(NCS writer Andy Synn reviews the new album from Finland’s Insomnium.)
Expectations are funny things. Sometimes they set us up for a fall. Sometimes they serve to prepare us for disappointment. Sometimes they serve only to disappoint us further. But sometimes the simple fulfilment of your expectations can be a wonderful thing.
With their fifth album, Insomnium once again offer you everything you’ve been expecting. Cleanly and powerfully. Proudly and confidently. Consider yourselves satisfied. Consider your expectations not simply fulfilled but effortlessly surpassed. And do not for a moment imagine that you know everything about this album already. Not this time.
The traditional introductory track “Inertia” commences the album in a wholly untraditional manner, its floating, ethereal style and omnipresent keyboard ambience initially bringing to mind their Finnish brethren in Ghost Brigade as it slowly builds in intensity, growing from a tiny seed of melody into a forest of stars and wind-swept harmonies.
From its rolling gait the song transitions naturally into “Through The Shadows”, a powerful number whose thunderous metallic might and grandiose melody is buoyed up by an ocean of shimmering keyboard orchestration. The riffs and vocals strike a potent balance between overwhelming power and restraint, never knowingly aggressive yet effortlessly confident and assured, leading right up to a strident chorus where the clean vocals of guitarist Ville Friman are offset against the familiar, rumbling growl of Niilo Sevänen, offering a tantalising glimpse of a band who have still yet to unfurl all the facets of their glorious wings. A transcendent solo and some magnificent duelling guitar leads crown the second half of the song in majestic grandeur, leading seamlessly into the lengthy and epic vibe of “Song Of The Blackest Bird”.
Employing a sinuous, serpentine structure, the track incorporates an array of stunning shifts in dynamic, the effervescent drumming of Marcus Hirvonen equally adept at both conjuring up storm winds of gale-force blast-beats and unfolding a tapestry of subtle and restrained notes to accent the song’s soothing acoustic diversions. The vocals roar and rage, attaining ever greater pinnacles of cathartic passion, unleashing their most sonorous gutturals with venomous grace over an oceanic swell of crashing guitars which dance and weave with nimble precision and a harlequin’s reckless abandon. The song’s final bars are an elegy of twining guitar leads and emotive, orchestral keys which end the track as softly and gently as a lullaby.
The mid-album triumvirate of “Only One Who Waits”, “Unsung” and “Every Hour Wounds” perfectly embody the joyful contradiction of light and shade, moonlight and shadow, achieving a zen-like balance between furious catharsis and brooding introspection. The former is a spiky and propulsive number whose choral refrain bleeds melody from the scars left by its winding tremolo guitars and ringing harmony notes. The band stand as one to deliver a barrage of pummelling kick-drums and twisting, multi-faceted guitars, pushing their skills like never before, shifting for the song’s climax into a subdued interlude of reflective keyboard atmospherics which set the stage for the track’s closing, bluesy solo.
“Unsung” builds from a steady and restrained opening of intertwining lead guitar melodies and flowing, mid-paced chord progressions into a raging torrent of kick-drum led force, drenched in melancholy melody by the ethereal keys and soaring guitar leads. The contemplative refrain melody that underpins the song serves as the perfect foil for the return of Ville Friman’s distinctive clean vocals, both his voice itself and his distinctive delivery adding a wealth of emotive power to the track, which closes out with a weeping lead guitar melody of subtle style and impeccable substance.
“Every Hour Wounds” keeps the energy levels high, utilising prominent keyboard lines to provide powerful and effective counterpoints to the bouncy and electrifying riffs conjured from the twin guitars of Ville Friman and Ville Vänni. A compelling stop-start dynamic crops up at unexpected moments, altering the way one hears the riffs and rendering one’s expectations irrelevant in the face of the musical dexterity and emotional depth on display. More than ever, the keyboards on this album are being treated as an instrument to be considered on a par with the rest, their contributions (once more provided by Swallow The Sun’s Aleksi Munter) providing depth and subtlety in their glimmering orchestral tones.
One of the album’s most pleasant surprises comes in the form of the gorgeous instrumental, “Decoherence”, whose fragile vulnerability acts as a tearful coda to the furious outpouring of grief which precedes it, as well as serving as a perfect preamble to the prodigious “Lay The Ghost To Rest”, which sees waves of shimmering sorrow wash over the listener like a morphine cloud, thick layers of soothing shadow wrapping around them like an obsidian cloak, amorphous and impenetrable.
In its almost 8-minute length, it exposes its unfettered strengths and unflinching weakness in the face of overwhelming grief and sadness, huge melodic guitar lines sweeping across the scene like comets falling to earth, dazzling in their brilliance. Meandering and wistful acoustic parts breathe a hazy ambience across the piece, as subdued spoken word vocals hold quiet court in the background, never seeking attention, yet capturing it all the same without effort or acclaim. The track’s final minutes build from fulsome acoustic strumming and dignified, yet emotional, clean vocals to a triumphant climax of mountainous riffs and keening harmonies, climbing ever higher above avalanches of rumbling kick-drums and stone-shattering drum fills.
The mesmerising, staccato riffage of “Regain The Fire” pulses with primal force and inchoate energy, wrapped up in a cocoon of ringing, reverberant harmonies and a wondrous choral refrain which once more sees the primal growls of Niilo Sevänen matched by the morose and soulful singing of Ville Friman. The mournful rain of weeping strings and prominent keyboard embellishments adds to the contemplative nature of the song in a huge way, imbuing the hypnotizing tremolo melodies and compelling vocal interplay with a sense of calm acceptance and purity of emotion far beyond the mere sum of its parts.
The album closes with the title track, “One For Sorrow”, which builds from a quiet and distant mote of light into a vast sonic cathedral of colour and shade, all deep shadows and brilliant highlights. Mournful tom-heavy drumming provides a backbone for the impassioned acoustic playing and soaring, anguished lead parts, the vocals laying down a smooth hymn of seductive sadness which is eventually drowned beneath the tidal wave of epic riffage and crashing drums the band unleash. Amidst the strangled roars of pain and regret, stark and beautiful melodies rise and fall, ascending to the heavens in glory before crashing back to earth in a dazzling display of incandescent fire and star-struck brilliance.
Though the album is ostensibly about bereavement, the pain of loss, and a grief that seems unending, it is not an album dedicated to despair. Far from it. It was Across The Dark which saw the band at their most wounded and lost, laid achingly bare in their misery. One For Sorrow is the scar that remains. A poignant reminder of love and loss, and the pain of those left behind. An emblem of grief that cannot, yet somehow must, be borne, and of the strength we find within ourselves to carry on. Through all the tears shed in silence, for all the rage and sadness, One For Sorrow is at its heart an album of meditative melancholy and strength not yet subdued. Grace under pressure. Happiness and heartache in equal measure. One for sorrow, two for joy.
EDITOR’S NOTE: One For Sorrow will be released by Century Media on October 12 in Finland, on October 17 in the rest of Europe, and on October 18 in North America. For track-by-track commentary on the album by Insomnium guitarist Ville Friman, accompanied by a full-album stream, head over to Hails and Horns. You can find Insomnium on the web via these links:
And finally, if you haven’t yet seen the official video for “Through the Shadows”, here it is: