rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. Shadows Flap their Black Wings
02. To the Gallows
03. Season of Unrest
04. At the Going Down of the Sun
05. Where the Winds Meet
06. Beyond the Pale
07. Blood Makes the Grass Grow
08. Eternal Waves
09. Watch for Me on the Mountain

Norway's propensity for progressive metal rarely gets the recognition it deserves. IN VAIN have been scraping away at the exploratory coalface since the mid-2000s, peddling a strain of downbeat but elegantly complex heaviness that only uses death metal as a launchpad from which to reach more interesting places. Hardly the most prolific bunch — "Solemn" is only the Kristiansand sextet's fifth full-length in 20 years — they have still earned a formidable reputation, if only for the increasingly potent finesse of their records to date. 2018's "Currents" was a solid attempt to make a breakthrough: a collaboration with TRIVIUM's Matt Heafy attracted column inches that the Norwegians might have struggled to touch previously, and the whole album resounded with renewed ambition. The follow-up is hell-bent on taking that mid-career blossoming to the next level. Sonically rich and musically deep, "Solemn" is aimed at those with the patience to fully immerse themselves in every gleaming detail.

Without changing a huge amount, IN VAIN have become a more vivid, delicately layered beast. "Shadows Flap their Black Wings" is a fairly traditional death/doom song with strong melodic tendencies, but its mournful slickness is offset by more extreme elements — venomous harsh vocals, the obsequious hiss of black metal synths — and then outgunned by the sheer, FM-radio swagger of its instrumental mid-section. At some blissful midpoint between SWALLOW THE SUN and PALLBEARER, IN VAIN are subverting tropes with a looking glass gaze. And then the brass section kicks in.

Discernible patterns are hard to find on "Solemn". IN VAIN seldom take the obvious routes to songs of grand proportions, instead preferring to see where the wind takes them. The somber ruminations of "To the Gallows" are regularly interrupted by downward slips into unholy metal of death, but also by ornamental, quasi-medieval interludes and bursts of monochrome alt-metal. The classic amalgam of clean vocals with barbaric shrieks has long been a fundamental part of IN VAIN's musical identity, but on the likes of "Season of Unrest" and "Where the Winds Meet", dual vocalists Andreas Frigstad and Sindre Nedland bounce off each other, sparks flying, like the Jekyll and Hyde of progressive death. Most importantly, "Solemn" comprises nine songs that seem inextricably linked to one another; not through repeated themes or some over-egged concept, but by an atmospheric kinship that makes the journey flow smoothly and majestically.

After the tasteful morbidity of "Eternal Waves" (a song with more than a little old-school fervor in its psychic makeup, and one that classily reaffirms IN VAIN's tearstained, gothic and old-school prog credentials),"Watch for Me on the Mountain" delivers an emotionally intense, slow-motion stampede to the exit, with moody new wave pop sensibilities on full display and the hearty but sparing use of choral harmonies that ooze gravitas and heighten the all-stops-pulled drama. It is a fitting end to an album that thrives amid darkness shimmering and reverberating to the sound of extraordinary music.

Author: Dom Lawson
  • facebook
  • twitter
  • reddit
  • email

Comments Disclaimer And Information

BLABBERMOUTH.NET uses the Facebook Comments plugin to let people comment on content on the site using their Facebook account. The comments reside on Facebook servers and are not stored on BLABBERMOUTH.NET. To comment on a BLABBERMOUTH.NET story or review, you must be logged in to an active personal account on Facebook. Once you're logged in, you will be able to comment. User comments or postings do not reflect the viewpoint of BLABBERMOUTH.NET and BLABBERMOUTH.NET does not endorse, or guarantee the accuracy of, any user comment. To report spam or any abusive, obscene, defamatory, racist, homophobic or threatening comments, or anything that may violate any applicable laws, use the "Report to Facebook" and "Mark as spam" links that appear next to the comments themselves. To do so, click the downward arrow on the top-right corner of the Facebook comment (the arrow is invisible until you roll over it) and select the appropriate action. You can also send an e-mail to blabbermouthinbox(@) with pertinent details. BLABBERMOUTH.NET reserves the right to "hide" comments that may be considered offensive, illegal or inappropriate and to "ban" users that violate the site's Terms Of Service. Hidden comments will still appear to the user and to the user's Facebook friends. If a new comment is published from a "banned" user or contains a blacklisted word, this comment will automatically have limited visibility (the "banned" user's comments will only be visible to the user and the user's Facebook friends).