It was one of those metal moments! Winter’s Gate, Insomnium‘s 7th full length release finally arrived at my doorstep. And what do I find? One 40 minute monster track.
Come again, they did what?
What on earth are they noodling about? With trepidation we think back to similar attempts made by the likes of Pink Floyd and others way back in time, when monstrous, rambling concoctions were fashionable.
And not many protagonists – with some laudable exceptions – pulled these offerings off well enough to really impress the audience ever since.
Let’s be honest.
So, here I sat wondering what disaster loomed ahead in this new record. And what this would do to the reputation of Insomnium. A band that just proved their worth in their latest album Shadows of the Dying Sun. But fear not, the album turned out to be much different than what I initially thought.
Winter’s Gate is first and foremost a storyline!
Same as Tuomas Holopainen in his solo attempt to glorify Scrooge McDuck in the Klondike, Insomnium based this epic monster on a story. Only this time created by Niilo Sevänen himself, of Insomnium, not Disney.
The story – written back in the first decade of the 00’s – bases itself on a group of Norsemen going Viking. They try to find a fabled, gold-laden island near Ireland, moving through cold, harsh winter into their mystical landscape. Just to (almost) meet their maker, encountering Fenris and Ragnarök. By Loki, the Norns were laughing when they plotted the fates of these guys, I am sure.
And it is a cold, cold story in a freezing winter landscape. Once you read it, just make sure to light a fire. The high quality lyrics closely follow the story line, split into 6 distinct segments. It appears that some editions of the album actually separate the tracks out on the disc into these very segments.
And this is a pity: Winter’s Gate is best consumed as a whole, and I cannot understand why producers would pull this apart. Even if the common understanding of a listener’s attention span – supposedly – is no more than three minutes per track.
The first thing that struck me?
This album has got incredible flow. All blocks link seamlessly together, smoothly creating a whole that shines in and by itself. Once the album starts, you kind of sit back and relax, only to find yourself halfway into the record without noticing it. This speaks to absolutely great songwriting skills.
And then there is the overall quality of execution: No flaws, no stumbling blocks indicating that something was glued together and not quite resolved. None of the rough edges and disjointed changes to a new segment that so often haunted albums of other artists. And no surprise there: Dan Swanö at Unisound Studio mixed and mastered the album.
Generally speaking, there is not a lot of fault that can be found with the way the album has been constructed. If anything, the vocals almost lose themselves in this maelström of instruments and elements at certain points of the album. And the steady, even growls get you into system overflow mode after a while. But then again, this is trademark Insomnium. So, never fear.
Winter’s Gate sports Insomnium’s best material yet.
This is a relief, given the relative closeness to the likes of Omnium Gatherum over the past few albums. Not only did they navigate around that specific cliff, but they also – kind of exponentially – increased the power and oomph of their brand to levels not heard before with this band.
Their tune effortlessly moves from a style not dissimilar from Amon Amarth to trademark Insomnium, and back again. Great riffing and soloing, including a wealth of choral and instrumental elements mix skillfully into the fray.
I specifically like the Progressive interlude, somewhat djent heavy parts present on the disc, giving us a whiff of Wilderun as we blast by. A courageous move by a band that came to fame mainly through Nordic Melodic Death Metal. And always, when listening to the album, Edge of Sanity’s Crimson series flash in the background. Not quite the same, but somewhere in the vicinity of this album.
Now, as the storyline heats up towards the end, so does the record. One would think that after a while you will get bored or fed up.
But far from it!
In other words, Insomnium managed to slip in a subtle progression leading up to a fulminant bouquet at the end. The band starts to prepare the grounds for this final salvo already at around the 24 minute mark with a piano interlude. And then they let loose, captivating the audience with very powerful, meaty riffs, solos and Niilo’s growls that will just keep your earphones stuck to your head, want it or not.
Did Winter’s Gate deliver?
Creating a coherent, high quality story-based album with one, single monster track is no easy feat. Most other contenders will tell the story track by track, so that eventual delinquencies don’t show that much.
Insomnium – however – taking the route of failure of many and pulling it off beautifully, is the proverbial proof of pudding. And to get to a successful final product, all parts need to be excellent: Story, song writing, execution.
On top, the band managed to take this much-needed step out of the chilling embrace with their brethren in the genre, without losing their identity. And they kicked it up a notch by increasing power and oomph to levels unknown today. It takes courage – and a good portion of chutzpah to pull this stunt.
Winter’s Gate is a complex piece of work, beautifully put together and served ice-cold. When you listen, stick to it for the full length, but make sure that your sword is ready and your fire is roaring. If not, Fenris might get you, too.
Now where the hell are my headphones? I need to listen to this again and work on the 2016 Top Ten list. Where do you guess they ended up? Click on the link.