What we commonly call death metal has always been peculiarly relevant in Finland and, combined with melodies, technique or doom atmospheres, it has made famous bands such as Demilich, Omnium Gatherum, Kalmah, Swallow The Sun and so on. Nowadays, Insomnium has been carrying the torch of Finnish melodic death metal around the world. Albums such as Across The Dark and Shadows Of The Dying Sun made them great and worldwide famous and their recent Winter’s Gate confirmed their skills and inspiration while surprising with its unexpected — and yet much appreciated — black metal texture. After more than twenty years of activity, these Finns has finally started experimenting at their best with their sound and this is how we got this majestic Heart Like A Grave.
The eight album of Niilo Sevänen and friends’ creature came out last October, 4 and it’s been the first release of the band featuring a line-up change since Markus Vanhala (founder of Omnium Gatherum) came in back in 2011, namely the addition of former Sonata Arctica member Jani Liimatainen as their third guitarist and vocalist. Having their fifth member joining in strongly influenced the Finns, who’ve been living their most prolific period of experimentation since the band’s inception. Let’s get it clear, the melodic death metal trademark sound of the quintet of the last fifteen years is still part of its music’s core: Sevänen’s growl is always surrounded by guitars’ melodic riffing and everything moves in accordance with Scandinavian rhythmics (such as those of the most recent Dark Tranquillity or Amorphis records).
Nonetheless it’s crystal-clear that the addition of the redhead cowboy from Kemi played an important role in the band’s sound evolution, as one can notice from their single “Valediction”, released by Insomnium in August. When I first heard those acoustic guitars, the strong presence of clean singing and that 4/4 so rhythmical, it instantly seemed to me like a heavy-prog song rather than a death metal piece; a feeling that changed only at the song’s end, when I felt like I’d had just witnessed one of my favourite bands turning pop. I’ll admit that it confused me, it really did, but in the end it all made sense.
Heart Like A Grave (which effortlessly stretches to 70 minutes with the bonus acoustic “The True Morning Star” and the remix “Karelia 2049”) is a more immediate and less monotonous album compared with other previous releases, because, let’s be honest, it would be a little insincere of us asserting that the classic, trademark sound of Insomnium has meant always and only true strikes of genius and fresh ideas. From the beginning of the first track it’s easy to notice the presence of something new, something that comes out explosively with the following “Valediction”, which, now, feels absolutely convincing being it in its context. The album then goes off and proceeds steadily but firmly, sounding somehow like both One For Sorrow and Winter’s Gate; “Neverlast”, “The Offering” and “Mute My Sorrow” make perfect, glaringly obvious examples of that. And although the eponymous “Heart Like A Grave” and the last “Karelia” are indeed great, consistent songs, the most shining gem of the whole lot is “Pale Morning Star”: nine minutes that will hardly abandon me over the next months.
2019 has been an extraordinarily good year for Insomnium, that’s revealed to the world a new side of its being, a face as tunefully fierce as it is progressively furious. The addition of Liimatainen on guitars and vocals has happened with the best timing possible and, with his contribution, Hear Like A Grave places itself automatically among the most beautiful releases of the year.