Insomnium – Anno 1696 Review

1670 A.D. through 1700 was not a good time for Scandinavia. Famine put large swaths of the population in the ground and religious fervor led to horrific witch hunts with scores of women executed in gruesome ways. It is these especially dark times that Insomnium turned to for the inspiration for ninth album, Anno 1696. The concept revolving around the clash between Christianity and paganism, ruthless religious persecution, and the supernatural all plays out to Insomnium’s signature blend of melodeath, doom, and dark folk/goth, and the moods and emotions that result are quite striking. With multiple genres brought to bear in the service of a somber, grim tale, the Devil will be everywhere in the details and those details need to be well-regulated. Are they?

By and large, absolutely. Coming off the very good Heart Like a Grave album, Insomnium keep the magic flowing here while adding more atmosphere and folk elements into their template. “1696” kicks things off with an almost country-western folk flavor before blasting into more familiar environs of bleak, melancholic melodeath with a blackened influence. The weeping, sadboi guitars are firmly in place and the energy level is kept high, with the competing elements flowing together seamlessly. It’s a fairly typical Insomnium track but such familiarity won’t breed contempt because it’s so well executed. Things really take flight on lead single “White Christ” which is one of my favorite songs so far this year. It’s a dark, plodding piece framed by stunningly beautiful guitar work and great guest vocals by Rotting Christ’s Sakis Tolis. There’s something special about the cheerless, dour mood that keeps drawing me back and I’ve spun this one more times than I want to admit. Big atmosphere is also the name of the game on album centerpiece “Godforsaken” where ethereal female vocals pair with death vox, blastbeats, and lush harmonies for a sweeping 8-plus minute epic with more twists and turns than a mountain highway. There are several big emotional peaks that truly soar, especially at the 6-minute mark, and the song’s larger-than-life scope is quite enthralling.

“Lilian” is another classic Insomnium cut that fires on all cylinders and grabs the listener’s attention with its rousing gallop and upbeat energy. The chorus is mega-catchy and sticks in the craw, deeply reinforced by slick, melodic riffage. “The Witch Hunter” is another killer, rocking a strong Amorphis vibe in the riffs and like “White Christ,” this may be one of my favorite Insomnium songs yet. The band’s folk tendencies shine on the restrained, introspective “The Unrest,” which is like the companion piece to “The Wanderer” off their Argent Moon EP. Speaking of which, Letting Anno 1696 play over into that EP works so well that it’s almost like they were meant to be played together. While there are no weak moments present, not every cut is a complete revelation. I enjoy “Starless Path” a lot and it reminds me of Enshine at times, but it’s a bit long and doesn’t resonate quite as deeply as other tracks. The same can be said for closing volley, “The Rapids.” Both songs exceed the 7-minute mark and feel overlong despite good to very good moments within. Despite this, at 50 minutes Anno 1696 feels just about the right length. Sure, a few minutes could be trimmed here and there but the journey never feels exhausting or arduous.

Anno 1696 succeeds at a consistently high level thanks to the phenomenal guitar work by Ville Friman and Jani Liimatainen. They blend melodeath, black, doom, and folk influences into a dynamic and cohesive melange that enlivens the songs while keeping things diverse enough to feel fresh. The guitars deliver moments of real beauty and emotion which greatly complement the dire concept. Niilo Sevänen’s vocals improve with every release and he outdoes himself here with enough power, brutality, and variation to do the material proper justice. The songwriting itself is polished and slick as Hell, resulting in some of their best material to date. That alone is impressive considering Insomnium’s long and storied career.

Insomnium are on a winning streak now spanning three albums. Anno 1696 is superior to Heart Like a Grave and features higher highs, only falling shy of greatness due to a few bloated selections. Long-time fans will not be disappointed and new fans will be harvested. Dig this up from the ditches but burn no witches.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Century Media
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: February 24th, 2023

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