Monday, February 7, 2005

Review: In Vain - Unofficial EP (2004)

In Vain
Unofficial EP

I reviewed In Vain's debut Serenades of the Wretched more than a year ago (read the review here), and at the time I felt that these young Swedish musicians were poised to develop into quite an interesting modern rock outfit. Since their debut the band has recorded some new material, and though they haven't officially released another album, they sent me their new songs as an "unofficial EP". Back in 2003, I likened In Vain to bands such as Nickelback and Creed  due to their heavy, guitar-driven rock and the radio-friendly voice of Magnus Christiansson. What set them apart for me was the doom-influenced atmospheres created by six-stringers Patric Tindvall and Johan Hasselblom (the band originated as a doom metal group, after all), lending a more somber and somewhat menacing sound than one usually hears on the radio these days. I was pleased to hear on the new material that In Vain has continued with this as their core sound, creating some very interesting and engaging songs.

Subsequent to the release of the debut album, Johan left the band to join a pop group (what's that all about?) and I can certainly hear the impact on the new material. Patric is an outstanding guitar player, so he more than compensates for the loss of a second guitar sound. As on the debut, his riffs, leads, and solos are what gives the songs their life and creates the necessary atmosphere to fully affect the listener. I consider him to be one of those rare guitarists who can effectively translate emotion into sound, building the music in such a way that it can be felt as well as heard. Every song here stands on its own with Patric's unique riffs and melodies, but through all of it there is the distinctive In Vain sound that serves to combine the elements into a cohesive package.

One exception, though slight, that I had with the debut concerned the vocal capability of Magnus. He's a fine singer, for sure, but there were times when he seemed strained and uncomfortable. The new material proves that he's refined his voice considerably. Not once did I hear him fail in his attempts to hit or sustain a note. I still think he compares favorably with singers of the modern rock sound like Scott Stapp or Jerry Cantrell, which is a good thing since it fits In Vain's music perfectly. There is one moment, at the beginning of "Undone", where I swear he sounds just like Darius Rucker (Hootie & The Blowfish), but the moment is fleeting and the world quickly returns to normal.

As for the songs themselves, "Transfixed" is my favorite of the lot. Patric gets things started with a very atmospheric intro riff, quite similar to something Amorphis would produce (I love that sound, by the way) before launching into a chunky passage to really accelerate the tempo. This is one of the fastest songs, though its pace can by no means be considered furious. In Vain is a very mid-paced band, plying the waters of mellow heaviness to impart their sense of feeling. Patric peppers his expressive leads throughout this song, as is his style, keeping the music dancing under Magnus' vocals and never letting the music become pedestrian. "Hope for Remembrance" has another interestingly affected opening riff and a catchy chorus, while the guitar sound of "Frantic" is menacing and most conveys the early influences of the band. The ethereal riffs that I like so much reappear on "October 28th", the song which also has what think is Patric's best solo of the bunch. While I've said much already about Patric and Magnus, the rhythm section of drummer Daniel Karlsson and Robert Tindvall (Patric's brother) deserve mention for keeping excellent time and really giving the songs a solid foundation. Daniel's beat patterns are complex without becoming burdensome, and Robert tends to throw together some really intricate lines to add further depth to the sound.

The band has decided not to release their new material but have instead made the songs available on their website. If you're into some good, slightly somber, guitar-driven rock then I recommend giving In Vain a listen.

Track Listing
1 Lead Astray 5:09
2 Hope for Remembrance 5:30
3 Frantic 3:37
4 Transfixed 4:13
5 Undone 6:10
6 October 28th 4:04

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