(We present Andy Synn’s review of the new album by Norway’s In Vain, which is being released today by Indie Recordings.)
If you’ve been paying attention to the Metal blogosphere over the last few months, chances are that you’ll have stumbled across either (or both) of the new singles from Norwegian Prog-Metallers In Vain, released in advance of their new album Currents (out today on Indie Recordings).
What might surprise you, however, is the revelation that these two tracks are. arguably, the worst on the album.
Perhaps “worst” is an overly-harsh word to use, as it’s not the case that either of them is a bad song by any means. However it has to be said that neither the Extol-ish “Seekers of the Truth” nor the blandly melodic “Soul Adventurer” (which also incorporates a much ballyhooed, but barely noticeable, cameo from Trivium’s Matt Heafy) really reflects the true spirit or character of the rest of the album, and ultimately they make for a rather generic opening pairing.
All that changes however with the advent of the titanic “Blood We Shed”, which not only provides a much more intense, almost hypnotically heavy, listening experience, but also features a bevy of shamelessly grandiose melodies and some unexpectedly effective, and instantly attention-grabbing, moments of a capella clean and harsh vocals.
It really is the injection of creative (not to mention cathartic) energy that the album was crying out for, and signals the moment where Currents finally finds its feet and settles into its own groove.
However… there’s a twist in the tale.
You see there are actually TWO versions of Currents being released, a “standard” edition and a “special” edition with two extra songs that alter the running order of the album quite drastically, meaning that the review from now on is forced to take on the format of one of those “choose your own adventure” books which were popular in the late ’80s/early ’90s.
So if you’re interested in what the special edition of the album has to offer, please carry on reading.
However, if you’d rather just hear about the standard version, please skip the next paragraph.
“And Quiet Flows the Scheldt”, the first of the two “bonus” tracks, is a much slower and more atmospheric number than any of its three predecessors, and finds the band fully embracing their most melodic and most progressive leanings, incorporating multiple vocal harmonies and colourful keyboard embellishments (not to mention some gorgeous acoustic guitar work and extravagant saxophone) into the mix with surprising style and grace.
The next track, if you have the standard version of the album, is the gloomy grandeur of “En Forgangen Tid (Times of Yore Pt. III)”, followed in turn by the captivating vocals and undulating bass-lines of “Origin” – however on the special edition the order of these tracks is reversed… for some reason.
Either way, both songs are fantastic examples of In Vain’s distinctive brand of expressive, eclectic Prog Metal, interweaving doomy elegance, fiery intensity, and eloquent melody (plus some brilliant drumming courtesy of the always impressive Baard Kolstad) in a way that few other bands can match.
Now, again, if you’re only interested in the standard version of Currents feel free to skip this paragraph… but for those of you still reading you might like to know that “Ghost Path”, the second of the two “extra” tracks on the special edition, finds the band really amping up the darkness and heaviness in service of a much more brooding, and dare I say even much more brutish, approach which more than deserves a place within the “main” tracklist.
The penultimate number on both variants of the record is the appropriately tempestuous “As The Black Horde Storms”, which is not only one of the best songs on the entire album (regardless of version) but is also the only track to really betray any real hint of the band’s erstwhile Black Metal influence, something which you’ll no doubt notice is much more subdued this time around.
It really is a monster of a track that recalls the vim and vigour of the band’s early days, yet also reflects the years of growth and hard-won experience they’ve clocked up since then.
Closing with the moody majesty of “Standing on the Ground of Mammoths”, a sombre slow-burner which once again finds In Vain flexing and flaunting their progressive muscles just as much as their more metallic ones, it’s hard not to feel that – for all its undeniable charm and potency – Currents is ultimately a slight step down from 2013’s Ænigma, in that it simply doesn’t feel quite as complete and as coherent as its phenomenal predecessor.
Perhaps that’s mainly due to the awkwardness of the track-listing, with the opening pair sounding like the products of an entirely different writing session, and the two “bonus” tracks feeling like important chapters in a greater story, whose absence from the standard version leaves a noticeable hole in the narrative, but it’s something that stood out to me immediately on my first listen to the album… and on every subsequent listen since.
Despite these criticisms however (and despite the band still suffering from a chronic case of Superfluous Second Singer Syndrome) Currents is still a very good album. The magnificent vocals of Sindre Nedland in particular are as spell-binding as ever, and tracks such as “Blood We Shed”, “En Forgangen Tid”, and “As The Black Horde Storms” deserve to be ranked right alongside the group’s very best.
If you are going to grab yourself a copy, however, make sure it’s the special edition, as those extra tracks are more than worth the extra cost.