is an album which makes you think. As the successor to 2007's The Latter Rain
, the bar was set fairly high, especially when the band, relatively speaking, is still a fresh face in the scene. Amongst the numerous other progressive death metal giants out there, you would expect Norwegian band In Vain to be thrown around, not able to stand its own amongst a sea of much bigger fish. Instead, In Vain have remained lingering in the background, churning out music which is both well-written and painstakingly performed. So, with Mantra
, it makes you wonder why In Vain really hasn't received the spotlight at all. Pity, really, because already Mantra
comes into 2010 swinging, ready to stand against what the rest of the year has to offer.
The constant riff changing which occurs throughout each song helps to melt away the eight or nine minute tracks lengths with relative ease, while the slew of catchy melodies continue to pile up in the back of your head. The chugging rhythm of “Mannefall’” progresses to a rolling, up-tempo atmosphere which complements the array of numerous clean and harsh vocal tones. The bluesy atmosphere of the brief acoustic track “Ain't No Lovin'” provides stark contrast to the upbeat, anthem-like tendencies of “Dark Prophets, Black Hearts”, or even the bizarre Native American inspirations of “Wayakin (The Guardian Spirit Of The Nez Perce)”. The songwriting is so amazingly diverse that each track pulls influences from several different sources. The throaty barks and chanting of the chorus to “Dark Prophets, Black Hearts” follow the lofty cleans of “On The Banks Of The Mississippi”. The amount of variety to the vocals, which harbor at least six different styles, adds huge amounts of variance and also vital replay value to the album.
The pace of the album can run from all-out death metal to a grinding crawl backed by acoustic guitar, bass, and piano. Often each song contains wonderful acoustic interludes as well as wailing guitars solos set alongside memorable choruses which will undoubtedly remain stuck in your head long after the album has ended. However, despite the welcome and prevalent diversity which the album offers, it goes as no surprise that some of these influences draw serious questions as to what exactly the band was thinking. The most obvious of these questionable sounds are the hugely out-of-place Native American themes which linger in the throw-away track “Wayakin”. The fact that the band is Norwegian makes the choice to go with such themes a mystery, but if, in practice, the band would have implemented them skillfully, then maybe such an odd decision could be written off as minor. However, the song is so blatantly terrible it acts as a scar which literally drives Mantra
to a standstill which it barely escapes from.
Also, the album suffers from slight moments of repetition in which the creativity of some of the other tracks is driven away in favor of a safer, more secure sound. While not inherently bad, songs like “Sombre Fall, Burdened Winter” and some moments in “Circle Of Agony” pale in comparison to the tracks during the first half of the album. The flat-out epic moments of Mantra
more than make up for this though, with songs often building and building to a brilliant crescendo which really drives home just how brilliant the songwriting is on the album, and how much care was taken to avoid dull moments (which is very nearly achieved). For the most part, Mantra
is a more focused display than The Latter Rain
; the songs manage to pack in numerous influences while still feeling like a single track, something which The Latter Rain
failed to accomplish.
Putting aside the relatively minor slip-ups, as well as an exhausting running time and a somewhat dragging second-half, Mantra
really shows what kind of band In Vain is. The painstaking songwriting, the impressive display of technicality, the daunting diversity, and the clean production all add up to a hugely successful album which is appealing to fans of a large number of genres. From guttural growls to raspy screams to blissful clean singing, all surrounded by spot-on instrumentation from the guitars, a solid rhythm section laid out by the drums and a noticeable low-end contribution from the bass, each individual component can be attributed to numerous memorable moments which will bring you back for many repeated listens. The good heavily outweighs the bad on Mantra
, opening the door for a bright future for In Vain in the years to come.