Insomnium – Anno 1696 (Century Media Records)Monday, 27th February 2023
Ever have a band where the first discovery of their music is something that’ll never be forgotten? Insomnium is one of those bands for this writer. A typical evening of scavenging the far corners of the Internet for new music with a friend way back in 1999, when everything was on dial-up and took seemingly eons to load. We came across this new band from Finland who had their demos up for free download on their website. About 4 hours later, little did we know we’d be listening to one of the most influential melodic death metal bands to date.
Insomnium has progressed a ways from that original raw and melancholic sound of In the Halls of Awaiting and Since the Day It All Came Down. Having made a departure into conceptual waters with the innovative Winter’s Gate in 2016, Insomnium are diving deep into that world again with their latest, Anno 1696 (anno being a form of the Latin noun annum – year translated to English). The band’s ninth full-length is written about the “Great Famine” that sadly resulted in the loss of a third of the Finnish population in 1696, as well as Aino Kallas’ folk story Sudenmorsian (translation – The Wolf’s Bride) about a woman named Aaro, who is turned into a werewolf by Satan in a classic morality tale. Check our interview for more about the concept.
Moving on to the tunes, commencing track “1696” opens with an acoustic medley that soon erupts via Niilo Sevänen’s roar, accompanied by a weeping guitar lead that is commonplace to the band’s trademark style. First single “White Christ” sprouts black metal roots within the pacing and guest vocal performance of Rotting Christ’s Sakis Tolis, to which adds a unique dimension. Don’t be fooled – this is unmistakably Insomnium, with rousing melodies being a key component, but with a different flavor. Another departure awaits in “Godforsaken,” featuring the wistful vocal stylings of Johanna Kurkela, embracing a pleasing contrast to the heavier, aggressive segments, along with tempo changes a plenty. Additionally, a whispered vocal passage that melds into a layered clean/harsh vocal harmony is a standout moment not to miss.
If massive Across the Dark era melodies are your cup of tea, “Lilian” is there to quench said thirst with aplomb, as is “The Witch Hunter,” harkening to even earlier times of the band’s first two groundbreaking full-lengths. “Starless Paths” is of a blackened undertone, melding with background acoustic guitars that provide a sense of place in one of the more varied and “epic” songs. Closer “The Rapids” is also of the grandiose inclination, with a slight symphonic tinge to the ever biting, frosty harmonies.
Ultimately, there is a lot of typical Insomnium here – big melodies, intricate compositions, guitar virtuosity. However, the band takes chances throughout, with an extensive amount of vocal approaches, seemingly infinite variance in time signatures, and timely acoustic work; “The Unrest” being the most pronounced example. Admittedly, this album took about six or so playthroughs to fully sink in – a testament to the intricate, thickly layered compositions that are the essence of the album. Anno 1696 provides plenty for long-term fans to sink their teeth into, while also being brave enough to go outside of their comfort zone and not let genre confines stifle creativity. Insomnium successfully walks the line of remaining fresh while not abandoning their core sound, adamantly proving they’re far from running out of inspiration.