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Eternity resides within these halls. - 95%

hells_unicorn, May 21st, 2012

One enduring requirement of any melodeath band, regardless of their year of origin, is an ability to turn what is largely a predictable and formulaic style into an interesting group of songs by tinkering with a few specific details. It’s a foregone conclusion that said music must be sorrowful, but whether it be a frostbitten sorrow along the lines of a slightly blackened approach, or just a dark yet unfrozen approach akin to the haunting feel of an autumn evening as the leaves begin to die or the lonely halls of a long abandoned palace. Finland’s own Insomnium tends more towards the latter character, and their sound was generally at its best the closer to its origins one goes, though they’ve been among the more consistent players in this sub-genre.

Insomnium arrived on the scene just a few years too late to provide a time appropriate Finnish answer to the Gothenburg trio that kicked off the well known melodic variant on death metal, but timing isn’t everything. Indeed, had they started at around the same time as many of the 90s bands in this style had, they might well have been possessed to recruit a singer with a higher pitched growl in the mold of Tomas Lindberg and one of the unique aspects of their sound would not have come to be. One of the hallmarks of post 1999 melodeath has been a much deeper, darker, more guttural death bark along the lines of the early American pioneers, and it meshes quite well with a style that is a bit closer harmonically to the power metal genre. Bassist and growler Niilo Sevänen is somewhat reminiscent of David Vincent, with maybe a touch of Corpsegrinder, and comes off as sort of an overgrown orc shouting semi-intelligible ravings at the pitch black of his cavern abode.

Apart from a deviation in vocal style, debut album “In The Halls Of Awaiting” is largely an exercise in quality detailing rather than outright innovation. The melodic contour of most of these songs conform to the Iron Maiden-like repetition typical to a 90s In Flames album, and the virtuosic shredding solos typical to Arch Enemy are largely avoided for a more solemn and nostalgic mixture of melodies, as can be particularly heard in the several acoustic breaks of “Shades Of Deep Green”. Similarly, the band is not wholly shy about utilizing keyboard ambiances normally reserved to Children Of Bodom, as heard on the intro of “The Bitter End”, but it is used much more sparingly and always makes way for the layered lead guitar lines that dominate most of the songs.

The songs tend to be of moderate length, but layered with a fair amount of melodic variations that seem to stretch their length out. The longer songs, by contrast, tend to indulge more in acoustic interlude work, with an eye towards a somber and bleak sound comparable to the fonder memories of a man whose present is built completely out of regret. The epic closer “In The Halls Of Awaiting” provides the most concentrated dose of this sense of eternal longing, reaching out for a reward that will be forever unreachable, and shifts through a series of formulaic chord structures that channel the spirit of early In Flames (specifically “The Jester Race”) but with a stronger studio production and a more introspective approach to lyrical content. This is among the more beautiful and ingeniously crafted epics in the Gothenburg mode, and it’s somehow fitting that a band not from that locale created it.

As noted before, it’s difficult to go wrong with this band if the mid 90s Gothenburg sound is the desired one. In fact, one could argue that Insomnium is more Gothenburg than most of the bands that hail from there, distilling the most poignant elements of the style and forging something a bit more compelling and also just a tiny bit more accessible. They are a band that hit the ground running with this album, and have had very few slow down points since, none of them of any particular note. They are worthy of all the praise heaped upon them, and like a grand elm tree, are strongest right at their roots and base, ergo their masterwork of a debut.