Album: Heart like a Grave
Label: Century Media
Insomnium has been one of the most consistently good bands to come out of Finland in the past decade, while managing to undeniably do their own thing. Starting by releasing some of the best Finnish melodic death metal and then shockingly releasing a 60-minute, single-song story album, fans were left wondering what they’d do next. What they got was Heart Like a Grave, and we’re way overdue on sharing our thoughts on it.
[ed: this review has been backdated from 12.2019]
“Wail of the North” fades in on a piano-led part before the rest of the band comes in, full-force. The sound from this track is vaguely reminiscent of Amon Amarth, though the vocals are stronger here. The song isn’t quite an intro, but does go straight into “Valediction” as if it were. I’ve always admired the unique passion Insomnium has been able to use with sparing clean vocals. They did it back in 2010 with “Where the Last Wave Broke,” and they’ve done it again with “Valediction,” which was one of my favorite songs of the year. “Neverlast” then feels like a straightforward Insomnium song with a perfect guitar melody and special kind of packed emotion that no other band pulls off.
They slow things down with “Pale Morning Star,” with the gentle piano/guitar intro that gets a jolt of power when the relentless blasting drums kick in. It doesn’t stay soft long as Niilo Sevänen sings lyrics that speak of darkness and feel generally like they’ve tapped into the traditional “Finnish melancholy,” just as the album had promised. “And Bells They Toll” also starts out gently before getting a kick by the band’s full appearance. This track, however, keeps a lower tempo and a more mournful sound, which is quite appropriate for the subject matter.
“The Offering” makes use of Insomnium’s trademark long notes wonderfully, as well as the ebb and flow of the song’s pacing, and the upturned notes in the music is really powerful. “Mute is My Sorrow,” on the other hand, is a bit more of a traditional Insomnium rock-out song, starting gently but finding its way into an upbeat and straightforward tempo.
“Twilight Trails” is the first of three longer tracks towards the end of the album and offers an interesting pacing and a pure dark and powerful track, though halfway through it mellows out to prevent the soundscape from being one-note. “Heart Like a Grave” is strong and emotional, with a nice use of lighter vocals in the chorus to balance out the effect of the song and add more emotional push. The use of acoustic guitars and ambient sound in the beginning is really nice, while the return of the clean vocals again adds further depth into the mix. The album then finishes up with “Karelia,” a long and ambient instrumental that really nicely closes out the album on a serene yet strong note.
This album taps into the “Finnish melancholy” in a truly incredible way. When most bands enter that dark place, the music comes out gloomy and hopeless. While some people are into that, what drew me into this album was that the dark soundscape is perfect, but it also leaves you still feeling hopeful and not drained of joy. Beyond that, the overall sound feels so very traditionally Insomnium, and traditional Insomnium seems to equate to improving on and mastering their unique sound more with each album they release. It’s also worth mentioning that the addition of Jani Liimatainen on guitars alongside Markus Vanhala is really nice as well; the guitar performance on the album is really solid throughout.
Rating: 9/10, 5 stars
1. Wail of the North
4. Pale Morning Star
5. And Bells They Toll
6. The Offering
7. Mute is My Sorrow
8. Twilight Trails
9. Heart like a Grave