So I’ve made no secret that I could possibly, maybe, be somewhat of a slight
I first heard Insomnium when I was a mere boy, frolicking in the fields with nary a care (actually I was 19). It was then that the bearded Norsemen from the shores of Finland first stole my heart with Down With The Sun, (not to be confused with Down With The Sickness, which is a pop ballad chronicling David Draiman’s ordeal with smallpox) and I ended up exploring their entire catalogue. I loved it all. To this day, Insomnium remain one of the most consistently solid bands I’ve ever listened to. Their harrowing guitar melodies providing a bleak soundscape matched only by the dark growled poetry of frontman, Nillo Sevänen. They have an incredible ability to craft emotion, painting a picture of sorrow, of the human condition, of dying trees and endless winter. It is, like, legit, the saddest thing ever, which is probably why it speaks to me. Just a sad, beautiful, major buzzkill, eliciting some of the most emotion I have ever experienced listening to music. I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of sad, having practiced it for over 26 years. Aim to disappoint, people.
Their latest releases, however, have not quite reached the same lofty heights as what I consider their magnum opus, 2006’s Above The Weeping World. The lyrics, music, guitar melodies, everything came together in that album in a near perfect melodeath gift bag (only $19.99!). Lately, however, there has been an emphasis on clean vocals and catchy choruses that have never really connected with me the same way their first few albums did. Now, melodic death metal is, largely, a stagnant genre. Genre heavyweights Be’Lakor, Omnium Gatherum and In Mourning can’t stop the rising tide of terrible vocals and predictable riffing of countless suckier bands.
So Insomnium decided to grab the genre by its giggleberries, and release a freaking concept album that features a single, epic, 40-minute track. This is a ballsy move, as concept albums can go one of two ways. Opeth executed it brilliantly with My Arms Your Hearse, a singular theme tying that beautiful album together in story, atmosphere and tone. On the other end of the spectrum you have that fucking aural haemorrhage Lulu, that I believe is the result of Lou Reed fisting Lars Ulrich in a studio until that steaming turd of an album came out. If I wanted to hear an out of touch pensioner yell vulgar obscenities, I’d go to the Elephant and Wheelbarrow on a Saturday night.
ANYWAY, Insomnium’s latest is, based on a story written by none other than the man himself, Niilo “Chillo” Sevänen. It’s called Talven Porrti, which either translates to Winter’s Gate or Tavern Potty, depending on your translator. It has also, would you believe, won a bunch of short story awards in Finland. Winter’s Gate chronicles the journey of a group of burly Vikings who decide to sail west despite it being cold as a motherfucker and kind of a bad idea. I realise as I type this that it is basically the plot of the History Channel’s Vikings, but I’ll give Niilo the benefit of the doubt because dude’s probably related to Ragnar.
And this album is a JOURNEY, holy shit. Over the course of seven movements, the album alternates mood and tempo seamlessly to invoke emotion befitting the story, at different points encompassing Gothenburg melodic death, black metal rasping, progressive rock acoustic passages, shattering doom metal riffs and dissonant ambient post rock notes.
It begins with the sounds of wind gently lapping on waves, before a classic riff circa Since The Day It All Came Down erupts all over the listener’s face. The second movement changes tone, with a recurring hook melody that makes you want to sail to Valhalla, with strings and keys courtesy of Swallow the Sun’s Aleksi Munter changing the mood from tentative and precarious to transient and ethereal. Markus Vanhala has finally found a balance between Omnium and Insomnium, with his guitar tone somehow reminiscent of both bands being played simultaneously yet effortlessly intertwined with Ville Friman's own. The third movement features progressive plucked acoustic sections which softly build until the monstrous riffs hit you in the face like a Nordic freight train, with the fourth movement showcasing Friman’s vast improvement in singing clean. Part five is beautiful and sombre, so reminiscent of dark and winter it would give Jon Snow a raging erection.
The epic climax begins about halfway through part six, where the arrangement ascends beautifully and strings, drums, keys and guitar are punctuated with Niilo’s frost bitten howls until the lead charges in with delicious tremolo. It’s better than sex. The mood builds, Markus Hirvonen’s drums sounding better and tighter than ever, cutting through the mix with Sevänen’s bass like a hot knife through butter. When the key changes for the last time and the final notes ring out, I was sobbing flowing, manly tears down my beard into my stein of mead.
If I had to gripe, it would be that it you need to listen to this album in one sitting. You can’t really pick and choose sections as it’s designed as a single coherent whole, but the album moves swiftly and seamlessly. Creating an album out of a solitary conceptual track is a lofty goal, and it arguably never quite reaches the heights of masterpieces In The Groves of Death or The Killjoy in any one section. But as a singular 40-minute piece, it’s brilliant. You’re gonna need tissues when it’s over.
10/10 would sing a silent song to me again