Album Review: Insomnium – “Winter’s Gate”

Insomnium - Winter's Gate

Not ones to shy away from a challenge, melodic death metallers Insomnium traverse a single 40 minute track on their seventh full length Winter’s Gate. But before there’s any dismissal purely based on length, this is an album full of emotion and beautifully tumultuous atmosphere that goes by in the blink of an eye. Not lost in the shuffle, however, is the band’s top shelf melodic death metal. Here, they are just as proficient with black metal influences and progressive song writing as well. It’s a sprawling epic, but one well worth investing the time to experience.

Some backstory to bring you up to speed; this album is a result of the band wanting to do something slightly different than the norm and pay tribute to another epic story in album form, Edge Of Sanity’s Crimson. Niilo Sevänen (vocals, bass) wrote a highly acclaimed short story several years ago titled Talven Portti (Winter’s Gate) which is the concept behind this album. It’s a tale about a group of Vikings that set off to find an island near Ireland with a nasty winter fast approaching. But how does it all translate? And more to the point does it work and make it worth the 40 minute sitting time?

Photo Courtesy of Jussi Ratilainen
The songwriting is top notch, which is nothing new for Insomnium. They truthfully haven’t had a bad album since their full length debut back in 2002. Even with no knowledge of the back story it’s easy to understand the story takes place in frigid and deplorable weather. The dreamy, and oft times moody, clean vocals coupled with somber melodies lend a fresh fallen snow feel. Later, piercing black metal stands in stark contrast but is just as cold and abrasive. The early sequence gets under way much like a movie, sweeping keyboards grow incrementally louder until blast beats and melodic tremolo play signals the arduous journey has begun.

Tensions run high throughout with dramatic builds, bombastic crescendos and sudden shifts in tempo. Clean gang vocals and Opeth-like prog are a nice touch around the halfway mark but truthfully the highlight is the last 10 minutes, give or take. Insomnium’s melodic death metal is nothing short of fantastic and arguably some of the band’s finest work. They show an immense sense of patience in allowing the story to play itself out while keeping the listener fully engaged. You find yourself pulling for this group of Vikings then wondering for hours afterwards what happened to them.

To answer the questions posed earlier, it is indeed worth sitting for the entire duration as it all works well and flows cohesively. Insomnium took a huge risk with this long player and it pays off. There will no doubt be those that pass on Winter’s Gate simply due to short attention spans and some will pass thinking this effort is too brazen or bold. But, let me squash those thoughts here and now: a) why make Shadows Of the Dying Sun part 2? and b) this is an album’s worth of heart and soul that is as breathtaking as it is cold and vicious at its core.

Photo Courtesy of Jussi Ratilainen
On Winter’s Gate Insomnium try something they’ve never done before and come away with one of the best albums in their 19 year career. The way they successfully put the listener in the story — feeling the roller coaster of emotions — is truly a feat to behold. Winter’s Gate is not only a triumph within melodic death metal but also among all one track albums. The outcome here is well worth the risk taken.

Niilo Sevänen interview –here-.

– Josh

Winter’s Gate will be available September 23 on Century Media. For more information on Insomnium visit the band’s official website.

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