Straight out of Joensuu, Finland, Insomnium have been together since 1997. Their most successful lineup consisted of Markus Hirvonen (drums), Ville Friman (guitars and vocals), Niilo Sevänen (bass and vocals) and Markus Vanhala (guitars). This quartet forged the critically acclaimed albums “Shadows of the Dying Sun” (2014) and “Winter’s Gate” (2016) which elevated the band to the headliner status all over the globe.
2018 brought several conflicts in Ville Friman’ agenda, and it was clear that he could not combine the heavy touring anymore with his another career as a lecturer in York University. Therefore, the band decided that a third guitarist was needed to get the machinery running properly. The logical choice was Jani Liimatainen (The Dark Element, Cain’s Offering, ex-Sonata Arctica), who had already been a live guitarist with the band on several tours. Instead of simply replacing Ville, Jani joined the band which is now a quintet. Their new album, “Heart Like a Grave”, is a pristine evidence that this was the right move, with guitars in the forefront, sometimes conjuring despair, and others hope, in an inspired collection of songs which will propel these Finns even further.
This new line-up represents of course an upgraded firepower, and the 10 songs and over an hour of music of “Heart Like a Grave” are an unquestionable tour de force of Finnish melancholy, drawing inspiration from some of the bleakest tales, lyrics and poems of the north. With four composers in the band, the sound of Insomnium is now richer and more versatile than ever before. And yet the essence and core of the music is the same as 22 years ago. The two songs already revealed to the public, “Valediction” and the title track, are very much representative of this release as a whole, with captivating melodies, choruses that you can sing and riffs that could be either on an Iron Maiden or a Burzum album, depending on the approach.
Combining the enticing nature of more standard forms of metal with the raw approach of black and death metal seems an unlikely proposition, but Insomnium does that in spades. Following the footsteps of bands like Amorphis, Dark Tranquility and In Flames, they are able to combine seemingly antagonizing elements in an interesting mix. “Heart Like a Grave” kicks off with a captivating piano part, which could easily be on a Tori Amos album, and is soon accompanied by crushing riffs and guttural vocals, on the short opening number “Wail of the North”. A perfect way to lay the path of what’s to come, and carrying something that Scandinavians take a lot of pride in doing: referencing their own roots and heritage. An abrupt transition takes us to the assault of twin guitars and double bass called “Valediction”. Melodic singing on the verses and harsh vocals on the chorus accentuate the duality here, as the band conjures a classic Insomnium track.
The dystopian tale of “Neverlast” is next, combining thrash and black metal elements, with a percussive nature on the riffs and adorning keyboards that bring joy out of misery. “Pale Morning Star” follows through, with a delicate acoustic guitar part and accompanying piano melody, which explode on blast beats and ghoulish vocals on this epic, ethereal and alluring nine minute track.
A few electronic elements are added on the doomish and plodding “And Bells They Toll”, where the desolate chorus of “…and bells they toll, in bleak morning light” contrast with tasteful lead guitar solos. The pace is sped up on “The Offering”, where the twin guitar harmonies indicate a glimpse of power metal, and gears are shifted even further on one of the absolute highlights of the album, “Mute is My Sorrow”. Combining thrashy verses, a melodic chorus that is guaranteed to be stuck in your head and exquisite piano passages, this is one is a quintessential melo-death number.
The album progresses with another long song, the monumental “Twilight Trails”, with unexpected changes in every corner. Here, the mood swings from light-speed guitars, accompanying double bass and neck-breaking speed, to more brooding moments, and atmospheric passages sprinkled throughout. This is followed by the all-encompassing title track. Beautiful, morbid and engaging, with a cinematic pause halfway through, and as usual, many angular changes which will leave the listener pleasantly surprised. Another homage to the north bookends this masterpiece, in the shape of the instrumental track “Karelia”. All in all, this release shows Insomnium sticking to their guns and with a natural progression of their career, with an inspired new chapter in their very consistent output. As the band gets older it only gets more and more difficult to produce fresh material, but they simply don’t seem to feel the pressure or weight of 20+ years recording and touring across the world.
Clocking in at just under an hour, “Heart Like a Grave” is a focused and concise album, with potential to take the band to higher echelons of metal. After a triumphant presentation at Progpower XX this year, Insomnium will go on an extensive European tour for the remainder of the year, and one more trip to North America in 2020, with fellow Progpower alumni Omnium Gatherum and Seven Spires. The Finnish Gods Ahti, Ajatar and Akka can now rest, for Scandinavian metal is in good hands.
Released By: Century Media Records
Release Date: October 4th, 2019
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
- Niilo Sevänen / Lead vocals, bass
- Markus Hirvonen / Drums
- Markus Vanhala / Guitars
- Jani Liimatainen / Guitars, clean vocals
“Heart Like A Grave” track-list:
1. Wail Of The North
4. Pale Morning Star
5. And Bells They Toll
6. The Offering
7. Mute Is My Sorrow
8. Twilight Trails
9. Heart Like A Grave
Insomnium manages to find a seemingly intangible balance between adventurous and consistent, and once again rewards their longtime fans with their blend of exquisite melodies and neck-breaking passages. With many twists and turns across its ten tracks, “Heart Like a Grave” never overstays its welcome, and is a great addition to the band’s diverse catalogue. Get ready to see this album on many “best of 2019” lists in a few months!