When you consider how small Finland’s population is, it’s quite amazing to behold the number of metal bands that rise out of that Nordic nation – and the variety of styles they exhibit. Melodeath act Insomnium are veterans of the Finnish metal scene, having been around for more than two decades. Heart Like a Grave is their eighth album, their first since 2016, and their first with more than one song since 2014. Do they deliver more of their trademark melancholic melodic death metal?
Yes, they do. Ten songs clocking in at more than an hour is a hefty slab of metal, and from start to almost-end the band never lets up. Opening salvo “Wail of the North” and “Valediction” sound as epic and majestic as possible, the former a shorter, symphonic warm-up and the latter the fastest, most raging cut on the album, featuring a brilliant riff.
Speaking of riffs, the guitar work on Heart Like a Grave is exemplary. The addition of third guitarist Jani Liimatainen reaps instant benefits, as he joins forces with Ville Friman and Markus Vanhala to deliver razor-sharp melodies and stellar, emotional solos. And as always, drummer Markus Hirvonen and singer/bassist Niilo Sevanen comprise a locked-in rhythm section.
While the band sticks primarily with harsh vocals, the music is loaded with variety. “Valediction” and “Neverlast” set a blistering pace at times, whereas “And Bells They Toll” serves as the most melancholic song, a slow dirge which rises and falls bleakly. Other songs like the monstrously epic “Pale Morning Star” and “Mute is My Sorrow” show the band’s delicate side, as acoustic guitar leads into gradually more bombastic arrangements.
And arrangements are a big part of Heart Like a Grave’s appeal. Combining the band’s stellar songwriting with their increasingly progressive tendencies and the talents of veteran producer Jens Bogren has resulted in an album where each song has been painstakingly crafted, with appropriate symphonic and electronic flourishes augmenting most of the material but never overpowering it.
If there is one misstep on Heart Like a Grave, it would be the closing number, the eight-minute instrumental “Karelia.” It is by no means a bad song, but very anticlimactic as it follows on the heels of the album’s stellar title track. After the brilliance of “Heart Like a Grave,” and the eight songs preceding it, “Karelia” just feels like a letdown.
That misgiving aside, Insomnium have delivered a top-notch platter of progressive melodeath, loaded with great songs both fast and slow. Heart Like a Grave is a dynamic, well-paced, stunningly-produced record that should find its way onto many year-end lists, and will appeal even to those who are not usually fans of melodeath.
(released October 4, 2019 on Century Media Records)
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Watch Insomnium – “Valediction” Video