- Heart Like a Grave
- Melodic Death Metal
- Release Date: October 4, 2019
Against the Gates of Death, I Pound, I Wail, I Cry
Insomnium – the band that got me hooked on melodic death metal for life. And here we are with their latest album, Heart Like a Grave. And what a gem of an album it is! The sound of the album and the image it depicts through words and melodies are as bleak and dispirited as the taiga forests and fens of their motherland in winter. It takes the cheery and chirpy soul and renders it depressed and forlorn, casting it into the abyss of desolation.
Let’s begin with the title. It is a gist of the whole album: Heart Like a Grave. It is so befitting for such an album that you fully comprehend the gravity of the work at hand, much like a trailer of a movie. It sets the mood and foreshadows the magnitude of despair you are about to encounter. The artwork which also prefigures said permeating despondency, is simple and yet evocative, dark roots surrounding a black hole, an “abyss”, and leading straight to the heart of darkness … of light and of hope. I cannot but regard it also as a crown of thorns, with the band’s name and logo right at the center. Having considered these two non-musical elements, one visual and the other semantic, the band has so subtly managed to have you where they had intended.
The three-minute-and-five-second album opener “Wail of the North” includes, at first, a piano and strings, then weighty metal kicks in and growling vocals also take over. Despite the length, which is longer than some pop or punk or alternative tracks, this is only the intro and is not actually a full-fledged track on the album. Reading the lyrics, you are left with a sense of awe! I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said I have seldom, if not never, read or heard such a profoundly impactful depiction of sorrow: “Under these cold northern stars / Songs are filled with sorrow / Brief is the time of summer winds / Moon is sad as the night / Here the callous frost slowly crawls inside the hearts / Here the winter’s breeze will break the purest soul / Grown on this rimed soil, we’ve learnt to rue and yearn / Grown in these bleak woods, we’ve learnt to forsake our dreams / And again, the mourning unfolds before me / Like an open black grave”. As showcased in “Wail of the North”, this album balances, to an impeccable degree, heartfelt musical delicacies and relentless death metal force. It is filled with instances of juxtapositional moments of bone-crushing melodeath riffs and sections of acoustic gloomy ambience. Almost all songs keep to this formula and the outcome is stable and firm, somewhat comprehensive, atmosphere all through this work of art. One specific example is “And Bells They Toll”. While the song is mostly mid-paced (or even in parts slow), and the acoustic guitar sets the sombre stage of this track, the guitar solo, accompanied with drums, paces up the track and breaks the state of lethargy in which the listener was put at first, only momentarily and to lead to the acoustic outro which follows.
This balancing effect is accentuated even more noticeably through the diverse and dynamic vocals provided by Niilo Sevänen (harsh) on the one hand and Ville Friman and Jani Liimatainen (clean) on the other. The chemistry between both clean and harsh elements is so strong and they both are so proficiently interwoven to the fabric of the music that not even for one instant they sound out of place and forced upon the music. Quite contrary, the versatile vocals are the trump card of the band on this album (as it has always been). This synergy is most vivid in Valediction where they each support one another throughout the song and this diversity results in beauty.
But it is by no means indicative of any shortcoming on the side of the musicians. The sizeable scale of the skill of the band is no less formidable and praiseworthy than the vocals. Insomnium is renowned for their deeply moving melodies and on this album such melodies are abundant. But the one that tops the other ones may be that on “Mute Is My Sorrow” which renders the listener utterly awestruck and emotionally mystified. It is not only the melody, but also the guitar solos that are noteworthy. Besides what such solos always are, here they are another element to keep the above-mentioned balance by pacing up or down as the music finds fit. They are not at all merely a channel through which the instrumentalist can showcase their ability, but in fact they are a medium of reflecting the dismal nature of the album. The guitar trio of Jani Liimatainen, Markus Vanhala and Ville Friman is a grand effort like of which can seldom be found, at least within the genre. I am not talking about big names; I am concerned more with big works. And here we have top-notch melodic death guitaring, electronic and acoustic, in the flesh.
In addition to the guitars, Markus Hirvonen’s drum-work is what has driven this album this far. It doesn’t force itself on the musical texture, thus it is delicately present and influential to our comprehension of this album. It is withdrawn whenever necessary, like in many intros or outros, and then added to create the maximal effect. Coupled with drumming is the keyboard (performed by Aleksi Munter, a guest musician), which is quite contributory to the overall soundscape of the album. On some tracks, such as “Pale Morning Star,” it is more prominent than others. Then we have the bass (also performed by Niilo Sevänen) which aligns itself with the musical framework of the band and has a few occasions to surface.
But it wouldn’t be an ultimate album without topping lyricism. As was my expectation, the lyrics found on this album are, in parts, of literary value, like the one previously discussed, “Wail of the North”, or the lines of “Mute Is My Sorrow”. It is true that the driving force of all albums is the music, still for an album to be of premium quality (as this one is), words are as important as the notes, meaning as significant as ambience. The whole album revolves around the motifs of loss, pain, grief and desperation. Many of the songs are dark narratives, most probably based on folk tales of the frosty land, each portraying a somber depiction of austere moods and landscapes alike.
After a few less magical and therapeutic albums, these Finnish melodeath gods once again prove that they are effortlessly the best in this domain. This album is the ultimate sound and image of a wintry land where a “dying light” meets “the waning years of heartache and regrets” in the “woods of woe”, where “dreams have withered” and “hopes have vanished”. It would be a pity to not listen to this offering all through the winter. This album is absolutely going to be the soundtrack to my upcoming winter days. I am impatiently looking forward to walking on the snow-covered lands, having Heart Like a Grave pounding into my head and pouring into my heart.
Highlights: Mute Is My Sorrow – Valediction – Pale Morning Star – Karelia – The Offering – Heart Like a Grave
- Lyrics: 9.5
- Artwork: 9.0
- Musicianship: 10
- Vocals: 10
- Overall: 9.6