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The essence of wistful melancholy - 93%

Jophelerx, September 3rd, 2015

While the "melodic death metal" (read: in no way, shape or form, connected to actual death metal) Gothenburg sound is something I usually find moderately, superficially fun at best, though there are exceptions; in this case, I'd argue that the album (and band in general, I suppose) departs completely from what I would describe as Gothenburg-like. Insomnium seem to have taken a different path altogether, or at the very least warped and altered that original Gothernburg sound so much that it's become something else entirely. While there are strong early In Flames vibes (really early In Flames, as in Lunar Strain), the more somber atmosphere, power-metal like riffing style, and departure from typical melodeath vocal style sets them far enough apart in my mind to barely associate them with Gothenburg (and thus, "melodeath") at all. No, what we have here is, while not nearly so bizarre as to be labeled avant-garde or even really progressive, nonetheless doesn't seem to fit neatly in any existing categories. While a stickler might argue that it falls closer to melodic death metal to anything else, and honestly I might be tempted to agree with that statement, it sounds so far from both Gothenburg and any kind of death metal whatsoever, melodic or otherwise, that I can't really justify doing so. I don't have a problem with it being labeled as such, but what we really have here is some unusual amalgamation that seems to include The Black Halo-era Kamelot (although this does predate that album), Be Gone-era Pharaoh, melancholic doom/gothic metal along the lines of The Sins of Thy Beloved's song "Lake of Sorrow" (which I mention here in particular due to its rather nautical atmosphere, though there are other bands in that vein that aren't far departed from the sound), and yes, Lunar Strain-era In Flames, but as I've already said, I think the influences are so varied and incorporated in such in unusual way that no one else, unless they were influenced by Insomnium themselves, is really similar enough to pin them down definitely.

The vocals are deep growls, along the lines of old school death metal, although that is literally the only element of the album that relates to legitimate death metal in any way. The guitar work is strange but also catchy and fitting for the atmosphere; they use harmonies that typically consist of a sort of tremolo-sounding (forgive me if that's incorrect, I'm not an expert on music theory) riff that's slower than what you usually hear in black metal, alongside simple but evocative leads that sound more powerful than anything else, at times evoking either of the aforementioned Kamelot or Pharaoh more than the other. Of course, as I said, this predates either band playing the style to which this album sounds the most similar, so either they were mirroring a more obscure somber power metal act already playing that style (which is highly possible, though I can't think of any that would fit this description) or the similarity is coincidental. Or, of course, Kamelot and Pharaoh were in fact influenced by Insomnium, but I find that unlikely since both bands seemed to progress naturally towards those distinctive sounds from much more traditional power metal sounds. The slower tremolo/power metal riffing style is what makes me think most of In Flames, though - less aggressive and more somber than In Flames' riffing, but it does also retain the distinctive tendency to frequently switch to acoustic solos, which surely isn't coincidental. However, while with In Flames that style often feels awkward or at most decent, with Insomnium it feels like the perfect progression in a song, and many of such passages are some of my favorite parts of the album.

As I've been reiterating, the album is somber and melancholic, but I haven't described much of how exactly it is, yet. Niilo Sevanen's low growls have a distinctly sorrowful, grieving tinge to them, enhanced by the reflective, nautical atmosphere which the riffs somehow create. I would have no idea how to make a riff sound nautical, but somehow almost all of them do, the possible exception being the title track, which is more evocative of a forest. Of course, this is clearly intentional, given the album cover and song titles like "Song of the Storm" and "Black Waters." The lyrics also add a lot, adding another layer to the elegantly gloomy atmosphere. Usually about nature and/or depression, there are pretty brilliant lines (even more so in the context of the music) such as, from the title track,

Do you walking in mourning, still wear the grief/Raiment of sorrow, remembrance of me
Through the years of bleakness, winters of bitter cold/Will you not forget me, forsake my soul

Pretty impressive lyrics in any context, especially impressive for what are apparently four native Finnish speakers. I'm not exactly sure who did the bulk of the lyric writing, but considering all the band members seem to be native Finns, this is just damn respectable. In appropriate places, Sevanen also uses very low, almost monotone clean vocals that, along with the acoustic sections (with which they often coincide) provide a very poignant contrast between mind-numbing anger and confusion and the continual return to profound, inexorable despair. Insomnium are a band who clearly understood melancholy, intricate details of songwriting, and how to pioneer styles without sacrificing sonic superiority; while I consider this to be their best album by a significant margin, it certainly does still shine through on later albums, albeit not as strongly. However, if you find Insomnium at all interesting to you, at least give In the Halls of Awaiting a shot before you write them off for any other album.