Insomnium – “Heart Like a Grave”


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Back in 2012, I got the chance to see Insomnium tour the US with Epica. I honestly didn’t know anything about them, and I was basically just enamored with seeing Epica for the first time.  Insomnium took the stage, and they absolutely blew my mind. I’ve been following them since then, and I was excited to see them announce their new album.  “Heart Like a Grave” releases on October 4th through Century Media Records.

Insomnium hail from Finland, and have been making music for 22 years now.  The band consists of Niilo Sevänen on vocals and bass, Ville Friman on guitars and vocals, Jani Liimatainen on guitars and vocals, Markus Vanhala on guitars, and Markus Hirvonen on drums.  You’ll hear some keys and synth on the album, too, though I’m not sure who performs it.

The band labels themselves as “melodic death metal”.  I think they are bit more than that. They are intensely progressive, in my opinion, utilizing strong guitars, polyrhythms, and kinetic song structures to paint darkened pictures in our minds.  Yes, most of the vocals are harsh, but I’ve come to love them over the years, and they almost feel melodic in a strange sort of way.  

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For me, “Heart Like a Grave” may be the band’s best album.  There are a couple reasons for this. First, the music is even more vividly melodic than usual.  Every single song seems to ring with shadowy beauty played up against the double blast beats and heavy guitars.  At the core of every song, there lives a gorgeously composed melody that becomes more addictive the more you hear it.  There are moments here that remind me of the rich, heart-stopping moments of bands like Anathema, and it is rare to hear that in death metal.  I often feel myself likening Insomnium to Amorphis and Wintersun for that reason.

Second, the guitars here are second to none.  Ville, Jani, and Markus Vanhala produce layers of guitar lines that truly draw you into the album.  The guitars are direct, powerful, and loaded with catchy, melodic licks. This isn’t the kind of death metal where the riff is king, or where distortion makes the guitars sound like white noise.  Instead, these three players give us huge, ponderous notes that communicate emotion, mourning, and sheer might.

Cinematic, atmospheric, climactic, dark, and purposeful: those are adjectives that immediately come to mind about this album.  It seems like each song has its own place and own story to tell, and that would be correct since the album is based on Finnish folk tales.  But it’s more than that, too.  This is the band’s story to tell, and with four of the members performing compositional duties, the music feels richer, deeper, and more expansive than ever.

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“Wail of the North” begins the album with a darkly regal sound, feeling like the annunciation of something grand.  We’ve probably all heard the singles: the title track, “Valediction”, and “Pale Morning Star”, and all three are excellent.  I especially like “Valediction” with the crystal clear clean vocals present. However, this is one of those albums where the singles are not necessarily the best songs on the album.

My favorites here are “And Bells They Toll”, “The Offering”, and “Twilight Trails”.  The former is powerful and kinetic, but the last half is where the guitar work and rhythms foment to a huge cinematic ending that is absolutely brilliant. “The Offering” has a central melody that reminds me so much of Anathema’s “Untouchable”, just a little more subtle and in the background.  You can definitely hear it, though, and I love to hear this melody in such a different atmosphere.  The latter is appropriately titled, as it feels more atmospheric and spacey, with lots of musical room for subtle sounds and synthy richness.  The end of the track might be my favorite part of the album as it “trails” into a beautifully produced melody that will stick with you.

The album ends superbly.  The title track I mentioned above is the second to last track, featuring a blackened ambiance and some subtle synth.  It feels dark and mournful, with plenty of introspective moments.  “Karelia” is like an extensive of the title track.  It ends the album with an instrumental track of gorgeous keys, synth, and shadowy beats.  It feels like the end to a story. It feels poetic and emotional. It feels final, in some sad way.

Insomnium are honing their craft, even after 22 years.  Their poetry is lush, their music is powerful and dynamic, and their storytelling is humane and deep.  These veterans know how to put together an album that never lets up, whether in heaviness or in melody.  This album is sure to please any fan of progressive death.

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