Almost exactly two years ago we had the pleasure of premiering the third album by In Twilight’s Embrace. True to its name, The Grim Muse was vicious, but also electrifying, bursting with magnetic guitar melodies that were given room to shine in even the most turbo-charged and barbaric of the songs. It proved to be one of 2015’s highlights, and something of a breakout release for a band who were demonstrating a new level of both songwriting and performance skill.
And here we are two years later, fortunate again to premiere a new full-length by this Polish band. This fourth album is named Vanitas, and it’s set for release on September 22nd by Arachnophobia Records. And to waste no time answering the question that most fans will be asking, it is at least a match for the quality of The Grim Muse, and in this writer’s opinion even better.
The band’s vocalist Cyprian Lakomy has explained that both the lyrics and the music of Vanitas were inspired by reflections on death, prompted by the loss of family members and friends, and more specifically on questions about the legacies (if any) that we leave behind when life ends. And yet this focus on a potentially morbid subject did not produce music dominated by gloom or despair. Though dark currents do move through the music, it’s powerfully vibrant, with more fire, fury, and resilience in its emotional resonance than regret or resignation.
Cyprian has explained that the loss of family members and friends both made him realize “the true weight of mortality” and raised those questions about what it means for “the here and now”. “Death accompanies our whole lives…. We encounter it at different stages and its growing awareness should drive us to make the most out of the time we were given. Sadly, few have enough guts to aim at something more than barely surviving.”
And in these words, you begin to see where the anger and the undercurrents of bitterness in the music may come from. Death looms over us all, the future is constantly evaporating, and yet (as he says), the hell of mediocrity surrounds us, with a “sheep mentality” dominating free spirit — “the idolisation of the lowest common denominator as opposed to independent thought and action”. And that gives a different meaning to the phrase “the great leveller”, words often used to refer to death itself.
You might have yet noticed that I’ve been borrowing words from the titles of songs on the album, including the tracks that open and close it. When you reach the end of the album and allow the stream to start over again, you’ll also realize there is a musical connection, like the closing of a loop, and it’s very easy to follow that loop and just let the album continue running from start to finish again.
As they did on The Grim Muse, Cyprian’s vocals stand out on Vanitas. Like the music as a whole, they’re very expressive (as well as intelligible) and they display powerful emotional intensity, though they do so within a range of unremitting ferociousness, a panoply of savage blackened snarls, murderous growls, and hair-raising cries.
But the music as a whole is also emotionally intense, and fiercely impassioned. The band have drawn upon elements of melodic black and death metal as well as doom, creating whirlwinds of fire, rushing gallops, and occasional slower movements in which the dark currents in the music become ascendent, achieving a kind of bleak grandeur. In Twilight’s Embrace have a razor-sharp rhythm section, and they drive these changes of pace and intensity with a high level of skill. Drummer Dawid Bytnar, in particular, turns in a riveting series of performances.
Vanitas moves fast most of the time, but it’s nevertheless a dynamic and richly accented album, much like The Grim Muse was. But if anything the songwriting is even better. Even the first time through the album, when the immediate emotional surge of the music might be at its zenith, you notice the guitarists’ talent for creating melodies that evolve within the songs, changing emotional colors yet retaining a core cohesiveness as they move through variations on the central themes. Upon further listens, when the sheer intensity of the music isn’t quite as dominating (because the songs have become more familiar), the appreciation for the songwriting deepens as you focus on the connections between the changes.
While Vanitas does move fast most of the time, there’s never a sense of sameness in the songs. The individual melodic character of the songs is the main reason for that, though changes of pace and mood are important factors as well. To pick a few examples, there is a blazing, exultant quality to “The Hell of Mediocrity” (which opens the album). With fanfare-like chords and galloping rhythms mixed with firebursts of blasting drums and surging tremolo melodies, it comes across like a sun rising at hyperspeed. The energy is infectious, as are the melodic sequences.
“Fan the Flame” isn’t as fast and furious at first, instead conveying a greater sense of tension and threat, with an edge of melancholy in the melody. But as the rhythm section increasingly hammer the pulse, and the riffs writhe, twist, and pulsate, it builds to a torrent of furious intensity. You might also feel like yelling along when Cyprian defiantly proclaims the words in the song’s title.
“Trembling” might be the most infectious track on the album, though it’s launched by a dissonant and distorted guitar performance followed by a mid-paced stomp with wrenching vocals and a dismal, doom-influenced melody. The song begins to jab and lash and batter as it boils over, though it returns to the doomier pace and melody and includes a lead guitar piece that seems to wail. “Futility” is also seriously magnetic. It builds tension; it erupts in a charging chaos; guitar notes peal like a fanfare; there’s a slow, sinuous solo that helps move the music in darker and more majestic directions; and the vocals are simply delirious.
As album closers go, “The Great Leveller” is a great one, which draws together many of the dynamic moods and tempos spread across the album. It’s anthemic and grand, as well as more than a little unnerving when the band resort to guitar abrasion and dissonance, channeling a mix of derangement and bitter grief. And it’s also a serious adrenaline trigger when the band punch the velocity into the red zone.
So yes, if you were a fan of The Grim Muse, you’re going to be a big fan of Vanitas. And if you missed the last album, you’ve got a bright discovery ahead of you. It has all the earmarks of an album with strong staying power, and each song is so good that as my friend and co-writer DGR would say, it’s “shuffle friendly” — any one track could pop up randomly on your player and be welcomed with a smile like a good friend, even if it’s a friend who’s just blasted through your door with the intent of leaving your furniture, and you, in a tangled wreckage.
Vanitas was recorded, mixed, and mastered in 2017 by In Twilight’s Embrace guitarist Marcin Rybicki at Vintage Records and Left Hand Sounds. CD pre-orders are now available through Arachnophobia Records. We’re told that LP pre-orders will be available shortly.
Pre-order on CD: