October 1, 2019 Insomnium – Heart Like A Grave (Album Review)
As autumn leaves turn and tumble and the year falls to its death, the Finnish masters of melancholy known as Insomnium return with their eighth full-length album. Heart Like a Grave comes to us on October 4th, 2019 via Century Media Records, and sees the Melodic Death Metal veterans looking to build on their expressive and moody catalogue, one that most recently features the ambitious 2016 concept album Winter’s Gate. After such an encompassing and career-defining moment, can the Finns rebound this time around with an equally absorbing effort?
In exploring the album, it once more becomes apparent that Insomnium have a knack – one might argue have the knack – for mixing profound melancholy with driving-force rhythms and breakneck riffing. The subterranean rasp of Bassist/Singer Niilo Sevanen maintains its edge, but on “Valediction” the continued use of clean vocals comes into play. The song will cause fists to pump through the air, while also eliciting the desire to walk off into gloom beset by desperate sadness.
Insomnium definitely have a songwriting formula that they have traditionally adhered to, and a song such as “Neverlast” articulates it perfectly. The speedy Death Metal underbelly is lofted skyward by a shout-along-worthy chorus slowed to a sublime pace that lets the composition breathe. The yearning guitar solo which ends the song is a lovely counterpoint to the harsh yet maudlin atmosphere it creates.
Where Insomnium seems to have put together all that they have learned over the course of the last two releases (Shadows of the Dying Sun in 2014 and the aforementioned Winter’s Gate in 2016) appears brilliantly on “Pale Morning Star.” So many bands have tried for the total melancholy sound, while others have written growled Death Metal so formulaic that the subtleties get lost in the racket. Somehow, Insomnium once again tread the line and synthesize bleak and hopeless nightfall with an uplifting beauty, all working alongside some fairly savage riffs and tempos. The acoustic strumming and dreamy soloing in the song’s last quarter are built back up from clean to harsh vocal overlay; the band has truly erected a monument to their own sound.
Sevanen belts it out from the guts on “The Offering,” the guitar leads full of longing and defiance. Insomnium got their start in 1997, during the glory years of melodic Swedish Death Metal, particularly that of their colleagues in In Flames. One gets the sense that the Finnish boys are taking the feel of the middle period of that sound and melding it with a uniquely Lapland-centric forlorn atmosphere. They have certainly made this into their own signature sound, of late taking it to further depth and illustration on “As Bells They Toll.” Usually, music this melodiously depressing is not served by Death Metal vocals, yet Sevanen’s growl fits it like a glove. The smart inclusion of clean vocals adds to the balladry.
The title track feels, in both structure and lyric, like something influenced from the erstwhile Finnish suicidal purveyors Sentenced. One gets the sense that after growing as a band, this album is maybe Insomnium looking back across their lives and coming to grips with the passage of time. Bands like these write music that comes from the soil of their births, and “Mute is My Sorrow,” built again on a sorrowful melodious intro that resolves into a pounding Death Metal rhythm, paints a landscape of waving grasses on a dead winter day.
The method to Insomnium’s madness might be slightly predictable; calm intro, ripping verses, slower epic chorus, dreamy leads and repeat. As in chemistry, though, formulas work because they add up mathematically; they yield a summarily wished-for result. For Insomnium, their formula of songwriting absolutely works. Heart Like A Grave is a listen as gorgeous as icicles catching the rays of a setting winter sun, promising black cold night ahead. It is a frozen moment of beauty, and for that Cryptic Rock gives Heart Like A Grave 4.5 out of 5 stars.