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In Vain (June 2013)

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    Posted: 25 Sep 2015 at 12:54pm
This is an archival re-posting of my interview originally done for Heavy Metal Haven, transferred to Metal Music Archives due to the original site's closure. 

Norway's In Vain number among the most forward thinking extreme metal acts of the current generation. Having released their third full-length album Ænigma in March 2013 Heavy Metal Haven had a chat with guitarist Johnar Haaland about the album and the group's current plans.

Heavy Metal Haven: First off, congratulations on the release of Ænigma, back in March. With the album now out for a few months how are things for In Vain? Has the album performed to your expectations?

Johnar: Greetings! We're still pretty stoked about the album, and I honestly can't see that we should have done anything differently. It might be a bit of a cliche, but I truly believe that ‘Ænigma’ is our strongest and most consistent album yet. The reviewers in the metal press seem to agree, and the feedback from our fans have been excellent as well. We're a happy bunch at the moment! The focus now is to promote the album in the best way possible. We are heading off to Poland for the weekend, and will do two shows there. This will be our debut in Poland, so we are looking forward to that!

HMH: In Vain was actually a new name to me before I heard Ænigma, for those still new or unaware of the band can you give us your own description of what the band is all about?

Johnar: I'd say we have a clear basis in both black and death metal, with an obvious progressive and melodic approach. Some reviewers have described In Vain as “New wave of Nordic progressive metal”, maybe that's fitting? Our main focus though, is to write strong and original songs, and we'll make use of whatever musical element that fits and enhances the song, regardless of genre. 


HMH: Why 'Ænigma' as the title than 'Enigma'? Is there a specific meaning to using the Æ?

Johnar: ‘Ænigma’ is the latin way of spelling Enigma. In addition, we liked the little twist it adds to the title. 

HMH: The music on Ænigma certainly stretches the boundaries of extreme metal. Quite notably you have a saxophone in there, which is an instrument which has started appearing quite often in metal bands. What is it about the sax do you think that draws metal bands to use it?

Johnar: Well, I think there are quite a few metal bands that make use of the saxophone from time to time, the first that come to mind are bands like Ihsahn, Solefald and Shining (NO). Hmm, those are actually all Norwegian bands, but I doubt it's an all Norwegian phenomenon... Anyhow, we've used some saxophone and other horns on all of our albums, so I guess it's become sort of a tradition, or trademark if you like. But of course, we don't throw it in there just out of habit. Sometimes you get inspired from some other song you've heard, and then try to create a similar sound within your own song. Other times, it's all about enhancing the songs with the right kind of melodies and instruments, and we felt that the soreness of the saxophone really fitted some of the calmer, more atmospheric parts on ‘Ænigma’. The saxophone was introduced for the first time on our EP Wounds from 2005. Hence, the employment of the sax is nothing new to us.

HMH: What other sort of non-standard (for metal) instruments have In Vain included over the course of three albums? Are there any in particular you’d like to use in the future that you haven’t already?

Johnar: Besides the sax we have included trombone, trumpet, cello, violin, viola, lap-steel, steel flute and a bunch of native American drums and instruments. I have no particular idea of an instrument I would like to include at the moment, but it could be fun to experiment more with synths.

In Vain

HMH: I’m curious about the line-up of the band; a typical list of you guys has Andreas Frigstad down as the main vocalist, Sindre Nedland as the clean vocalist, and Kristian Wikstøl down as the hardcore vocalist. How to you decide during your writing/recording process who delivers what part of a song?

Johnar: As described previously, we mix elements from various genres. Having different types of vocals comes as a natural consequence of this. The music is diverse and that also calls for diverse vocals. E.g. using only death metal growls would simply not fit all songs. In addition, we have many strong voices in the band, so why not utilize them? Honestly, it is uncommon that we are uncertain what kind of vocals to utilize on the various parts. When I write the music I quickly get an idea of what vocals would fit. 

HMH: How do you think your music has progressed since your earlier releases, any lessons learned along the way or any particular hurdles that you've had to overcome?

Johnar: I believe we developed a quite unique and consistent style from our EP ‘Wounds’ from 2005. Some of the tracks from that EP I think many would regard as some of the best In Vain songs to this date, namely ‘Det rakner!’ and ‘October’s Monody’. We have been operating in the same musical landscape the whole time, but our listeners have learned that our musical universe is vast. Consequently, the music can vary a lot. With our second album ‘Mantra’ we dwelled deeper into the dark and progressive aura of our musical universe. Additionally, ‘Mantra’ has more slow and heavy songs and some people find it more difficult to get into. I find ‘Ænigma’ is a good representation of everything we have done so far. I believe it is more catchy, and although the songs are still complex I think they are more accessible. Many have labeled ‘Ænigma’ our most consistent release so far.

HMH: Southern Shores may be the shortest track on the album, but it's made quite the impression on me. The lead guitar is really quite motive. What inspired this song?

Johnar: The idea behind ‘Southern Shores’ was to have a quiet breather in the first section of the album. On ‘Mantra’ I did something similar, and on that album the breather was the track ‘Ain’t no more Lovin’, which transitions smoothly into ‘On the Banks of the Mississippi’.  Similarly, ‘Southern Shores’ serves as an introduction to ‘Hymne til Havet’, which is a hymn to the sea. Hence, the title ‘Southern Shores’. ‘Southern Shores’ recalls the quiet and relaxing atmosphere we all enjoy when being out on the sea in our hometown Kristiansand.

HMH: You have a few songs written in your native Norwegian, including Ænigma's Hymne til havet. As part of your writing process do you ever set out to specifically write in English or Norwegian?

Johnar: Normally I write in English, but sometimes I get a title stuck in my head, which I want to keep in Norwegian. For me it’s obviously a lot easier to express myself in Norwegian than English, so that is a bonus as well. However, the majority of our lyrics will continue to be English. 

HMH: This is a question I tend to always ask artists; any favourite song from Ænigma? 

Johnar: Right now I would say ‘Image of Time’. With that track our intention was to create a catchy, yet aggressive metal song. We wanted to make it to hook the listener from the start and to be easily accessible, without sounding cheesy. I think we managed to achieve that. We even used the “Eurovision trick” and put a modulation at the end of the song, a toolk we also have used previously, e.g. on the track ‘In the Midnight Hour’, from ‘The Latter Rain’ album of 2007. Gimmick 

HMH: What are the best In Vain songs for the live environment?

Johnar: From the new album; ‘Against the Grain’, ‘Floating on the Murmuring Tide’ and ‘Image of Time’ works well live. ‘Dark Prophets, Black Hearts’, ‘The Titan’ and ‘Det rakner!’ are other good live tracks. 

Against the Grain

HMH: Now that the album’s been out a few months, what sort of plans have been made for In Vain for the rest of the year?

Johnar: Now our focus is to promote the album as much as we can, and play as many shows as possible. Other than that, my plan is to start writing new music in the autumn, so hopefully it will not be three years until the next album. 

HMH: Any recent albums (2012 – 2013 releases) that you’d like to recommend to our readers?

Johnar: Yep. Check out the new Extol CD. For people into hardcore I highly recommend the new Shai Hulud, one of my favorite bands. 

HMH: Thanks very much for taking the time with our questions, if there’s anything you’d like to add to conclude this interview please feel free to do so?
Johnar: To all readers; thank you so much for your support! Be sure to check out "Ænigma" if you haven't yet, and visit us on Facebook for all the latest news and updates. Hopefully we'll be able to give you one helluva show soon! Cheers!

You can read the Heavy Metal Haven review for Ænigma HERE

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