If you read our latest Record(s) o’ the Month post for…August1, AMG Himself opined that we’re in the midst of a melodeath revival of sorts. With impressive releases by Eternal Storm and Disillusion already on the books, and In Mourning‘s new one getting some early high marks, perhaps Angry Metal Dad is onto something. Insomnium‘s eighth full-length Heart Like a Grave won’t be undercutting his hypothesis either. Following the band’s mammoth experiment with long-form songcraft on 2016s Winter’s Gate, many including myself felt the band had reached their creative peak and any followup would suffer by comparison. To their credit, the band doesn’t try to outdo the last album so much as return to past strengths with what sounds like a new level of confidence. With guitarist Jani Liimatainen (ex-Sonata Arctica) onboard full time, the band now features 3 axes and some fresh songwriting blood. Heart Like a Grave still sounds like classic Insomnium, slinging Finnish melancholy by the frozen bucket-load, but there’s a greater black metal influence seeping in alongside the goth undercurrents. In short, there’s a revitalized freshness to their sound along with a greater sense of exploration.
You wouldn’t necessarily get that from just sampling opener “Wail of the North,” which is a standard issue Insomnium number and not an especially gripping one at that. Once “Valediction” take the floor everything changes for the better. Easily one of their best songs, it shows all sides of the band to be in excellent form. The clean vocals by Jani and Ville Friman are poignant and Nilo Sevänen’s death roars sound especially potent. The riffs cascade and churn and a palpable bleakness hangs over everything despite some catchy vocal hooks. This is Insomnium operating in peak form. The scope of their writing takes a big step up on the nearly 9-minute “Pale Morning Star” where classic melodeath idioms collide and pollinate with atmoblack influences for a rambling but enthralling journey down the center of the two mediums. This is almost like a mini “Winter’s Gate” in some ways and it features the same kind of slick writing that made that album so successful. It runs on a bit too long, but it’s an enthralling piece of music with moments of genuine beauty.
“And Bells They Toll” is doomier, driven by somber leads and weeping guitar harmonies. The clean singing works especially well paired with the haunting guitar work throughout, and this one really strikes the sadboi bell hard. The title track is another downtrodden standout, playing to the band’s depressive roots to forge a beautifully morose song that ranks among their best material. I keep going back to this one in particular due to its near-perfect mood, pacing and delivery. The album isn’t without issues however. There’s a slight mid-album slump with several tracks being good but not up to the same levels as the best cuts, and the nearly 8-minute closing instrumental “Karelia” is pretty and reminds me of Tales From the Thousand Lakes, but it feels unnecessary and overlong. Add to that a few songs that could easily be cut down by a minute or 3 on an album that runs 21 minutes longer than Winter’s Gate, and you have an inspired outing with blemishes.
Jani Liimatainen’s addition seems to have had positive effects on the band, and everyone sounds in fine form. The music often sounds lush and full, and you’re never overwhelmed by the presence of 3 guitarists or subjected to an overly layered wall of sound. The riffs and harmonies are quite memorable and the solo-work is beautiful and poignant. There’s a good mix of heavy crunch and mellow, moody noodling and everything flows pretty well. Nilo Sevänen feels more forceful than usual, at times sounding like Omnium Gatherum‘s Jukka Pelkonen, which helps stamp the death into their melodeath style, and impressive performances can be found all around.
There was a time when you could expect several killer cuts per Insomnium platter along with some less stunning selections, but here the trend is toward the very good rather than merely good. Heart Like a Grave isn’t Winter’s Gate II, nor should it be. It’s another high quality release from a melodeath powerhouse proving they still have some magic and a few surprises up their sleeves. Raise the melodeath revival tent and get you some graveheart pie. It’s best served ice cold.