I've mentioned my weird tendencies before, and metal tends to be the main focus of such when it comes to my musical tastes. I like bands that are unconventional, blending subgenres and instruments, vocal stylings and themes, but also keeping the core of the main genre to heart, being rebellious, innovative, and just not giving a flying fark about what the recognized establishment says about such things.
I'd say In Vain's effort in Aenigma lives up to that standard quite nicely. A band of Norwegian origin, they've tackled unique topics and approaches in varies ways previously (see their earlier albums "Mantra", containing what I consider a fabulous piece of metal dubbed "Wayakin" and "The Latter Rain", with such gems as "As I Wither" and "Titan"). They appear to feel that they aren't bound by any convention, whether of any subgenre within metal or cultural stipulations outside the genre.
The album opens up with "Against the Grain", and leads the listener to believe, within the first few moments, that this is your standard black metal fare, with blast beats, snarls and screeches, but, the rapid appearance of melody, unique time signatures and sweeping shifts in the intangible feel of the music would lead the pursuant listener to hear the harmonies and epic reaching of the guitars unto "Image of Time." While, for most of the "clean vocals" are aided by guest stars from fellow Norwegian bands, it still lends credence to the notion that In Vain embody an innovative, complex sound that enlist a vast reserve of resources to properly display their art, with plenty of willing participants that just want to be a part of the sound.
"Southern Shores" abruptly breaks off after the opening bars of "Image of Time" into a mournful, slightly bluesy instrumental, preparing the listener for the moody "Hymne til Havet" sung in haunting harmonies in Norwegian and backed by a traditional black metal screeching vocal about a seaward vigil to the dead.
"Culmination of the Enigma" resurges with a hard, driving riff of guitars, shifting between brutal, "deathy" vocals (guttural and deep), and screeches akin to black metal, but almost sounding more like a cry of despair to the acute listener than any metal vocal device. It speaks to the hopelessness and confusion found in the modern world, as though were are all blindly searching for meaning and direction in our daily lives, only to find further confliction and despair. I personally find this to be a contender for the most brutal and visceral of the tracks on the album, with its violent plea for meaning and shocking delivery.
"Times of Yore" brings back traditional black metal devices, again, at its onset, but then shifts the melodic timeframe in its last half, adding a melodic guitar solo that could only belong, in many listener's minds, in the annals of NWOBHM annals and crying harmonies that are nearly metalcore in their contrasting, punkish delivery, mirroring the shift in lyrics, with its protagonist giving up on the modern world and opting for a simpler, more straightforward existence. It devolves into an instrumental, roaming, guitar driven drive, presumably as the protagonist wanders back to "where I belong". "To the Core" is more pessimistic on this front, merely orating on the downfall of the greedy, superficial and rootless among the rising generations of today, brutalizing their tendencies in deathy vocals and a bit of melody, dismissing them as "Seduced and led astray/Sinking into the deepest void" and "Deserted men with no ambition/Weak souls falling apart/Laying waste to a wealth of talent".
It's rather hard not to concur with that bare-bones assessment when one looks at the pop culture of today and the generations following.
"Floating on the Murmuring Tide" is a lament for the loss of this ambition, all this talent, that the above mentioned "weak souls" have experienced. They are only left to live their lives in the "might have been" past and imaginings of what they might have achieved. A mournful, solitary saxophone is implemented at 1:35 on this track, adding a strange, jazzy depth to this long and bizarre trip, which wanders to its conclusion at 9:17 in this track.
Overall, this is a great album showing the flexibility and innovation that is metal. Though most dismiss the genre as a rigid, macho genre that holds fast to the stereotypes of the 80s and 90s, bands like In Vain continue to show that they're not afraid to implement various influences, instruments, and use all the creativity at their disposal to communicate their message, and, through this musicianship and ingenuity, might gain the genre some unsuspecting fans.