Review Summary: In Vain's most consistent release yet
In Vain’s progression as a band has been interesting to say the least. Their debut The Latter Rain
saw the band off to a great start with varied progressive influences and a grounded vision of what they wanted the band to be, but was marred by poor production and an overall lack of creative focus. Mantra
on the other hand had superb production and some of the best songs they’ve ever written, but was brought down by the lack of song-to-song consistency, as shown by the out of place ‘Wayakin’ and poor closer ‘Wayphearing Stranger’. On Ænigma
, it feels like In Vain took a step back, but not in a bad way. The production is cleaner than it’s ever been, the songs are simpler and less subtle than they were in the past, and none of the songs are quite as mesmerizing as ‘Captivating Solitude’ or ‘As I Wither’. However, Ænigma
is the most consistent thing the band has put out while still staying true to their avant-garde death metal roots.
The album begins with one of its strongest tracks, and right away their shift in sound is apparent. The riffs are more straightforward and linear sounding as opposed to the moody aura surrounding each song on Mantra
. As they start adding layers of orchestral synths on top of their already dense wall of sound, however, is when the true brilliance shines through. Its use of formulaic song structures is different for the band, but the aforementioned layers over previous motifs make its use of repetition somewhat fitting. ‘Against the Grain’ is nothing particularly groundbreaking, but it’s a solid representation of Ænigma
as a whole and shows In Vain trying something different without straying too far from their signature sound.
A pleasant aspect of Ænigma
is its lack of outlandish ideas. The Native American influence on ‘Wayakin’ is nowhere to be found on here, thankfully. The closest they come to that is a Norwegian spoken word segment in ‘Culmination of the Enigma,’ which is so awkwardly out of place it detracts from the build up of the song. It’s during the acoustic bridge, which by itself is a beautiful addition but the talking over it completely ruins its effect. Apart from this gripe though, it’s possibly the heaviest song on the album with an infectious chorus that sounds like something out of Souls at Zero
-era Neurosis. ‘Image of Time’ is another highlight from the album containing a wonderfully sung chorus, exclusively clean interlude ‘Southern Shores’ is the perfect intro to ‘Hymne til Havet’ and is a welcome change of pace from the ferocious death metal that takes up most of Ænigma
, and straight up death metal tracks ‘Times of Yore’ and ‘To the Core’ are as catchy as they are brutal. The most twist and turns on the album are found on closer ‘Floating on the Murmuring Tide’, which features an excellent use of background strings, piano, and gorgeous saxophone melodies soaring above.
The clean vocals on this album are plentiful and thoroughly well done. Andreas Frigstad has such a soothing timbre in his voice that compliments each chorus he sings in – the end of ‘To the Core’ specifically features his most powerful cleans to date. The growls are also stronger than ever, being more guttural than in previous efforts, and the instrumentation backing them up is phenomenal as well. This is definitely the tightest sounding In Vain album up to this point. Double bass drumming is almost omnipresent, but the simplistic nature of the drumming helps supports the truly epic melodic passages, of which there’s no shortage on here.
In Vain aren’t trying to break any boundaries with Ænigma
. On the contrary, it’s more like a refinement of the style they’ve been working on since their debut. The highs on Ænigma
don’t hold the same weight as the highs on Mantra
or even The Latter Rain
. Having said that, the lows of Ænigma
far surpass the lows of their previous releases. It’s easily In Vain’s most consistent album, and now that they’ve removed all the excess “waste” from their newly polished sound, you can’t help but anticipate what they have in store for us next.