Insomnium
Winter's Gate


3.2
good

Review

by Kyle Ward EMERITUS
September 12th, 2016 | 507 replies


Release Date: 2016 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Diminishing returns

Sometime between 2009 and 2011, something major in the Insomnium camp changed. They have a history of unabashed melodrama that, by the time Above the Weeping World was written in 2006, had morphed into more of a je ne sais quoi that set Insomnium apart from their counterparts. The intertwining melodies that comingled electric and acoustic guitar, the heavy use of tempo shifts to keep songs fluid and dynamic, and of course an unwavering commitment to exceedingly sullen atmosphere all came together to create an identity for the band. Suddenly, with the release of One for Sorrow and coinciding with the departure of Ville Vänni and addition of Omnium Gatherum guitarist Markus Vanhala, that identity began to erode, being replaced with something familiar but not quite the same. The riffing became more direct, the acoustic guitars distanced themselves from the electrics and even began to disappear, clean vocals became commonplace, and the over-the-top melodrama faded. Seven years and three albums distant from what I see as the last “classic” Insomnium album Across the Dark, we have here perhaps another evolution in sound that is a natural product of this identity shift. Winter’s Gate reveals itself to be an album of restraint and maturity, despite what its guise of a Crimson-esque epic promises, and clearly displays a changed band that was once criticized by many for refusing to grow up.

There is no shame in growing up, though, and that was clear enough with Shadows of the Dying Sun. It allows for songwriting focus and shuns away lofty and unattainable goals, instead purifying a vision and allowing it to actually be realized. Instrumentally, this is certainly the case with Winter’s Gate - the audio accompaniment to Niilo Sevänen’s short story of the same name - as the numerous solos and stylistic shifts pay homage to Vanhala’s experience with Omnium Gatherum more so than any other Insomnium record he has been a part of. Similarly, the songwriting style of Ville Friman proves pivotal as much here as it has on the band’s last two records, providing swift, pure melodies that accent rather than encompass and smother the album’s movements. Their styles combine to be less bloated and massive than the band’s past compositions – for better or worse. The guitars are in permanent motion here, allowing themselves to properly drive the story forward rather than encouraging everything to remain in place and rot. Indeed, Winter’s Gate shifts its gaze across several genres as the record proceeds, from straightforward melodic death metal to progressive, to doom, and finally to black metal by the tumultuous close. This is the kind of proper motion needed for a lofty, one-track record to succeed, and it is without question that Insomnium deliver on this crucial aspect of their work.

It is a bit disheartening to realize, though, that the loss of this pervasive melancholy has sucked quite a bit of the flavor from their sound. Things are at times bland, and I daresay that I caught myself begging for Insomnium to forsake their careful restraint and say to hell with the thought that their younger, melodramatic iteration was a negative influence. There is a lack of – here again we bring up intangibles – that je ne sais quoi they captured on tracks like “Disengagement”, “In the Groves of Death”, “Daughter of the Moon”, “Lay of the Autumn”, or “In the Halls of Awaiting”. These songs are all so incredible because they take a particular mood and drive it close to the breaking point, yet in multiple instances throughout Winter’s Gate it feels like there is more to give, and perhaps for conceptual reasons the band refuses to even approach the heights they could have – it is indeed a limitation to the instruments to be bound by a clearly defined lyrical concept before the first notes are even written. Just as one particular style begins to build toward crescendo, the songwriting lets it slip in favor of ushering in the album’s next movement by way of acoustic bridge or piano interlude.

With that said, though, the breadth of the record is admirable. The furious black metal blasting toward the album’s close is harrowing and entirely out-of-character, creating an alarming surge in intensity that the previous 35 minutes would not really have prepared you for. It is a treat to witness the experimentation taking place here, because it has spawned some truly unexpected moments that do not feel like the Insomnium we have known – and I mean that in a good way. The proggy guitar that opens the album’s second act segues fantastically into the heavy tremolo-picked riff that follows, the keyboards from Aleksi Munter dance above the thundering drumming in a blissful dichotomy, and Ville Friman’s singing finally appears to be at home when properly placed within the album’s many moods – this time introduced by a placid acoustic guitar in a bridge that is easily one of the most pleasant parts of the entire record. On the other hand, the unexpected rears its head in the album’s brilliant acoustic and piano outro, a portion of songwriting that is so good that it feels almost criminal to hinder it with such brevity. In the past, Insomnium were daring enough to take such moments and drive them forth to their limits, a quality that has seemingly since diminished. Sure, this keeps things from spiraling out of control at the expense of the album’s story, but it also means that Winter’s Gate has a perpetual aura of restraint.

That is the real unfortunate part of Winter’s Gate: nothing is stretching limits. It is an album written under the guise of experimentation, yet at the end of the day I wouldn’t call anything in Winter’s Gate especially audacious. One could say that retreating to their early sound and hiding among old habits is far from daring, and I would agree with such a criticism, but one has to wonder what Insomnium were hoping for with this record. Sure, it is a vessel to explore the moods of Sevänen’s novella, and it certainly allows the band the room to touch areas they’ve been extending feelers toward for a while now: black metal, progressive, doom. However, I don’t feel Winter’s Gate is thorough enough in its exploration of these facets to say any real work has been done in determining if these pieces fit within the Insomnium puzzle. Niilo Sevänen’s growls are the same as they have ever been, the riffing is not especially memorable, and despite the incorporation of so many different genres it isn’t as theatrical a piece as an album that was compared by the band themselves to Crimson should be. Not even Insomnium’s best production to date at the hands of none other than Crimson’s mastermind Dan Swanö could propel this above the realm of just another good Insomnium release.

Winter’s Gate is just that: a good Insomnium release. It spans a decidedly impressive range of styles, but never dedicates enough time to any of them to let them reach their full potential within Insomnium’s relatively stringent modus operandi for this album - one where the instruments were written around the lyrical concept instead of the other way around. This general lack of substance behind Insomnium’s foray into other genres was a problem that occurred to a lesser extent on Shadows of the Dying Sun but was made less obvious due the album’s more traditional format. Here, though, it is a fault that becomes glaring due to the open-ended structure of Winter’s Gate, so perhaps it is time to say it now: Insomnium need to allow their moods to develop and figure out how to complement each other. They don’t have to abandon melodic death metal, but it must be understood that segregating each individual style and only allotting a few minutes each is not good enough. Beforehand, they chose one sound and developed it to the point of perfection, but here it almost seems like they have their hands full. It is clear that they want to try something new and venture to places they have yet to explore, but there is a level of responsibility that comes with accepting such an undertaking. Thankfully, Insomnium are talented enough to keep things in line and craft a record that adequately conveys the complex and often clashing moods of a piece of writing, but in doing so they fail to fully capitalize on the potential that such an unusual album structure allows them. At the end of the day, Winter’s Gate is entirely enjoyable throughout – nothing is even close to being poorly written or executed – it is just that there are almost no moments in the entire 40 minutes that I would call exceptional, where the band went above and beyond to craft something truly memorable. More than anything, that is the legacy that Winter’s Gate will leave behind.



Recent reviews by this author
Be'lakor VesselsNovembre Ursa
Swallow the Sun Songs From The North I, II & IIIKauan Sorni Nai
Drudkh A Furrow Cut ShortEmperor In The Nightside Eclipse
user ratings (339)
Chart.
4
excellent
other reviews of this album
Filip Kurbanovic (5)
You know how a song can sometimes paint a picture or tell a story? This song can project a movie....

Chamberbelain (4)
Winter is here....


Comments:Add a Comment 
Crysis
Emeritus
September 12th 2016


17232 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Thanks to Atari for reassuring me my thoughts on this aren't completely insane, and thanks for letting me grab first review even though you dibbed it. I would rate this a 3.2 or 3.3 if I were still staff.



Some will like it, others won't. Nothing from this album really lingers in my mind after listening to it, it just sort of happens and I go "oh that was nice", then forget about it. If you like newer Insomnium you'll like this for sure. I strongly, strongly prefer older Insomnium and I find this a bit dreary. Take that for what it may be.

Flugmorph
September 12th 2016


16210 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

damn

Digging: Schammasch - The Maldoror Chants: Hermaphrodite

Crysis
Emeritus
September 12th 2016


17232 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

i've been spinning this perpetually for nearly a month now trying to convince myself that my own opinion was wrong

Ebola
September 12th 2016


2561 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

pls be wrong

Crysis
Emeritus
September 12th 2016


17232 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Xeno liked it, and I think Willie liked it, so I could be wrong. Or it could just be a polarizing record.

tastepolice
September 12th 2016


160 Comments


lmao at anyone who doesn't recognize above the weeping world as this band's solitary peak

Flugmorph
September 12th 2016


16210 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

this band had two peaks

Atari
Staff Reviewer
September 12th 2016


22442 Comments


no problem Kyle. I know I already said it, but great write-up. You write some pretty massive reviews, man. And I agree with pretty much all of this. There are some really cool moments, but I've been torn between a 3 and 3.5 since I heard this.

Digging: Captain, We're Sinking - The King of No Man

BallsToTheWall
September 12th 2016


47725 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Oh my gash...need to hear this.

Digging: Hugo Kant - Out of Time

Jacquibim
Staff Reviewer
September 12th 2016


1780 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Completely agree with this review, especially the third and fifth paragraphs.

zaruyache
September 12th 2016


17037 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

they added black metal and blast beats so has to objectively rule but if not i'm just gonna have to reserve some time in my schedule to cry.

Durrzo
September 12th 2016


1434 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I hope I enjoy this more than you have, I'm pretty excited for it and would hate to be let down. But I'm not really an old school Insomnium fan so my take on it will likely be very different than yours.

Ebola
September 12th 2016


2561 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Shadows of the Dying Sun might be my favorite Insomnium album tbh

DungeonBoy
September 13th 2016


2714 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I’m not fluent in French but I think I get the gist of your short novel.. ahem.. review. I have yet to hear this since it doesn't appear to be streaming anywhere, and I didn't pre-order it. The clips all sounded very promising, and to be honest I really hope you're wrong because I want this to be awesome. Make Insomnium Great Again. Since the Day.. and Above the Weeping World are two of my favorite melodeath albums ever written. I'll have to judge for myself, but based on your review, it doesn't sound like a return to their golden era or a notable exploration of their sound.



"It is clear that they want to try something new and venture to places they have yet to explore, but there is a level of responsibility that comes with accepting such an undertaking."



OK, Dad ;)



Your writing is well thought out and enjoyable to read.

Kusangii
September 13th 2016


1460 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Whoa, only a 3 from Crysis himself. What a bummer. Very good review as usual though.

ShadowRemains
September 13th 2016


24583 Comments


zzzzzzzzzzzzz

BallsDeep
September 13th 2016


4647 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

great review but lets hope you're wrong.

Kusangii
September 13th 2016


1460 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Is there a stream available for this yet?

Ponton
Emeritus
September 13th 2016


6100 Comments


2016 is a weird year

zaruyache
September 13th 2016


17037 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

no stream/no leak.



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2017 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy