, as it is obvious from their compositional style that they are not in search of any such labels, just to provide a complete and atmospheric listening experience that should, ideally, leave a scar upon the soul of the listener. But to get as close as I might, think of Mantra, the band's second album, as a hybrid of black, doom and progressive metal. It moves slowly for the most part, powerfully, like a river passing by various epochs of history, both bloodied and mellow, on its course to a sea of dreams. On the first listen, I admit I found much of the material quite dull, but only because I was not taking it at its face level. My next impression was that there is simply more to In Vain than the very simplistic, bruising rhythms and glimmering melodies of its surface...which might conjure memories of Katatonia's middle years save for the different vocal style and the more airy production values, and overall diversity of sound.
"Captivating Solitude" starts with a light acoustic flavor which seems like something a 90s alternative/grunge rock band might have written for a hit, but before a Kurt Cobain or Chris Cornell can emerge here, it swiftly transforms into thundering melodic black/doom, with layered snarl/growl vocals that deliver emotional power almost instantly. I'd also note the organs, and the drums of Stig Reinhardtsen which get interesting as he builds a march rhythm into the bridge. "Ain't No Lovin" takes more of a subdued, death/doom approach, with a creeping rhythm reminiscent of something from Morbid Angel's Domination, ala "Where the Slime Live", only not so murky. "Mannefall" seems to come out of nowhere, a bluegrass/folk song which sounds like it belongs on a Mississippi front porch as the sky darkens for a coming storm. I guess that makes "On the Banks of Mississippi" no real shocker...a fairly catchy, choppy melodic doom track which really excels at the spaces between its plowing rhythms, where the drums breathe into the nothing. Hearing a Norwegian band focus on the South is...well, invigorating!
"Dark Prophets, Black Hearts" veers into more of a traditional doom/death, ala Candlemass meets Opeth meets Paradise Lost, with a weavy plucking rhythm through its gargantuan chords. However, this is only the beginning, because it takes on an upbeat melodic death visage after a moment or so. "Wayakin" is a 9+ minute tribute to the Native peoples of the Pacific Northwest US, and the vocals here are a mix of tribal chanting and then soaring chorus vocals with manly, mantric backups. It's a pretty fascinating track that stands out even among its varied neighbors, and once again, I reiterate: hearing a Norwegian band that sings about the ancient past of my own country, rather than the other way around, is very refreshing! "Circle of Agony" has a nice, melodic descent in its opening moments, and the dual growl/snarl vocals appear once more to add a strong effect of gloom. This is perhaps one of the finer tracks on the entire album, almost irresistable as it snakes about its central themes and frolics through one conquest to the next.
"Sombre Fall, Burdened Winter" is over 11 minutes of melodic, doomed angst, in which the vocals once again take on a minor shift towards a cleaner, barking tone. The acoustic/piano breaks in the track are nicely laid out like a snowy plain, and the whole atmosphere past 4 minutes when the song becomes a somber environmental folk piece is really nice. The bonus track "Wayphearing Stranger" is a cover of the traditional folk tune, with dual male/female vocals, and it is of the quality that In Vain should probably try and get it on the soundtrack to some independent film, because it could stir up some real buzz (though the audience would be shocked when they hear the metal tracks).
Despite the pristine production standards and killer concepts behind the album, not all the music is equally engrossing. Some of it sounds like the garden variety, big budget death/doom that a lot of Scandinavian bands produce, but then some of it is quite fetching and memorable. What I was most impressed with was the sheer diversity and the lyrical matter, which I simply would not ever expect from a Norse band. In the end, In Vain have something just different enough to offer that I feel they are a compelling band, even when the music itself isn't the type you'll be looping again and again in your head.
Highlights: On the Banks of Mississippi, Wayakin, Circle of Agony, Wayphearing Stranger