Review Summary: Insomnium are back with more of the same. Same melodies, same riffs - no surprises.
If contentment leads to laziness and laziness leads to stagnation than the guys in Insomnium must be extremely proud of themselves. Early in their career, the band found a sound that mixed melodic leads, doom-inspired riffs, a melancholic/epic atmosphere, and death metal vocals. It wasn’t exactly a new or unique sound, but on their debut they were doing it better than most. It was at this early point in their career that they were apparently satisfied with their progress because every album since has been a near rehash of that same sound. Sure, their melodies have become a little more fluid and their songwriting skills have incrementally improved, but basically this band have never changed. Insomnium have remained so static that even when word got out that Across the Dark
featured some actual changes, fans and naysayers alike were skeptical.
It turns out that the skepticism was completely warranted because the changes are few and mostly inconsequential. The band still focuses their songs around cyclic melodic guitar leads and the underlying riffs are still doom-inspired and under utilized. The main change comes from the band’s decision to make the songs simpler and easier to digest. One way this was accomplished was by removing the layers of melodic leads that had been becoming more prominent. Instead, the melodies are now delivered by a single guitar (generally) which provides them much more room to breathe. Also, the structures themselves don’t feature as many transitions allowing the songs a more consistent feel overall. Possibly in order to make up for the lack of melodic layers, the band have infused every song with a subtle coating of synth that ebbs and flows with the music without ever overwhelming it.
Of course, the main change being discussed is the band’s utilization of clean singing but it’s not really that big of a deal. Absolutely no effort was put into doing anything with this new element except for the clichéd use of singing in the choruses and growling at all other times. “Lay of Autumn” is an exception to this rule, but the clean singing on that song is brief and almost feels tacked on. In fact, the clean singing throughout the entire album is limited to just a handful of songs, and all of those instances are brief and fairly insignificant. The band’s primary vocals are still the same death growls that they’ve been using for over a decade, and they’re still the main problem area. Insomnium’s death metal vocals have always lacked any real personality, and that hasn’t changed here. They still lack aggression, emotion or variation and almost come off as “conversational” in delivery. The vocals aren’t exactly a negative, but they’re also definitely not a positive.
At this point, the band’s main attraction is the fact that they’re predictable. This means that fans of their previous releases (that can ignore the lack of anything new), will most certainly find something to love about this album – and there really are enjoyable aspects. Without the overwhelming amount of layering, the melodies feel more direct and subsequently have a stronger impact on the songs. Also, with fewer transitions the songs are able to more easily flow and create a memorable impact on the listener. The only thing this album is really lacking (besides original ideas) is a standout track such as “The Killjoy” from the previous album (although a few do come close – “Down With the Sun”). The problem is that despite these qualities, this album still suffers from an intangible “frustration” factor due to basically recycling the same ideas for the fourth time in a row.
The songs on Across the Dark
might be as strong as anything on previous albums, but the truth is that it’s getting old. This stale quality is only made worse by the fact that their sound was never original to begin with. The band’s streamlining of their formula does make for songs that are stronger and more concise, but that can only take them so far. In the other direction there is the complete waste of time that the clean vocals end up being and the frustrating feeling of having heard this album before – even during the initial listen. The album’s lack of a truly standout track only serves to further make this album nonessential to all but the most hardcore of fans (or newcomers to the band). Really, that’s what it comes down to – hardcore fans will eat this up but for anyone else this album is simply well-played yet unremarkable.