In Vain // Ænigma 
Rating: 3.5/5.0 — Ænigmatic and charming
Label: Indie Recordings
Release Dates: EU: 2013.03.11-15 | NA: No date available

In Vain - ÆnigmaIn Vain hails from Norway, famous for its black metal, its fjords, its oil, its social democracy, but certainly not its progressive death metal. It’s actually a little strange that the land that brought us BorknagarEnslaved, Ulver, and Solefald has never really produced its own Opeth or In Mourning, instead outsourcing that to its less affluent and pampered neighbor to the east (that’d be Sweden for the geographically challenged). Without getting too much into regional politics, it’s safe to say that given how high on the hog these Norwegians live—exploiting their Swedish workers and guzzling crude oil at the state’s expense—it’s surprising that none of them have wandered into the melodic, progressive death metal genre. They certainly have access to enough subsidies for the arts to do so if they wanted to.

That is, of course, with the notable exception of In VainÆnigma is the third record from what could be termed as the death metal answer to modern Borknagar. And actually, the band is a bit like a quasi-supergroup. While largely made up of unknown musicians, In Vain is actually the other part of Solefald‘s live act, and they’ve also featured former Green Carnation and Blood Red Throne members. Their albums have also been huge undertakings, often featuring dozens of guest musicians and plenty of orchestration, and while their 2007 debut The Latter Rain was well-received, 2010’s Mantra left a lot to be desired… mostly that Norwegians would stop trying to play the blues (one can be certain they’d appreciate it if Georgians didn’t try to play Norwegian folk music).

Twenty-thirteen sees In Vain back in the game with a beefy slab of progressive death metal, produced by the very capable Jens Bogren (yet another example of Norwegians exploiting Swedish labor). Gone are the dirty Southern blues (thanks be to mighty Oden) and in are guest vocals from Lazare (SolefaldBorknagar, a.k.a. the reason the debut Ásmegin record is so fucking good) and Cornelius (the other guy from Solefald). This contributes to what is easily the band’s best record ever. A solid showing of technique, diversity, smart writing and amazing vocal performances. 

Ænigma takes the listener through a vast array of styles and feels, from acoustic Norwegian folk music to meloblack feelings on “Hymne til havet” to In Mourning post-death melocore (how ’bout that genre?) on the proggy “Culmination of the Enigma.” The obvious nods are given in the direction of Opeth and Barren Earth on “Floating on the Murmuring Tide” and “Image of Time,” and I can’t shake the feeling that Galder, of Old Man’s Child, didn’t write the opening riffs on “Times of Yore” and “To the Core.” All of these songs have an epic intensity to them, with luscious keys and thick bottom ends that will crush your skull (figuratively, of course).

In Vain - 2013It is the band’s ability to bridge these gaps with a variety of different styles, both compositionally and vocally, that makes Ænigma such a fun record to listen to. “Floating on the Murmuring Tide,” floats through Old Man’s Child-style blackened death, nears a Barren Earth-like keyboard soaked acoustic part, calls up late Bathory with well-placed vocal chanting, soaks the song in noir saxophone and manages to get it all done 9 minutes and 17 seconds without ever losing its entertainment value. But where Ænigma could be stronger is in terms of hooks and songwriting. While the songwriting is good, subtle and layered, there are times when in the longer tracks when a dropped repetition or a rearranged part might have tightened things. An hour is a long record, and since the songs peak with Lazare’s amazing guest performance on “Image of Time,” which is only 3 tracks in (though it should be noted that the main riff on “Rise Against” is pretty darned amazing), there’s a feeling that things could have been held a bit shorter.

When it’s all said and done, though, In Vain is doing us all a favor by staying on their toes, getting better with every record and putting out a damned fine album in Ænigma. Looking forward to letting this one grow on me and see what happens at the end of the year.

  • Faustian Bargain

    I don’t care about this record, but I like your take on the state of things in Scandinavia Very interesting how you apply that to the arts.

  • Nice review, so true that “Mantra” was a downer after the out-of-nowhere “Latter Rain”, this records proves that In Vain has a lot of potential left!

  • Colin Stuart

    Holy fuck. This is awesome. I like it very much. Very good music. Happy me. Thank you.

    • Colin Stuart

      I think I’m going to be listening to that single all day.

  • Pale Orchid

    Got to check these guys out..the above song is pretty awesome!

  • This is pretty damn excellent.

  • Great review! What an amazing album!

  • Just listened to this and I have to say, it’s really great. I’d have given it a better rating.

  • I could do without the clean vocals, but still ridiculously good.

  • I’ll give more a 4.0/4.5 rather than 3.5, the album sounds really nice! very solid composition

  • Tanuki

    You had me at “guest vocals by Lazare” it’s definitely not as unique or experimental as solfald or much of borknagar from what I’m hearing but as a fan of those 2 bands and opeth this is right up my alley.

  • Are those glimpses of your sociology thesis AMG? Great sample, will check this one for sure.

  • Are those glimpses of your sociology thesis AMG? Great sample, will check this one for sure.

  • ZzZ85

    This album is the shit!

  • Even though, they’re different in a lot of ways, this record really reminded me of Be’lakor’s Of Breath and Bone in terms of how it sounds. Turns out they were both produced by Jens Bogren.

  • Have not been able to stop listening to this album since you guys reviewed. Have to say it reminded me a lot of Momentum – Fixation, at rest mainly due to how they used the vocals.

  • Personally, my favorite melodeath album of the year thus far!

  • Mike Eckman

    It is now October, and Ive had this album ever since shortly after I read this review in March and I have to say I still love this disc. This is definitely going to be on my Best of 2013 list. This album has been in regular rotation and each listen I find a little piece of music, a little nuance here and there that I didnt hear the previous time. This whole album is complex and amazing. The last song, “Floating on the Murmuring Tide” by itself would have been enough to make this a good album, but included with the other 8 tracks, this album is great. Top notch, and WAY deserving of a rating higher than 3.5 / 5.0!