Monday 4 November 2019

Insomnium - Heart Like a Grave (2019)

Country: Insomnium
Style: Melodic Death Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 4 Oct 2019
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I find that a new Insomnium album is best listened to like classical music. Let the whole thing wash over you a few times to absorb the grand sweep of what it's doing and pick up some general impressions, then gradually focus in to the individual tracks to listen in closer detail.

Part of that is because lumping them into one genre fails to do justice to what they do. In fact, Insomnium arose in conversation this weekend because of that. They're usually described as melodic death metal, which is a fair initial assessment, but there's a heck of a lot more there. My younger son has seen them live a couple of times; he apparently thinks of them as Viking metal, possibly because one of those gigs was with Amon Amarth. To me, doom is a good part of their sound, though they're not just doom or doom/death. I hear a lot of Paradise Lost in their guitar sound, especially on songs like Neverlast. And then there's neo-prog.

While we can't remotely throw Insomnium into the neo-prog bucket, the band who came to mind quickest for me as a comparison this time out was Fish-era Marillion, starting with the opening track, Wail of the North. While they're surely not aiming at a melodeath Script for a Jester's Tear, there's so much Marillion here. It's in the the dynamics and how ambitious their range is, not to forget the way that the quiet parts build so inventively. It's also in how the music remains complex even after the crunch kicks in, in large part because of the keyboards. And it's in the slow soaring solos too.

Wail of the North is a short song. At only three minutes, it's the shortest on the album by almost two more and a heck of a lot shorter than the forty minute track that comprised their previous album. The ten songs here amount to a smidge over an hour and most are six or seven minutes each, maybe just a little longer than they used to be, as if the band have really found their length. The few shorter songs end quickly, as if they wanted another minute to wrap up properly.

Also like early Marillion, they have a consistent, very recognisable sound, but manage to vary it considerably. These songs tend to begin with delicate acoustic guitar intros, which roll into the songs proper really well. Then the harder edge kicks in with emphasis, there being three guitarists in the band nowadays, after Jani Liimatainen joined this year. Many gallop along at pace, with harsh but intelligible vocals from Niilo Sevänen, but always with melody. Sure, melodic death goes for melody over brutality but everything in Insomnium songs is melody, even the riffs.

At some point, they slow down, whether that be for a spoken word section (or a whispered one) or for a slower melody on one of those guitars. This is the Paradise Lost influence, I think, but the way it's handled reminds of eagles soaring in a sky we can't always see. During the verses, they're lost behind the canopy of the forest, but in slower sections the sky becomes visible and we watch their majesty.

I also caught a lot of folk music here, though again Insomnium aren't a folk metal band. There are no fiddles or accordions here and this isn't remotely Korpiklaani or Finntroll. However, there's folk music in the acoustic intros and, occasionally, it keeps going into the song itself, especially the title track which is folky but still dark.

It's hard to pick favourites here. Valediction, the first single, is one. I can't forget Mute is My Sorrow, with great keyboards, an atmospheric spoken word section and another gorgeous soaring solo. And Bells They Toll finds a really nice balance of dynamics, melodic riffs and soaring guitar, but then so do half a dozen songs here. This is one of those albums where you might find your favourites changing each time you listen.

Karelia is a highlight too, wrapping up the album. It's not the longest song on offer but it feels the most timeless, perhaps because it's instrumental. Then again, while the vocals are mostly intelligible, they're always here as an instrument. Somehow Karelia doesn't seem to be missing out. It finds its own way without voices and that makes for an immersive eight minutes.

This felt good from a first listen but it gets better each time through. It makes me jealous that my son has seen them live twice and I haven't yet seen them at all. I guess I need to fix that next April in Mesa.

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