Melodic death metal has always been a firm favourite of mine. A good 1/3rd of my near 10-day long physical music library is composed of the genre with Insomnium making up a good chunk of that. The band’s previous album, Winter’s Gate, was a masterpiece and ended up being my album of the year. Since then, the band has added guitarist/clean vocalist Jani Liimatainen to the fold to both help thicken the sound and aid with the touring. So with the new addition and the afore-mentioned album being near flawless, the question now is, have the band created something which can top it?
Kicking things off, “Wall of the North” begins in the style commonly found in previous Insomnium albums with a rousing melodious intro track before hell breaks loose in the following track. This is very much the case with “Valediction” bringing both the heavy and a chunk of melody. Admittedly, it does sound a little disjointed if you don’t listen to “Wall of the North” first but it is still a cracking song. The joint clean vocals from Ville Friman and Jani in particular gel beautifully.
“Neverlast” continues the trip down memory lane with a style not too dissimilar from “Against the Stream” from Across the Dark. Whilst the speedy riffs and harmony based melodies do feel, in some places, very familiar, the acoustic guitar sections bring just enough difference to keep things fresh and new sounding. That and the excellent solo from Markus Vanhala which ends it perfectly make it a very solid track.
It’s with “Pale Morning Star”, however, where the true majesty of the band’s songwriting and evidence of the new member becomes apparent. It is a near 9-minute slab of pure melancholic melodeath that oozes melody out every crevice. It is, quite simply, one of the best tracks the band has ever written. “And Bells They Toll” continues the melodeath but takes a slower pace as found on older songs such as “Regain the Fire” and “The Promethean Song”. It’s a tactic which again pays off to create another memorable song which will slot in nicely among those slower numbers.
“The Offering” follows on and brings back the layered harmonies of riffs that were ever-common on One For Sorrow but with a much more polished feel. Add in yet another majestic guitar solo from the legendary Markus and you’ve got a track that would be just as home on that album as it is on this one. “Mute Is My Sorrow” could arguably be considered the modern version of “Unsung” with its calmer opening and multi-layered harmonies taking centre stage. The mix of harsh and softer vocals from Niilo Sevänen in particular sound perfect and have much more clarity than on previous albums. A short piano section and some rather excellent lyrics further elevate “Mute…” and make it arguably one of the highlights of the album.
“Twilight Trails” draws from some of the elements introduced in Winter’s Gate with a lot of black metal influences and orchestral parts making a good portion of the soundscape. Tremelo picked melodies, thundering growls from Niilo and breakneck speed drumming from Markus Hirvonen culminate to create the darkest track on the album and one which would have probably fitted nicely as a bonus number off their previous outing. And then we have the title track, “Heart Like A Grave”. There is not a lot to say about this one other than that it draws on everything the band has made over the past two decades and makes for a rather emotional and moving listen. The lyrics in particular are some of the darkest which the band have written and expertly work with the music. On a funny side-note, apparently Markus V wrote this one in response to someone saying he writes too many happy songs. Well, Markus, after listening to this track I think that person will be happy.
Ending the album, the final song is named after a region which is considered inherently beautiful and has an interesting history. “Karelia” reflects this place by being both beautiful and quite majestic in style. It is entirely instrumental and would provide an excellent backing to a video that showcases some of the natural beauty of the area.
It is very difficult to compare this album to Winter’s Gate because they are quite different. Whereas Heart Like A Grave consists of 10 individual tracks, the previous album was one long song which moved from section to section as a whole. In comparison to Shadows Of The Dying Sun, however, this is a huge step up. Drawing on the areas explored in Winter’s Gate and also mixing in some of the themes of older releases, Insomnium have created what might arguably be their best album yet.
Heart Like A Grave is released on October 4th via Century Media Records.