It has always been known or certainly suggested through their previous albums that Norwegians In Vain were masters at merging conflicting extremes, the release of third album Ænigma is the undisputed truth of that thought and declaration. The album is a compelling and invigorating tempest of opposites, beauty and destruction, peace and overwhelming sonic consumption, simplicity and inciting creative ingenuity. The release is arguably not stretching new boundaries but instead honing the already explored and distinct reaches of the band into their most impressive and intrusive piece of grandeur yet.
From their debut album The Latter Rain in 2007 which saw a rich and expansive blend of guest musicians and vocalists adding to the creative shock to the system for progressive metal, the band has reaped strong critical acclaim. Its successor Mantra three years later made an equal impact though for some was a mixed bag of tracks within what was still an ultimately thrilling and provocative release. The album confirmed the creativity and sound of the band as something apart from most other bands with similar musical intent and placed In Vain amongst the most respected melodic extreme metal conjurors. The Jens Bogren (Opeth, Soilwork, Borknagar, etc) produced Ænigma focuses all the already impressive elements and invention of the band into a towering and imaginative maelstrom of uncompromising pleasure, the album in many ways summing up of all that came before and was seeded in the earlier albums and expanding it into a new exhilarating and inspiring canvas of fresh and sharpened ideas.
As their previous albums, Ænigma is released via Indie Recordings and takes mere moments to awaken and perk up thoughts and senses. Against the Grain emerges from a sonic provocation with instinctively pervading intensity from the rampaging riffs and ravenous rhythms soon consuming the ear whilst the individual vocals squalls of Andreas Frigstad and bassist K. Wikstøl, the first venomously serpentine and the latter a hardcore bruising, ignite further primal pleasure through their impressive union. Once the clean vocals of Sindre Nedland join the now magnetic lure of the song, submission to its invitation is complete, the beauty and the beast persona of the track irresistible and incendiary for the passions. The expressive voice of the guitars of Johnar Haaland and Kjetil D. Pedersen soak the senses in courting and intimidating mastery, evoking and provoking reactions from emotions and thoughts throughout the continual senses searching imagination of the song.
The track as soon to be the whole album, has precise intentions with its thought leading sounds and songwriting, which holds an inviting lyrical poise, but allows and invites the listener to spark their own unique feelings and visions to feel fully involved and part of the whole process of Ænigma. As progressive winds swarm through and around the ear within the often predatory extremes within tracks such as Image of Time and Culmination of the Enigma the band secures an addiction from offering inspiring and unpredictable variations within the also impossible to predict harsh torrents of annihilatory storms. Individually songs like the sublime instrumental Southern Shores or the elegantly malicious Rise Against offer an inspiring and emotionally inflammatory experience unique to themselves but part of the full album become another beast and encounter to devour and thoughtfully respond to, something which arguably may have been missing on previous releases, a consistency which brings a different fulfilment to taking songs as singular pleasures.
The pinnacles of the album come through Times of Yore and To the Core, the first an almost rabid yet reserved prowl of the listeners psyche with drummer Stig Reinhardtsen opening the gates to his most vicious rhythms and energy and vocals preying on the damage with spite and greed. With contagious acidic grooves and almost questioning melodies the track is immense, a furnace of passion and craft employing the richest essences of the band and their invention from its deepest most intrusive shadows whilst employing an infectiousness of melodic temptation. The second just gnaws on bone, senses, and emotions with yet untapped vehemence and an unrelenting savagery of riffs, rhythms, and vocals. Bestial and primitively violent, the track is a mighty lasting sonic pyre with glorious melodic flames of vocals and guitar enterprise.
Ænigma also impressively finds extra irresistible persuasion with each visit, from being impressively invigorating it reaches a higher stature over every encounter to become one of the essential hungers for the passions. In Vain have left a bench mark for all progressive extreme metallers to aspire to, we wish them luck.
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