I find myself almost at a loss to describe what this band has created with the album Mantra. From churning black metal to the blues, this band has an amazing ability to pull from sources that no one has tried to before and crafted a disc that blows away the competition as if they had any to begin with. I cannot remember listening to an album with as much diversity and the creativity that these Norwegian metal masters bless us with.
You are greeted with an acoustic guitar that will give a false sense of security when in reality it is just the calm before the storm of the opening track "Captivating Solitude". Your ears are suddenly attacked by the death metal growling of lead singer Andreas Frigstad and the brutal guitar work of Johnar Haaland and Kjetil D. Pedersen. Like the proverbial switch being thrown you are transported to the land of metal but not just your run of the mill melodic blacken version, In Vain has a way of adding more twist and turns than you can humanly keep up with. Adding the clean vocals of Sindre Nedland who also contributes the progish keyboards, this band will simply not allow anything but a complex composition who's layer upon layer of sound will take many, many spins to fully digest.
They next hit you with a bit of old school Sabbath sounding heavy metal meets death metal vocals on the scorching "Mannefall". Once again though they will not let you get comfortable before they take off to explore new and different territory. This time slipping into a melodic epic style with a gothic feel to it. It may be hard to describe but believe me when I say it is a treat to hear. This is one of the most innovative releases of recent years and though they play in genres that we are all familiar with, their way of combining them is totally unique.
How many black/death metal bands gives you almost two minutes of pure delta blues on their albums? With the inclusion of In Vain, I would have to say one. "Ain't No Lovin'" is just that and provides the pause once more before the powerful and bombastic "On the Banks of the Mississippi". This time using mostly clean vocals, they give you a gothic metal treat that still has the occasional grunt and growl to remind you what they call home.
At the time of this writing my favorite piece on here is the totally over the top "Dark Prophets, Black Hearts". Here their black metal mentality is combined with a speedy, almost thrashy feel to give you something that refuses to let the body keep still. It is the kind of music that incites one to action instead of passive listening. They have taken you in many different directions and this is the one that will have you pumped! That is until they decide to bring you down once more by suddenly doing another 90 degree turn to a simple melodic acoustic and keyboard passage to calm before the hammering of the massive organ and guitars that is the finale. Strap in the roller coaster is about to take off and what a ride you are in for! And to think, this is only the first half of the album.
For the second half they do not let up one bit. Just when you think you might have a bead on these guys they throw you yet another curve with the song "Wayakin (The Guardian Spirit of the Nez Perce)". This one is a cross between Dancing With Wolves and a trip with Carlos Castaneda. Metal and American Indian tribal mixed together, who would have thought.
You want more? Well then you shall get it. "Circle of Agony" is nine minutes of pure metal that has some of the best guitar work on the disc. Once again the band takes you through some amazing peaks and valleys before letting you rest on this one. The band seems to have endless ways to keep your jaw dropping as you cannot believe how talented they are and the quality maintained for the whole disc.
Last but certainly not least the band brings it all home in what will be called In Vain fashion with the epic "Sombre Fall, Burdened Winter". Starting with a simple piano that turns into a somber melody it soothes before the deluge that is about to overwhelm you. The band refuses to compromise to the end and this eleven minutes of scintillating musical mayhem will leave you hoping that their next release is just around the corner. Tantalizing with the power of their abilities, In Vain pulls out all the stops as you go from beautiful musical passages to fierce black metal and even a jazz interlude complete with horns in this menagerie of sound. Few could pull this one off but In Vain does so and the results are simply stunning.
This one is a classic. Extreme, progressive, heavy and melodic metal fans unite. This is one disc for all of you and one that will have you all smiling. I do believe in future years this one will be looked back upon as one of the most important works of the period. Do yourself a favor and go on over to Amazon and let your credit card provide the pleasure of this album. It is one of critical must have disc of 2010.
1. Captivating Solitude
3. Ain't No Lovin'
4. On the Banks of the Mississippi
5. Circle Of Agony
7. Dark Prophets, Black Hearts
8. Sombre Fall, Burdened Winter