INSOMNIUM – Anno 1696
RELEASE YEAR: 2023
BAND URL: https://www.insomnium.net/
The”Argent Moon”²⁰²¹ EP was such a fantastic release that, as I remarked in my review (5.5/6) I could hardly wait for the full length and it turned out I had been so right about my predictions. The 9th full length from the Finnish purveyors of progressive melodic death metal approaches the perfection of “Across The Dark” while reaching back for whatever made “Above The Weeping World” the classic it was. Melody is no longer just means to justify the first of the three words in the genre often contracted to the term “melodeath” but Insomnium’s very identity on which they are building a new one by playing with their talent and undeniable songwriting prowess and, unlike on “Argent Moon”, the progression comes at absolutely no compromise to the death metal. If anything, this is Insomnium’s most extreme work to date in every consideration: be it genre hopping, variety, melody, the sheer brutality of conveyance or what have you.
A happy medium between classic In Flames and Dark Tranquillity Insomnium (named after some unknown association with dreams not insomnia) have had an appeal even from their debut album, “In The Halls Of Awaiting”²⁰⁰² released 5 years after their inception and “Since It All Came Down”²⁰⁰⁴ but took the metal world by surprise with fiercely unique masterpiece “Above The Weeping World”²⁰⁰⁶ followed by a slightly less aggressive but lusciously melodic “Across The Dark”²⁰⁰⁹ and it is that album, which is my favorite from them, the point at which they seemed to slowly decline in quality to some as “One For Sorrow”²⁰¹¹ seemed to have divided some fans and likely prompted founding guitarist, Ville Vänni to leave, but the good news was he was replaced by Omnium Gatherum’s founder Markus Vanhala, a man of incredible songwriting talent for the recording of “Shadows Of The Dying Sun”²⁰¹⁴ an album which did show a little wear and tear in places even to me while, on the plus side, at the same time revealed heavy black metal influence, which, it turned out, was the missing piece necessary for Insomnium to record what Edge Of Sanity did on “Crimson”: a single song 40 minute album which became “Winter’s Gate”²⁰¹⁶, again, prompting some criticism as to both their ability and point of pulling it off successfully. In any case, the aforementioned “Heart Like A Grave”²⁰¹⁹ was a return to the early days on one hand, and was an occasion to introduce ex-Sonata Arctica guitarist and vocalist Jani Allan Kristian joined as an additional clean vocalist with his role expanded on “Argent Moon” and even more on “Anno 1696”.
What makes “Anno 1696” different, which seems to strongly graphically, lyrically/conceptually and musically allude to Opeth’s arguable magnum opus “Still Life”¹⁹⁹⁹, is its extremely bipolar nature. You will find relatively simple supermelodic yet perfect Insomnium classics such as the riveting “Lillian” and “The Witch Hunter”, wisely chosen as singles, next to a gorgeous acoustic Opethian ballad “The Unrest” interwoven with longer, more progressive multimelodic masterpieces such as the favorite “Godforsaken” featuring female vocalist extraordinaire Johanna Auri Kurkela, which the promo rightly calls the most epic track on the record, “Starless Paths” recalling and here surpassing the mastery of “Across The Dark” and the most Opethian by the way of In Mourning closer “The Rapids”, to say nothing of the unusually syncopated “White Christ”.
Oh, what the hell (as it will be shown pun well intended), I will talk about the single “White Christ” because it is lyrically, musically and conceptually the best scathing indictment of Christian hypocrisy by a metal band in recent memory and the fact that it is delivered in part by a confessed Satanist, Rotting Christ’s Athanasios “Sakis” Tolis with absolutely Biblical righteousness makes it all the more convincing. That far too many Christians are unrepentant hypocrites riding on a perceived license to sin is no longer even a surprise to Satan but that many Christians increasingly embrace, support and openly fraternize with unrepentant mass murderers, rapists and national traitors who call Christ their Lord and Savior with the same breath a certain German chancellor did in his XX century bestseller should make true Christians everywhere sick to their stomach while aloud with rage against since such approach is absolutely against the authority of Romans 5 which calls for “no, not to eat” with such yet it rarely does generate so much as a faint protest. In other words, Niilo Valtteri Seväne (bass, vocals) and Sakis Tolis speak and the so called Christian church can only hang its head in shame of the truth of their accusations since the artists recognize Christ as light but Christians as usurpers of the light, and this is not just my interpretation but by Nillo’s and Markus Vanhala’s own admission in an interview. On a slightly different note is “Godforsaken” which, not unlike the writers of “Psalms” bitterly asks “where is the mercy of God?”, “where is the light of reason?” but both tracks can rightly be summed up but the brilliant and accurate summary, that this world, complete with its sickening highly institutionalized and weaponized religious system so vividly recalling the Babylonian Whore on the Scarlet Beast of Revelation 17 rather than the Body Of Christ is clearly “deep in this forgotten realm, deep in the shadows that reign far from the grace of the true God far from the light of the Christ” (Godforsaken) is evident to anyone who asserts that 1 equals 1 and not 3.
Now, this indictment, which I wholeheartedly support despite being a confessed adversary to Satan just because it is simply horrifyingly sound and righteous no matter who it comes from, is not just coming from some musicians. The band’s founders are highly educated men: guitarist Ville-Petri Friman with a PhD in evolutionary ecology and a lecturer at the University of York in York, England, while the aforementioned vocalist Niilo Seväne studied history of culture and literature at university and works as the director of culture in Kotka, Finland, where he organizes the Kotka Maritime Festival (an event that gathers 135,000 people every summer), and runs the museum centre. All things considered it is also notable, concerning the aforementioned interview, that Niilo and Marcus vehemently assert that Insomnium is neither a Gospel band nor becoming a Christian band despite the title “White Christ” and generally recognizing Jesus Christ as him who conquers the darkness with light. In truth, artists like Insomnium members may be using the historical accounts of The Torsåker, Northern Europe witch hunts trials and beheadings (where 30 percent of Finland’s population was killed during 1696 and 1697) to mirror the so called Puritan crusades in the pre-United States North America but we all know what they really mean by it as we could tell from, say, the reading of Artur Miller’s “The Crucible” – they would rather live “a long way from the tolling church bells” if all the church bells toll is death.
I could go on about the melodies, the solos, the riffs, the absolute black metal nature of compositions (1696, Godforsaken, The Rapids) in no small compliments of and to Markus Hirvonen blastbeaten ability or how Insomnium takes Markus’ first love’s Omnium Gatherum’s “Beyond” progressive rock to a new level, how the use of clean vocals does not soften the material but wonderfully completes it or about the clear yet devastating production by Jaime Gomez Arellano (Orgone Studios) and Tony Lindgren’s mastering (Fascination Street Studios) but, instead, I will briefly tell you what you probably want to know more: why not 6/6? To that I raise three reasons: the opener “1696” is just a typical Insomnium track recalling some of the less exciting material on “Shadows Of The Dying Sun” (although credit on uniquely making an intro and the song into one cut), the acoustic ballad “The Unrest” is gorgeous but would have been better served with a a heavier transition at some point and, finally, “The Rapids” may be a perfect closer but has something missing I can’t quite put my finger on.
Just when I thought that Omnium Gatherum’s a bit disappointing “Origin” was a signal that Insomnium could also decline in quality and creativity due to having the same guitarist, Insomnium proves me dead wrong with their fantastic new album, which is both a nod to the loyal fans and a testimony to progression and boundless creativity. Here is to many more years of Insomnium awesomeness.