(DGR reviews the forthcoming four-song EP by Finland’s Insomnium.)
This seems insane to say, but it has already been two years since the release of Insomnium’s latest disc One For Sorrow. It’s a sentiment that I know I’m guilty of expressing all the time, but One For Sorrow, like most Insomnium releases for me, still remains as good on recent spins as it did the first time I experienced the whole thing. The band have experienced lineup shifts in that time, which is another crazy thing because Insomnium maintained a relatively stable lineup until 2011, when Omnium Gatherum guitarist Markus Vanhala joined the band. Due to the timing of his enlistment, we actually haven’t heard anything the man had to contribute to the band until now, with the release of Insomnium’s new EP Ephemeral.
It’s hard to tell based on this new release what the musical future will look like for the band. With each previous disc, Insomnium have managed to shift their sound just enough that the only two persistent unifying themes have been that the music will be melancholic and poetic, and you can usually expect a slower, more progressive form of melodic death metal. “Ephemeral” is an entirely different beast though, a surprising song released by a band known largely for their creation of atmosphere and constant citation of poetry within the lyrics. Despite it sounding like an Insomnium tune, with many recognizable traces of the band’s established style, it still manages to feel like a huge change for the group.
“Ephemeral”, bluntly put, is Insomnium writing one of the catchiest songs they’ve ever written. They’re not really known for writing super-catchy tunes, especially in a very blatant pop format. Instead, they tend to favor sweeping gestures and the occasional sing-worthy chorus. “Ephemeral” feels strange because it’s ridiculously up-tempo compared to what fans of the band have become used to and it’s remarkably ethereal, much in the same way that Omnium Gatherum’s recent release Beyond was.
This could be Markus Vanhala making a huge statement within the band, yet Insomnium have already shown themselves capable of writing a really quick Gothenburg two-step song when they want to. “Every Hour Wounds” from One For Sorrow, for example was like this in the beginning, before shifting into more recognizable Insomnium territory. Across The Dark had a moment like that as well, with the song “Against The Stream”. This means that, on reflection, “Ephemeral” isn’t completely shocking from a songwriting standpoint, yet it’s a pretty simple composition, even with respect to its lyrics.
It’s a song that packs some serious punch, and they don’t get too philosophical this time around; each word means something, and the song is a good example of doing more with less. Each chorus is glorious in the way it builds, and the line “Dreaming doesn’t make time less real for us” is such a strong sentiment that when coupled with the line (built to be shouted live by a crowd) “One Life, One Chance, All Ephemeral”, you have an infectious as hell song.
I don’t feel that “Ephemeral” is necessarily wholly representative of what the band will get up to in the future, but as it stands right now, it’s a super catchy, quick melodeath shot to the system. It’s surprising because it is so different from the usual Insomnium formula, but it shows that the band are capable of kicking out a really good version of something that could be considered, by their standards, an energetic “pop song”.
The rest of the Ephemeral EP consists of three acoustic numbers: “The Emergence”, “The Swarm”, and “The Descent”. All three are pretty much mood music. They’re meditative and quiet compositions. If you really dug the track “Decoherence” from One For Sorrow, then you’ll be right at home here, because the three tracks that chase “Ephemeral” on this EP are in a very similar vein. The band haven’t really taken the opportunity before to kick out instrumental numbers like this, so it’s cool to see them seize the chance to flex their creative muscles in this way.
These three songs have apparently been serving as a backing track for the band’s studio documentaries, so it’s nice to have them become available as more than background music. They serve as a nice break between the band’s heavier songs and they do have a very strong sense of cold atmosphere about them. Not bleak, but definitely moving in shades of white and blue. Three of them in a row at the end of an EP may seem a little odd, but the Ephemeral EP can be considered primarily as a way to get its titular single out there, with “Emergence”, “Swarm”, and “Descent” as icing on a really good cake.
Really, when you buy this EP you’re paying for the ability to just blast “Ephemeral” on repeat as constantly as possible, because that is what the song was built for. It’s a high-energy track with powerful lyrical hits. It’s no wonder that the band chose an ethereal blue shade and dragonfly artwork as the cover art for this EP because the song truly does evoke that sort of imagery. It has the sort of cold beauty found in snowy fields and frozen lakes.
“Ephemeral” works for Insomnium, both as a sign of life and as something stunningly different from this band – yet still just as high in quality as what we’ve come to expect.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ephemeral will be released in North America by Century Media on November 19 in digital-only format. The song “Ephemeral” will appear on Insomnium’s next album, projected for release in 2014, and you can hear it below via a lyric video released yesterday.