I am sure you have heard me say this time and time again but I am a massive melodic death metal fan. When I first began dipping my toe into the more extreme end of metal, melodic death metal was the first genre to really grab my attention. Bands like Dark Tranquillity, In Flames and Children of Bodom were constantly pumping through the headphones attached to my iPod. These bands still hold a very special place in my heart and so does melodic death metal. So, when the promo for the new Insomnium was dropped in my inbox, I knew I had to review it.
Anno 1696 is the Finnish quintet’s ninth full length album to date and their first since 2019’s Heart like a Grave. The album is a concept album based on a short story written by bassist/vocalist Niilo Sevanen that details the witch hunt and trials that took place in Sweden during that year.
Opening track 1696 starts with an acoustic guitar strumming over a slow drum beat, a proverbial calm before the storm. The track explodes after two minutes in when our story teller and vocalist Niilo belts out his trademark scream overtop some thunderous, galloping drums and dueling guitars that engulf the listener from all angles. The track moves back and forth from this intense, breakneck pace to a slower, more melodic style. Vintage Insomnium right from the start.
The album has a few guest appearances on back-to-back tracks. White Christ features the great Sakis Tolis of Rotting Christ. This track is the most epic collaboration ever between two contrasting styles. It feels like a Rotting Christ track got caught in the wintry, moody style of melodic death that Insomnium play. The pingy bass lines and booming drums on this track sound like something straight off of Rotting Christ’s Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy when mixed with Sakis' trademark vocals. The two vocalists trade off throughout the song to keep the listener guessing on who will be belting out the lyrics. The next track, Godforsaken features Johanna Kurkela and her angelic voice is the light that shines throughout this dark, brooding track. After her voice serenades the listener to begin the track, the thunderous double bass kicks in as her voice swirls around the drums and tremolo riffs. This track clocks in about eight and a half minutes but the band does a great job keeping things moving by transitioning from the hard hitting and fast paced Insomnium to the soft, loving Insomnium. They work Johanna’s in perfectly throughout as well, aiding in the overall atmosphere of the song.
Lead single Lillian is the perfect bridge track to end the first half of the album (eight tracks in all) to get us to the second half. Insomnium always knows how to transition during their albums. This track is just Insomnium doing what they do best.
The next two tracks, Starless Path and The Rapids, each clock in around seven and a half minutes but just like Godforsaken, they don’t over stay their welcome and flow wonderfully, keeping the listener engaged with the different tempo changes to go with their titles. Starless Paths begins like you are walking through a cold, dark forest during a snowstorm, unable to find refuge and only guided by your torch. The weary traveler gets a bit of a reprieve when the music calms with just some ambient synth and a single acoustic guitar, wrapping them like a warm blanket until the last few moments of the track bring back the thunderous drumming and Niilo belts out from the dark. The Rapids starts with a piano playing before the booming drum kicks in and then the flood of riffs and blast beats envelope the listener, pulling them deeper into the stream. This track does not let up again until the last few moments and is probably my favorite track on the album just due to the sheer relentlessness of it.
The Witch Hunter feels like a song you would hear on a movie or video game while hunting for witches that includes soaring vocals in parts and headbanging worthy riffs and drums in others. Just another example of Insomnium knowing when and where to place tempo changes and little parcels of epicness to keep the listener engaged and guessing on what lies behind each turn. The final track The Unrest is an acoustic track that finally allows the weary listener to catch their breath and recount the epic adventure they just endured. A perfect ending to a great album. No matter if you are just dipping your toes into melodic death or you are a seasoned veteran as I am, there is something on this album for everyone and I highly recommend you listen to this album multiple times to catch every little detail that these five Finns throw your way. You will not be disappointed in the slightest bit!
- The Metal Architect