Review Summary: Winter is here.
Even though they’ve never been as celebrated as “The Gothenburg Three”, Insomnium have always been a trusty band when it comes to melodic death metal. Throughout their career they have been churning out great albums that cover all feelings from solitude to inspiration with stirring intent. Based on a short story written by Niilo Sevänen (vocals, bass) about a group of Vikings who set out on a quest to find a fabled land north-west of Ireland during a harsh winter, “Winter’s Gate” marks the first album where Insomnium tread into native lands of experimentation by creating one epic 40 minute song.
When you read a book, there are often certain quotes that stand out from the surrounding text. These affecting quotes are the ones that you relate most to, the ones where you can find a piece of yourself within the words and the ones that are more than fiction; they are part of real life. The translation of this feeling on “Winter’s Gate” is that when you listen to the entirety of it, there are moments amongst the surrounding cold soundscapes that are more than just captivating- they bring a warm sense of completeness to the music and without this soaring moment, that part of the song just wouldn’t feel complete.
Such instances strike at various intervals. Between some acoustic passages and soothing atmospherics, Markus Vanhala executes an unexpected blizzard of melodies at 07:44. At 12:52 the characters of the story enter uncharted borders as Insomnium feature a tentative, proggy riff which initially serves as a build up to a unsatisfactory climax of slow clanging guitars but then, at 16:48, the real climax hits-albeit briefly but still just as moving.
However, due to the continuous flow of the album, these heightening moments become forgetful if they are not repeated- that’s the risk that you take creating an album that comprises of just one song. Much like Swallow The Sun’s “Songs From The North”, the hazard of “Winter’s Gate” is the colossal ambition of it. It has to be listened to in full in order for these moments to fully connect with you- if you simply skipped to the specific ‘bit-that-you-like’ then it comes across as unfulfilling. Furthermore, in contrast to the ambition of producing a (dead on) 40 minute song, the members of Insomnium rarely expand their style. The tone of the album is much like the rest of Insomnium’s albums. Niilo Sevänen’s growls have barely changed but just like the harsh environment that the lyrics depict, Vanhala avoids sounding repetitive or tedious by continuing his swerves from giant tremolo hooks to sombre acoustics. This dynamic approach is a welcome relief due to the run time of this single song as he avoids sounding repetitious or tedious.
One of the biggest similarities to Insomnium’s past work is that they have not lost the ability to create incredible introductions. The first 6 minutes is nothing but an adrenalized ride that commences the journey while the conclusion of “Winter’s Gate” is just as fulfilling, if not more. Pummelling tremolo riffs and blast beats thunder alongside Sevänen’s icy growls in the final minutes of the song creating an aura of grandeur that Insomnium have not summoned in a very long time. In these final moments, Insomnium show us that they can be the untouchable masters of melodic death metal that they proved to be a decade ago.