In Vain - Solemn

Artist: In Vain

Album Title: Solemn

Label: Indie Recordings

Date of Release: 19 April 2024

After a wait of six years, Norwegian progressive extreme metal band In Vain finally return with their latest album, ‘Solemn’. Never the most prolific of entities having only released four albums until now since their 2003 inception, it has still felt like a long time coming for album number five. Partly, this is due to the fact that 2018’s ‘Currents’ was utterly immense and, as such, there have been many of us impatiently awaiting the follow-up. It also hasn’t helped that we’ve been starved a little of seeing the band out and about on the stage thanks chiefly to the pandemic. Nevertheless, now is the time to rejoice because the sextet are back and ‘Solemn’ is the result of their labours.

It’s always a delight to me when I can report that a band remains largely unchanged personnel-wise. And with In Vain, half the band remain from the very beginning; guitarist Johnar Håland, vocalist/keyboardist Sindre Nedland, and vocalist Andreas Frigstad are founding members, joined by long-term colleagues Kjetil D. Pedersen (guitars) and Alexander Bøe (bass). In fact, the only new addition since the previous album is the enrolment of a permanent drummer. For ‘Currents’, the band enlisted the help of Leprous sticksman Baard Kolstad, but this time around, the guys welcome Tobias Øymo Solbakk to the fold. And it really does make a difference when you have consistency, because there’s a togetherness that feels tangible, as evidenced by the music on ‘Solemn’.

With an hour’s worth of new music to digest, this review comes a little after release, but I didn’t want to rush it, and do a sub-par job. After all, In Vain haven’t. They have done the complete opposite and released something rather special. It was always going to be a difficult job to top ‘Currents’ in my eyes, but I think that, on balance, they have with the progressive extreme metal on ‘Solemn’.

This last comment does come with the caveat that, once again, the Norwegians have tested my resolve by adding in a saxophone part to one of the songs on this record. They did so with ‘Standing On The Ground Of Mammoths’, the final track of ‘Currents’ and this time, the blast of my most hated instrument occurs within ‘Season Of Unrest’, a track placed much earlier in proceedings. The frustrating thing about it, is that it pops up when the song is at its most melodic and captivating, an almost ambient, minimalist caress of sound. I fully understand why In Vain have done it, to add a different sound and nuance to the composition. However, I wish they hadn’t, especially when the saxophone goes mad to respond to the return to heavier material. Otherwise, the song is incredible, thanks to a wonderful blend of heavy riffs and lush melody, gruff vocals and glorious clean singing. The bass guitar can be heard clearly within what is, all things considered, a scintillating production, within which all of the instrumentation is given the space to breathe and shine.

Having got my pet hate gripe out of the way with, admittedly, minimal damage having been caused to my delicate senses, it’s onwards we go. And it’s a bit tricky to know where to start to be honest, because everywhere you turn on ‘Solemn’, there’s something brilliant to be heard.

In Vain - Solemn
Credit: Jørn Veberg

But, having given it some thought, there’s really only one logic place and that’s with the insanely magnificent ‘Where The Winds Meet’. It opens up in a flurry of technical, progressive extreme aggression, with an off-kilter rhythm before descending into pure blackened death territory, complete with staccato riffs, blazing drumming, and raspy gruff vocals. But then, out of nowhere, it releases into a beautiful melody, almost AOR-like. The drumming is still fierce, but the melody is delicate and the vocals are clean, crisp, and emotional. From there, the song flits between all-out death metal power and stunning beauty, not too dissimilar to Omnium Gatherum in that respect, although the clean vocals here take the song to a whole other level. From those extreme beginnings, the song takes on a sorrowful, lamenting tone that is utterly spinetingling, especially when juxtaposed with more extreme aggression. I’m a sucker for a slow, gorgeous melody with double pedal drumming alongside and this is the icing on the cake at the end of what is a remarkable composition all round, with stellar performances everywhere you look.

Where to go next? How about ‘Beyond The Pale’, another dark and thunderous melodic death metal track, with the emphasis on ‘dark’ and ‘death’ for large portions of the track. However, lighter moments are provided expertly with clean vocals, whimsical, almost folky lead guitar lines, and the completely unexpected couple of blasts of up-tempo power metal-esque catchy melody complete with vaguely metalcore screamed vocals. And by heavens does it work well, much to my utter surprise.

Speaking of surprises, look no further than the opening track, ‘Shadows Flap Their Black Wings’ which covers a huge breadth of ideas that all come together to great effect. Even the cheeky sounding brass additions later in the song don’t deter me and actually enhance the variety and sonic textures on offer. It begins in typical melodic death metal fashion, with groovy riffs and strong melody, including an expansive, epic chorus. The highly melodic section, influenced by AOR and 80s hard rock is an unexpected addition, but a welcome one, setting the tone for an album that’s full of surprises and ideas from beginning to end.

None more so, in actual fact, than with the closing song, ‘Watch For Me On The Mountain’. Another scintillating composition, it sets off with a slow, ponderous doom metal riff, injecting genuine atmosphere as it does so, with synths bathing the more sedately paced music. The muted, chugging riffs that emerge are then joined by a restrained clean vocal performance, vaguely Gothic sounding, but much more contemplative in tone, bordering on spoken word at points. The layers of choral vocals that are introduced lend a majesty to a song that has a definitely bittersweet feel to it, sadness and solemnity pervading despite its air of grandiosity. If the final minute or two don’t raise the hairs on the back of your neck, then you’re not human, quite frankly.

I realise I’ve not mentioned all of the excellent material on ‘Solemn’ but with an hour of progressive extreme music to choose from and a word count that’s already exceeded a thousand words, I feel the need to bring things to a close. I think I’ve adequately communicated my positivity for the album, but if I’ve fallen short, allow me to be bold: ‘Solemn’ is sensational; it’s jam-packed full of the very kind of music that I adore and want to listen to. It’s heavy, beautiful, emotional, aggressive, intelligent, and fragile. And what makes it all the more exciting is that in just over a week I’ll be able to witness this music live on stage at Karmøygeddon festival in Norway. Oh yes, life is good.

The Score of Much Metal: 96%



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