Artist: In Vain
Album Title: Currents
Label: Indie Recordings
Date Of Release: 26 January 2018
‘Catchy, intense, unusual’ – quotes vocalist Sindre Nedland about the fourth album, ‘Currents’ from Norwegian extreme metal band, In Vain. It is a bold, clear statement, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s by-and-large an accurate one.
I can’t quite believe though, that it has been five years since the last full-length, 2013’s ‘Ænigma’. I was convinced that I had reviewed that record for this website, but I was wrong. Instead, I tackled it for Powerplay Magazine and was rather effusive in my praise:
““Ænigma” is, without doubt, out of the top drawer and anyone who likes extreme metal with intelligence needs to pay attention immediately.”
I still agree with these overriding sentiments but, if anything, In Vain have further raised the bar with ‘Currents’. Whereas ‘Ænigma’ had the feel of a band still finding their feet and their true sound, ‘Currents’ feels more like the finished article. It is more polished, more assured and actually, more varied, as if the members of the band suddenly felt comfortable to experiment just a little bit more; to throw caution to the wind.
The result is an album that offers plenty of variety and as such, keeps the listener on their toes. Undoubtedly, the heart of In Vein is bedded in that dark abyss that sits somewhere between melodeath and melodic death/doom metal. But into the mix comes elements like black metal, 70s progressive rock and straight-up brutal death metal. As I listen, each composition feels like it has been written by the band to explore a certain idea or feed off a certain influence.
Nevertheless, for all of the apparent shifts in direction, ‘Currents’ remains a very cohesive record and rather surprisingly, a very honed and succinct affair. There are no instrumental intros or interludes, no unnecessary posturing, just seven well-crafted songs with a running time of around 43 minutes. Mind you, if you plump for the special edition, you are rewarded with an extra two songs that total around 15 minutes, taking the experience up to around the hour mark. I can only comment on the seven-song version, but that in itself is worth grabbing hold of with both hands.
You need only look to the opening seconds of opener, ‘Seekers of the Truth’ to fully understand what I mean by ‘succinct’. There’s no messing around with extraneous material, as it launches straight in with a heavy, slightly progressive churning riff from Johnar Håland and Kjetil Domaas Petersen topped off by the growls of Nedland. But within 30 seconds, we’re reminded of the melodic skills of In Vain as an epic-sounding and catchy riff takes over, whilst the growls become a little less ferocious. The riff is very melodeath in its style, begging for you to nod your head along with it as it works its magic, burrowing into your mind as it does so.
At the half-way mark, the tempo markedly decreases and in come some atmospheric keys and mournful lone lead guitar take centre stage. It is short-lived as the intensity soon returns, but it is a really lovely change of pace that demonstrates a subtlety to the songwriting. As a sucker for such things, the lead guitar breaks from Petersen are wonderful, as is the steady build towards a suitably strong finale.
By contrast, ‘Soul Adventurer’ has an entirely different feel to it. Gone are the growled vocals, to be replaced by a clean delivery that reminds me ever-so-slightly of Vintersorg of Borknagar. In fact, the more airy and whimsical tone to the song overall draws a few comparisons with more recent output from In Vein’s Norwegian compatriots.
In a manner reminiscent to the Bay Area thrash scene a la Machine Head, a spoken-word voice declares at the outset to ‘Blood We Shed’ that: ‘There is a time for reconciliation and there is a time to shed blood. Now is the time to shed blood’. In my case, the blood is being shed from my ears as the track quickly turns into an uncompromising slab of brutal death metal, complete with intense blast beats from guest drummer Baard Kolstad, swirling and writhing riffs and pinched harmonics for good measure. It comes as a complete surprise then when the middle section of the song does a complete 180 degree turn and ventures into 70s progressive rock territory complete with classic synth effects and Hawkwind-like psychedelic nuances. It is a beautiful, sumptuous and moody passage, as beautiful as the juxtaposition itself. It actually works alarmingly well, again underlining the prowess of this ever-maturing band.
Another favourite track has to be ‘En Forgangen Tid (Times of Yore Part II)’, which summons the solemn spirit of Swallow The Sun at the outset and continues with a pronounced doom approach via a superbly catchy slow riff that also contains an infectious yet subtle groove. The layers of clean vocals over the top, almost choral in delivery, supplemented by bold synths give the composition a strangely euphoric yet equally plaintive hue. It’s an enormous song, one of the best I’ve heard in 2018 and thoroughly compelling to me.
The bass of Alexander Bøe ushers in ‘Origin’ next, which quickly opens up into something immediately engaging. The vocals flit between gruff and clean as the melodies work their magic yet again. Undoubtedly, Nedland gives his best performance on the album here as his clean timbre soars majestically and emotionally over this most sublime of songs, enhancing the power that is provided by a pronounced increase in the symphonics, particularly as the song draws to a close.
Fast, unrelenting blastbeats and staccato riffs mean that ‘As the Black Horde Storms’ has an unequivocal black metal sheen to it at the outset, underlined by a higher-pitched raspy approach from Nedland. That said, the pace does frequently change, quite markedly in places and by the mid-way point, there’s another memorable lead guitar line to enjoy as well as some lone acoustic guitars, some mid-tempo headbang-worthy riffs and a superbly flamboyant and technical lead guitar solo. Indeed, this has to be one of the most obviously progressive compositions on ‘Currents’ and it is excellent.
The final track, ‘Standing on The Ground of Mammoths’ is both the longest song at a little over seven minutes and also arguably the most cinematic, as the synths and strings come further to the fore. More acoustic guitars break the tension, as do some gentle, soulful and bluesy lead guitar flourishes. I will be consistent and state that I could have done without the introduction of a saxophone at this point, but it does add another texture to the song as well as something different again. I should have expected it based on the previous album, but I lived in hope. Nevertheless, there’s no denying the quality of this closing number which rounds out this marvellous record in fittingly epic and rousing style.
If ‘Ænigma’ demonstrated that In Vain had the genuine potential to challenge at the highest level, then ‘Currents’ is the sound of that potential realised. This is a huge album, full of all the things that I love in my extreme metal, as well as other things I’d not really thought about, demonstrating a streak of originality to keep things fresh and exciting. In Vain have announced themselves on the biggest stage in real style and they deserve the plaudits coming their way with the magnificent ‘Currents’.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.5
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse