When you think of melodic death metal, INSOMNIUM are usually one of the first bands that jump to mind. Since 1997, the Finnish group have been at the summit of the genre, thanks to their undeniable talent of creating an emotional yet heavy listening experience. 2016 sees album number seven, Winter’s Gate, yet this record follows a different structure to the albums that came before. Serving as a concept record, Winter’s Gate is just one epic song. An interesting take but it is a gamble by the Finns. Does Winter’s Gate carry enough variety and stand-out moments to leave a positive lasting effect?
Winter’s Gate opens softly. Winds calmly playing, very much akin to the calm before the storm as intricate tones hum quietly before becoming louder and the focus point. Suddenly, the record roars into life through the dual guitar riffs of Ville Friman and Markus Vanhala and backed with thunderous drumming from Markus Hirvonen. Two and a half minutes have passed and already this is the INSOMNIUM fans are accustomed to. A repetitive yet intricate riff takes centre stage as Niilo Sevänen unleashes his signature growls. The melody here is subtle, with the tones of the guitar creating a dramatic and epic atmosphere.
This is INSOMNIUM‘s style through and through and for the opening sequence of the record, Winter’s Gate sits comfortably as the band unleash their barrage of riffs and growled vocal deliveries. Roughly around the six minute mark, the pace and tone shifts dramatically. A subtle acoustic guitar melody and soft-spoken word vocals break the intensity of the opening sequence and to great effect. It draws you in before unleashing one of the stand-out riffs on the record. Whirling in rhythm, this leads into a thunderous double bass drum pattern from Markus Hirvonen. Breathtaking.
Like the flick of a switch, the mood and pace evolves yet again with solitary lead guitar play from Ville Friman takes centre-stage as clean vocal deliveries roll out to wonderful effect. Incredibly emotive and immersive, INSOMNIUM‘s melodic approach is a master-stroke here and the shift back to an heavy yet moving bridge is utterly satisfying. With Winter’s Gate being just one song, variety is key here and the musical shift at 12 minutes is perhaps one of the best moments on the record. A subtle riff captures your attention before a steady drum-beat builds momentum. It’s soft, melodic and immensely immersive. This is where INSOMNIUM truly shine, where the band can showcase their musical qualities by creating a solitary and moving atmosphere through their music. This chilling moment unfolds over the course of several minutes as isolated guitar notes ring out alongside the consistent beat before subtle lead guitar playing takes the focus.
From there, a doom-tinged riff keeps the head nodding in rhythm as Niilo Sevänen‘s growls roar the track back into life. Yet again, the ability to shift the mood and intensity of the track is executed with absolute accuracy and professionalism, leading to a wonderful musical journey. This ability to shift the tone and pace of the record is showcased again just before the 19 minute mark, with another dose of isolated acoustic guitar playing takes centre-stage. Then, with the addition of soft clean vocals, this sequence pulls you in through it’s delivery. However the hair-raising moment comes as INSOMNIUM roar back into life through a solid combination of guitarists Ville Friman and Markus Vanhala. Building to a exchange of gang clean vocals and mesmerising guitar solo is a truly wonderful experience and that is what Winter’s Gate excels at; shifting the mood without ever breaking the immersive atmosphere.
At 24 minutes, half of the album has unfolded here and yet, there is just so much more to experience. A melodic and enticing sequence from the piano creates a chilling and isolated atmosphere and whilst it completely differs from what came prior, it doesn’t feel out of place. That is INSOMNIUM‘s greatest strength. To blend such a variety of musical qualities is no easy feat but the band have accomplished just that to incredible effect here on Winter’s Gate. The pace slows as Niilo Sevänen‘s low and sustained growls back the steady rhythm. Sevänen‘s bass guitar is used to great effect here also. Never taking the focus point, the use of the bass is so subtle you’d be forgiven if you can’t hear it, but what it does is drive home to doom-tinged sequence, building to what one would think is the epic finale to Winter’s Gate.
Yet, there is still another ten minutes to go and the closing ten minutes of the record are perhaps the most enjoyable. A stead riff unfolds into another barrage of double-bass drumming and intricate lead guitar play as Sevänen unleashes another dosage of his signature growled vocal deliveries. And just like that, the mood shifts once again, with solitary lead guitar play taking the focus. Backed with a soft and subtle rhythm, the lead guitar play is truly captivating, driving the emotion and pulling the heart-strings of the listener. This, then shifts as the sound is extinguished like a candle being suffocated of oxygen. Only for a moment there is silence before the band roar back into life into a chaotic finale as the rhythm explodes and Niilo Sevänen delivers frantic growls. The riffs are rapid, the drumming ferocious and yet, it fits so nicely into the mood of Winter’s Gate.
It has all built to this moment. The ending sequence of the record. Building to such a high, one would be immensely disappointed if Winter’s Gate just comes to an abrupt halt. However, the closing sequence is just as magnificent as the prior 37 minutes. Acoustic guitar playing closes the record out following the epic closing barrage, before fading into a solitary melody from the piano which slowly eases Winter’s Gate into a close.
With just one epic long song, has Winter’s Gate done enough to immerse the listener and keep INSOMNIUM at the top of the summit of melodic death metal? Whilst some people will dislike the approach of having just one track instead of a plethora to pick and choose from which can be considered the only disappointing aspect to the record, what is on offer here is a band at the top of their game. Packed with variety, emotive sequences and truly mesmerising musical delivery, Winter’s Gate is a phenomenal journey. This is a record that will capture your attention in an instant and then, for its 40 minute duration, will take you on a journey that tweaks and pulls at a variety of emotions. From it’s explosive barrages of double-bass drumming to the subtle and emotive delivery of the acoustic guitar and piano, there is enough variety and moments that will keep you hooked on Winter’s Gate. It was a gamble for sure, but INSOMNIUM have yet again proved why they are one of the best bands in the melodic death metal genre.
Winter’s Gate is set for release on September 23rd via Century Media Records.
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