There are those who say that lumping bands into genres and sub-categories is a pointless exercise. Nevertheless, us journalists, in our efforts to proclaim the merits and ills of the music we love to you, the hungry metal fan, we are left with little choice but to plod stubbornly onward, pigeonholing, labeling, and shuffling bands into various corners and categories. We are forced to take the nameless, wistful effect that music has on our souls and to then destroy those sublime feelings by stuffing them into the confines of our own vocabularies. How many of the same tired, overused words can we come up with to describe how a guitar solo makes us feel?
In listening to Joensuu, Finland’s veteran export Insomnium, I fear that through four albums spanning just over a decade (2002-2011) the band manages to evoke some very strong feelings, which the paltry housing of language can hardly contain or describe. 2014 sees the release of Shadows of the Dying Sun, fifth album by the melancholy Finns. Can the sublimity of past efforts continue or is Insomnium finally due for a misstep?
Melodic death metal is a tag that gets stapled onto a legion of bands, from Sweden in the ‘90’s where it arguably took shape, to any of a host of American bands of this decade who have expanded on that template laid down by vintage In Flames and Dark Tranquility. There are also bands from that ilk that have gone the goth route, losing their edge in favor of darker, more velvety paths. With Insomnium, the collective that features Niilo Sevanen on bass and vocals, Ville Freman on guitar and vocals, Markus Hirvonen on drums, and more recently Markus Vanhala on guitar, the band has managed a most unlikely feat. Heart-wrenching emotion? Check. Aggression? Check. Melodies as sweet as summer wine? Check. The ability to meld it together into a near perfect whole? Check once again.
Shadows of the Dying Sun begins with what amounts to a prolonged intro with “The Primeval Dark,” a staccato beat bearing up that lovely sound of guitars and keys Insomnium blend so well. “While We Sleep” is one of those songs that gets inside the heart at first listen and takes up residence there. Rich clean vocals and an ethereal melody give way to Sevanen’s robust growling as the tempo increases. A driving beat keeps the song heavy amid the achingly beautiful leads which underpin it, as the song gets distilled toward the end into a calmer, more wistful tone. Insomnium prove once again that their ability to mix aggression and melody is second to none. “Revelation” is another stunner, built upon a foundation of prototypical ‘In Flames’ type faster beats, where Sevanen’s growl can master both those rapidly sung verses and the slower, more epic chorus.
As the album continues, there is no let-up in the quality of the compositions. Insomnium take us on a journey through the mind and the soul, sadness and struggle, telling their story with some powerful clean sung passages to go along with the harsh vocals. The chorus to the magical “Lose to Night” could fit alongside something The Sisters of Mercy would be proud of. Insomnium make such a move fit with their sound, though, seamlessly blending it into the overall backdrop of keys, heavy guitar, and double-bass majesty which comprises the vibe on “Shadows…”
Insomnium leave no room for filler or boredom, though clocking at a little over an hour, there is a lot of music included on Shadows of the Dying Sun. On "The River," longest song clocking in at just under eight minutes, the band fuses disparate styles together, including blast beats, clean vocals, and epic passages of keyboard laden melody. "Ephemeral" marches along with an Edge of Sanity-esque toughness before breaking into an unforgettable chorus that will not leave your head for days. Insomnium prove with songs like this that they can and should be mentioned in the same breath as those aforementioned Swedish godfathers of melodic death metal. The title track is a more relaxed, goth-y affair reminiscent of something you might here from Crematory before they incorporated industrial elements into their sound. Its message is one of existential letting go, as we are extolled with the knowledge that we are but the dust of stars left behind.
Shadows of the Dying Sun is an album that will reward the listener for years to come. Each composition is both sweeping and evocative, as dressed in elegant majesty as it is steeped in fearlessly executed heavy metal grandeur. Heads will bang, shoes will be gazed at, and hurts will be assuaged by the balm of every corner of this music. Early contender for album of the year, Shadows of the Dying Sun is certainly something you should get your hands on as soon as possible. With it Insomnium has struck sonic gold.