Review Summary: The subtleties of Mantra make it what it is: a near-masterpiece of a progressive metal album.
The release of In Vain’s 2010 album Mantra was a long-awaited one for fans of the band. With their last album being released in 2007 the band was long overdue for a new barrage of fantastic progressive metal. The release of Mantra was delayed time after time again before finally being released to the world on January 18. Now, I’m not going to say that the wait was well worth it. I personally think it was, but that is a cliché I’m not ready to put into use. I like to think that excessive waiting period between the two albums was made useful by the metallers from Norway. Mantra is full of intricacies and subtleties that elevate it from good to great, and it seems only appropriate that instead of being content with what they had, the members of In Vain scrupulously examined Mantra to create a breath-taking sophomore album.
These intricacies of course could not enhance the music if the music was not originally spectacular. And well, that is exactly what it is. Each song contains masterfully played instruments, and the combining of elements from death, black, and doom metal is done seamlessly. A shining example of the fantastic all-around work of the band is the first track, “Captivating Solitude.” The song utilizes black metal rasps and excellent drum work alongside soaring melodies to create one of the early year’s best metal songs. Tracks such as “Mannefall” and “Circle of Agony” are other examples of excellent all-around musicianship and song-writing, with the former’s crushing opening riff and the latter’s swirling build up in the middle of the track.
Another huge strength of the album is the vocals. While the band does have one primary vocalist, all the members contribute their pipes on Mantra as well. Growls, grunts, rasps, gang vocals, hardcore screams, and clean singing are all used to great effect. The band doesn’t attempt to show off with this amalgamation of vocal styles, but rather adds to the creativity and overall progressiveness of the album and each track in particular.
But the great overall feel of the album does not give the impression of a spectacular album. This impression comes in the small details of the music, as Mantra is an album that will sound cool on first listen and then gradually move from cool to epic to amazing on each listen. And like I’ve said, it will be the little things that do this. The addition of keys on the closing march-out of “Dark Prophets, Black Hearts,” the all-of-a-sudden crystal clear bassline as “Mannefall” transitions into the chorus, the almost unnoticeable guitar harmony that comes in and out of “Sombre Fall, Burdened Winter,” or the glorious saxophone sounding effect of the guitar solo in the same song are all clear-cut examples of the intricacies that take Mantra to that next level. These subtleties are evidence of a band committed to creating the best album they can, and with one exception, In Vain has done that with Mantra.
That one exception would be the sixth track of the album entitled “Wayakin (The Guardian Spirit of the Nez Perce).” The song is a contrived mess complete with Native American chants and an old man speaking of owls, wolves, and bears. Musically the song is nothing special either, as the subtleties so defining of the album are practically exempt from Wayakin. A well-performed guitar solo seems to be the only redeemable bit from this track.
In Vain’s Mantra is a superb progressive metal piece. I would go so far as to say that it would be a classic without Wayakin. The intricacies of the music along with the purely sublime songwriting skills of the band are the main contributors to the album’s greatness. Mantra establishes In Vain as a force to be reckoned with in the metal world, and in my opinion it is ahead in the early running for metal album of the year. Listen to Mantra and enter into the heavy, complex, and beautiful world of In Vain.