REVIEW: INSOMNIUM – “Winter’s Gate”
Insomnium is a band at the top of their game. For several years this amazing band has delivered album after album that has had rising ratings each and every time. The band’s unfaltering commitment to success has seen them grow massively since their inception to become one of the premiere Melodic Death Metal acts of the world. So when a band that has been releasing solid album after solid album blindside the world by announcing that their next album is going to be only one song – it certainly surprised a lot of long-time fans, and made many stand up and take notice. So how did Winter’s Gate turn out? Let’s take a look!
Firstly, let’s start off by stating that the one song concept has been done before, and the band hasn’t done anything new or inventive here. Many bands have tried this before, and done a reasonably good job at it, but honestly it’s about time that melodic death metal bands embraced this course of action once in a while as it provides a perfect medium to illustrate and propel the immersive and involving nature of melodic death metal songs. Fellow Finn’s Swallow the Sun came out last year and launched a triple album with approximately 10 songs each averaging around an 8-9 minute play time for 30 songs and it was well received in numerous places around the world. So when their native brothers Insomnium think ‘Why not make a 40 minute long epic masterpiece?’ it really makes you think that there is a market for this, and gives you an idea as to the true depth and verbosity that these songs can have.
When you scratch beneath the surface you realize that the real majesty of this album (or track – however you want to look at it), comes from the band having already had the lyrical content finalized before they wrote a single note. This is due to the lyrics being taken from vocalist and bassist Niilo Sevänen’s award winning Finnish short story ‘Talven Portti’, or ‘Winter’s Gate’ in English. Now when you consider that lyrics are typically one of the last things that are written in any song, you really can truly start to appreciate the gravity and depth that the band has gone to here to make something special. Taking a story written about a group of Vikings that set out to find a fabled island west of Ireland despite the winter drawing near, a story that covers and includes a wide range of emotions, and then translating that into music was never going to be an easy task – particularly when your confined to the boundaries of already prepared lyrics. With ‘Winter’s Gate’, Insomnium has seemingly obliterated every single one of those boundaries, stayed very true to the sound that their fans have come to love and expect, incorporated some new elements which they have never had the opportunity to use before, and created a piece of art which is truly breathtaking in many different ways.
There are several things at play in the music which differ from the textbook Insomnium that fans have come to know and love. Firstly, the darker elements that have been incorporated which that resound like typical black metal riffs give an imposing insight into the despair and sombreness of certain sections. There are also a few different acoustic passages, progressive sections and guitar solos that just emphasize the scale the band wanted to approach here. Make no mistakes; this is still very much an Insomnium sounding album – just on a more epic scale. Vocally Sevänen performs his best performance to date, with his very distinct low-lying guttural vocals again resonating so strongly with the music and lyrics. This has been a formula that the band has developed and built on since ‘In the Halls of Waiting’, and just like a fine wine, is something that just seems to get better and mature more with age. As always his bass lines provide possibly the only platform to execute the bands great sound from and are as solid as ever.
The song writing still sounds very much like guitarist Ville Friman had a major hand in it, with some more progressive elements incorporated, yet still a desire to continue to push the boundaries of the atmospheric nature the band strives for. I would also like to point out that his clean vocals have shaped up beautifully since the band has started to employ them. You can also tell that fellow guitarist Markus Vanhala has had some creative leeway on some sections of the album too, with his very distinct guitar tone shining through in some of the solo areas. The solos, while still very Insomnium, have all the trademarks of his other band Omnium Gatherum, and some of the more black metal influences that he has stated he has, with bands like Death and At The Gates springing to mind.When you consider that this is his second full length album with the band, the first being 2014’s ‘Shadows of the Dying Sun’, you really appreciate the brevity of freedom that has been afforded to him.
Where this album really excels is in the immense layers present. The band has even joked about it themselves on one of their teaser videos in anticipation of the album stating that Dan Swanö (who mixed the album) said that the band had a case of ‘Dub-itus’ and were crazy for wanting so many layers. It is because of these layers that perhaps one of the pillars of the album that doesn’t get the appreciation that it deserves is Markus Hirvonen’s skin work on the drum kit. There is something so simple, yet so effective about his drumming on the album; it almost feels primal or tribal in sections, and helps ensorcell listeners.
While on the topic of the layer’s on the album, the key arrangements present on the album, handled by Aleksi Munter (Swallow the Sun), just give a very dark and melancholic feel to the whole package. Munter has helped handle the keys for Insomnium before, so is no stranger to the band or the sound that they try to achieve, but with ‘Winter’s Gate’ it seems that he has raised everything tenfold. While being extremely diverse, the album has some very clear ‘sections’, or ‘parts’ on it, and is very much something that you must experience in one complete sitting. When you look at a song as being 40 minutes long that might seem like a task, but I found myself that immersed in the music that at times it felt like I was only 10-15 minutes in to look down at the time elapsed and realize that 30 minutes had passed by.
So where does this leave us? Insomnium have proved yet again why they are kings of this genre, creating something that is immersive, transformative, ambient and most importantly – complete. ‘Winter’s Gate’ not only hits every single mark set before it, but tramples them into the carpet underneath it. It’s difficult to picture a 40 minute long song being seemingly able to make your day disappear before your eyes, but due to its immersive nature that is exactly what ‘Winter’s Gate’ has done. It is one of the greatest works of Insomnium to date, and is a prime example of a band that has flourished on its strengths while ironing out its flaws to produce the powerhouse that this album is. ‘Winter’s Gate’ is an experience and is sure to move most of those who listen to it, and if you only listen to one new album this year, then make sure it is this one – you won’t be disappointed.