Over the past decade, Insomnium has been one of, if not the most consistent of the morose, Finnish styled melo-death acts in operation. They’ve delivered album after album of “dead puppy under the Christmas tree” flavored music, loaded with gothic trappings and they’ve won the melancholy sweepstakes more often than not. In recent years, fellow countrymen Omnium Gatherum have stolen some of their thunder and lunch money with ripping albums like New World Shadows and Beyond, but the sleepless ones soldiered on regardless, doing what they do best on quality platters like One With Sorrow. Shadows of the Dying Sun features some of the same tried-and-true approach, but also goes for a more mellow, new wave-y sound and it feels too light, and dare I say it, boring. There’s still some beautiful, highly emotive music here, perfect to spin as you drown in a frozen lake of your own choosing, but it wanders too far off into sad Finn boy territory for my tastes and feels like a band spinning its wheels in a wintry ditch, not advancing or regressing, just stuck in the flat, slushy now of their sound.
Things kick off in top form with opener “The Primeval Dark,” which is vintage Insomnium to the core, full of sad, trilling riffs and chilly remorse. It’s beautiful and grim and oh-so-Finnish. That segues effortlessly into “While We Sleep,” which is the standout “hit” and offers plenty more of the same downcast fun, with impactful cleans by Ville Friman. It’s the kind of song you will want to replay before it even finishes and it has more mood than most bands are capable of conjuring. “Revelation” hits back hard at Omnium Gatherum with a an aggressive riff and sound right off New World Shadows and it’s a vibrant, ballsy tune. Likewise, “Black Heart Rebellion” sports a nice mix of glum sincerity and blackened edges and even rises to anthemic levels come chorus time. Other moments of decency crop up in “Colliding Worlds” (nifty riffing) and the lengthy “The River” (lots of mood), but neither rises to the level Insomnium usually operates at.
After that, things get much more dodgy and watered down. “Lose to Night” is a tepid goth tune with very little death in the melo-death. “Ephemeral” feels like the band wanted to be more catchy and accessible like latter day In Flames or Soilwork, but it’s just dull and flat. The same goes for “The Promethean Song” which is a languid goth rocker with more cleans than death croaks and it’s a one way ticket to Snoozeville. The title track is also low energy, though it sounds enough like modern day Amorphis to make for a reasonably enjoyable, downtrodden listen.
In his review of 2009s Across the Dark, AMG Himself lamented that these guys don’t really get heavy and seem too bogged down in the mellow side of melo-death, and that criticism rings particularly true here. Their older albums were melo-death with gothic aspects, but this one feels like gothic metal with melo-death aspects. Whereas Omnium Gatherum manages to make this style work so well because they keep it heavy and urgent, Insomnium has been going in the other direction for years and never more so than here, which is rather ironic considering this album features Omnium guitarist Markus Vanhala.
A few great moments can be found, but too many slow tracks with too much gothy singing and a noticeable lack of death metal brings Shadows of the Dying Sun low and make it the first nonessential Insomnium album. Spin the first half since it’s like the good old days, but the rest is pretty somnambulant. Too many shades of grey paint Steel Druhm the color of disappoint.