In Vain lighten up their enigma

The new In Vain offering, Aenigma highlighted more and more the band’s potential to offer a unique dark progressive universe tainted with black metal whereas opened up on different styles… Indeed, it is not surprising to find some saxophone, for example, as well as a strong mix up of varied vocals and singing techniques. The Norwegians provide us with an intricate music that yet got a bit simplified with this last record, with its more direct and sometimes less extreme tracks, that could easily seduce a wider audience.

While touring with their countrymen Solefald and Vreid, Johnar Haaland, the mastermind and guitarist of the band, accompanied by his guitar acolyte, Kjetil Petersen, have replied to the many questions we had about their complex world where it feels good to get lost, despite its strange meanders…

Radio Metal: Apparently Ænigma took a long time in the making because you had to put everything on halt for about a year. Can you tell us more about what happened and why this album took so long?

Johnar Håland (guitars): I purchased an apartment, but after the purchase I discovered some issues with the apartment and I felt this information had been hidden from me. Consequently, I wanted to cancel the purchase. This is not easy, and it took me a lot of time and effort. In the end I resolved everything, but this incident delayed the album with about a year I would say.

Are you actually the only composer in the band? Couldn’t the other members in the band continue the work while you sorted the things out on your side?

Kjetil Pedersen (guitars): Johnar´s been more or less in full charge of the songwriting since the beginning, and he´s done a mighty fine job so far, I´d say! Hopefully, some of us are able to relieve him of some of the workload next time around.

Johnar: That is what I hoped, however nothing really happened. So far I have written all the music, and I’m okay with that. But I hope other people will be more active and involved in the future.

« I doubt you´ll hear a 3 minutes long radio hit single from In Vain any day soon. »

The title of the album feels like there is a common theme shared by the songs, for instance enigmas. Is it the case?

Kjetil: The lyrics on Ænigma deals with many different subjects, and there´s no intentional red line or lyrical concept on the album. However, I feel that the title reflects the atmosphere of the album and the complexity of the songs. There are lots of layers – both musically and lyrically – for the listeners to unravel.

Ænigma shows the band really going a big step further, in many aspects. But do you consider it as continuity of Mantra or as the beginning of something new?

Johnar: In my opinion, it’s rather a solid representation of everything we have done so far. On our first albums we always had a few fast tracks, whilst on Mantra there are more slow tracks with a more progressive and dark aura to them. On Ænigma I wanted to get some of the fast elements back into our music, while still have some heavy songs to balance everything. Additionally, I also wanted to write some shorter and catchy songs, hence tracks like « Image Of Time ». In Vain has already explored and developed a vast musical landscape for us to operate in, and there is still a lot of ground for us to cover within that landscape. I also believe we have developed a unique sound, hence I see no reason for us to re-invent ourselves as of now.

The songs on Ænigma are shorter than those that were found on Mantra but at the same time richer. They feel more “concentrated”, so to speak. Do you think your previous albums had some unnecessary or less relevant lenghts?

Johnar: As mentioned in the previous question, the intention was to write some shorter tracks. They are still long though, more than 5 minutes. I have for a long time been a fan of long tracks that feels like a journey on their own. Often our tracks have had several “intro riffs” until the real song sort of starts. I wanted to have some tracks that were more straight to the point this time around. In a retroperspective, there are some of our lenghty tracks that I would have re-arranged. But I guess it will always be like that.

Is the fact that the songs are shorter a way for you to make them more accessible to a wider audience?

Kjetil: To say it in an easy way; we´ve focused on making the songs as good as possible, and that resulted in a few shorter tracks this time. If that will help us reach some more listeners, well, that´s great of course! That being said, the songs still vary from approximatively 5 to 9 minutes in duration, and I doubt you´ll hear a 3 minutes long radio hit single from In Vain any day soon.

The production has clearly evolved with this record and got bigger, clearer and more powerful; the drums in particular sound fatter and more natural. Can you tell us more about it? Do you owe this completely to Jens Bogren’s work?

Kjetil: We´re really happy with the way the production turned out! We recorded most of the tracks in Strand Studios in Oslo and in different home studios, then Bogren and the guys at Fascination Street did a great job with re-amping, mixing and mastering. They delivered both the power and the clarity we hoped for, and I´m certain that this is the best sounding In Vain album so far.

From what I’ve read, this is the first time you did a pre-production for the album. All your previous records were made with no prior rehearsal or pre-production. How comes?

Johnar: Correct. This was the first time we were able to do a pre-production and it had an immense impact on the album. There are various reasons for why we have not done this before. First, we were all students living in different parts of Norway. The summer-time was the only time period we were able to record and we had to spend the entire summer on the actual recording itself. Secondly, back in the days, we did not have any studio equipment. Now I have my own home studio, thus making things a lot easier.

What, concretely, did the pre-production phase change for the record?

Kjetil: With a decent sounding pre-prod, we were able to listen to the songs and then edit them over and over again, trying to optimize every detail and messing around with the song structures as well. I believe this process have led to more efficient and thought-trough songs than on the earlier albums. It also made the recording sessions a lot easier.

« I think the sax fits very well in metal, so with every metal I always check to see if I can find room for. »

The work done with vocals is very rich and diversified. Is this something you wanted to work on and expand?

Johnar: Our tracks are varied and that calls for varied vocals as well. It would simply not fit with growls on the entire album. We have many strong voices in the band, so why not utilize all? That being said, I think In Vain has had diversed vocals from the start, and that is nothing new with Ænigma in my opinion.

How did you succeed in finding consistence with all the different kinds of vocals used?

We try to balance things and not to have too many vocalists on each track. Also, we always try to have one guy as the main singer on each track. It’s simply a matter of listening to the tracks and checking if I get the right stomach feeling when you listen to them. If the right stomach feeling is not there, I know something needs to be changed. But it’s definitely a delicate balance. Too many vocalists can also make things turn into a circus. When we are playing live now we have two guys in the front. I am actually not a big fan of that, from a visual aspect. But that is just the consequence we need to bear with when we make the songs as good as possible for a recording format, and disregard how to solve them in a live-situation. If we were more concerned with the live aspect, I think we would not have that many vocalists on each song.

You chose to put in a song, « Southern Shores », in the tracklist of the album at the exact same place (3rd row) you put « Ain´t No Loving in Mantra », two songs that have a similar feeling. Was it a clear intention, and if so, why?

Kjetil: Both songs function is mellow introductions to the following songs, so I can see the similarities. I think it´s mostly coincidental that they ended up in the same place..

Johnar: Both songs can be seen as a breather on the album.

Where did you get the idea of using a saxophone in key parts of the record?

I don’t remember where I heard the saxophone for the first time, but the first time In Vain used it was when we recorded Wounds back in 2005, on the song « In Remembrance ». I think that song has perhaps the best sax on any In Vain song ever recorded. I think the sax fits very well in metal, so with every metal I always check to see if I can find room for. On Ænigma we simply brought a saxophone player to the studio, and asked her to improvise on a few tracks. We guided her and told what kind of feeling/scales we wanted her to use. In the end we picked the recordings we thought were the best.

Strangely, saxophone is an instrument we hear more and more often being used by metal bands. How can you explain this? Were you actually influenced by other artists to use saxophone?

I am not certain where I heard the sax for the first time, but Green Carnation (Light of Day, Day of Darkness album) and Solefald’s In Harmonia Universali are albums with great use of the saxophone. So perhaps I picked it up from them. I’ve also seen Ihsahn using it on his albums, but I don’t think it’s that common. Perhaps people just are getting more open-minded.

Again, the album features some guests. Lazare and Cornelius of Solefald appear on it. How did they end up participating to the record?

Kjetil: Solefald and In Vain are bonded by blood, as our singer Sindre is Lazare’s brother. In Vain is actually functioning as a backing band for the Solefald duo, now that they´ve finally decided to play some live shows again. So, in many ways, it felt natural to include their vocal talents on this album.

Is including guests, which you already did on your previous records, another way for you to expend the richness of your music?

The guest vocals can often give a song or a part of a song that extra, special touch, I think. We like to take advantage of our guest´s creativity as well; don´t just make them sing a ready-made melody, but challenge them to give us their own rendition of that part, find their own melodies, etc. We´ve also strained our budget many times to be able to include some great instrumentalists on our records, making e.g. strings and horn sections sound so much better than we could accomplish with synths and programming.

Because of these guests, the saxophone, etc. don’t you have a hard time reproducing some songs in the live setting?

That can be a challenge sometimes, I´ll admit. Some of the songs might sound a tad more stripped down and in-your-face when played live. But we also use some instrumental backing tracks live, to help maintain the sound of the original recordings.

« It’s a pity that people not into metal are not able to separate a good metal band from a shitty one. To them it’s just a bunch of noise. »

Even if this record tends to be more and more progressive, there are still many black metal elements inside. Do you stand close to this metal style?

The black and death metal elements have always been a vital part of the In Vain sound. Speaking for myself, I enjoy lots of different music, extreme metal being one of them. I think all of us have a healthy variety of favorite bands and sources of inspiration, making us able to incorporate lots of different styles into our own music.

Have you ever thought that including black metal elements can prevent some people from getting easily into your music?

We actually planned to leave out the extreme metal parts this time, and focus more on accordions and yodeling instead, but again, that could have prevented a whole other group of people from enjoying it… I find it difficult to take those kind of considerations when creating and performing music. In Vain plays a kind of music that I would like to hear myself, and that´s my main motivation for doing this. We wouldn´t make any drastic style changes just to become more accessible.

Johnar: I’ll admit that I sometimes think it’s a pity that people not into metal are not able to separate a good metal band from a shitty one. To them it’s just a bunch of noise. That being said, metal is not for everyone, and it never will be either.

What are the keys of your collaboration with Indie Recordings? Does it work efficiently?

They signed us in 2005, after the release of our Wounds EP. We are very happy with the cooperation so far.

How do you see the future of In Vain, musically speaking?

We will continue to play metal and I think we already have developed a vast musical landscape that we can continue to operate in. I believe In Vain has a unique sound and I don’t think we have any need to change or re-invent ourselves as of now.

Do you have ideas of including more unexpected instruments or arrangements?

It’s impossible to say now, as I have not started to write music for the new album yet. But In Vain will always be open for new ideas and approaches. We have an open mind when it comes to music.

Do you succeed in meeting a defined audience, considering the wide musical spectrum the band shows, from black metal to much more progressive and opened up styles?

I think our audience is very broad, it seems many people find something they enjoy in our music. We have many different elements in the music. So find it a strength, whilst people who like their music more straight forwards and old school might find it too varied.

From the outside, Norway is seen as very prolific in terms of metal bands. What is you view on new bands like Kvelertak coming out and knowing international success? Do you have any explanation for metal bands abundance from Norway?

I think it’s great they have such great success, and I am also a little surprised because the music is quite extreme in my opinion. At least the vocals. Perhaps people are getting more into harder music? When it comes to the metal scene in Norway, the foundation was laid in the early 90s. The old bands lay the bars high, so that forces new bands to bring forth real quality in order to be heard in the scene.

In Vain will embark with Solefald and Vreid next month, was it a natural thing to choose touring with those two bands?

Kjetil: Well, we had a great time touring with Vreid back in 2007, and with the Solefald collaboration mentioned earlier, it felt like a perfect tour package for us. Two gigs in a row every night, it sure will be sweaty, but lots of fun as well!

Interview conducted by e-mail in April 2013.

In Vain’s official Facebook page.

Album Ænigma, out since March 11th, 2013 via Indie Recordings

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