Finnish melancholic Metallers Insomnium have long been one of the best in their field. Formed in 1997, the band has, in recent years, been consistent in quality and output. Their ninth album sees them move back a step, going deeper into their older sound, a heavier, rawer, and more aggressive style, but one that rarely eschews the melodic bloodline that pulses throughout their music.
Insomnium – Anno 1696 (Century Media Records)
Release Date: 24 February 2023
Words: Paul Hutchings
On Anno 1696, the band once more follow a short story crafted and created by Bassist/vocalist Niilo Sevänen. It’s the welcome to Hell. 1696 and the age of unrest, famine in the north and the witch hunt across Europe. Witch trials are taking place across even the most remote parts of Scandinavia.
“The Torsåker witch trials were a horrible source of nightmarish inspiration,” Sevänen says of his ghastly muse. “All that talk about 70 women beheaded in this small Swedish parish. It’s real stuff from history! And as if that weren’t enough, there are also some very dark tales of cannibalism and child murder from the years of the great famine.”
It’s no surprise that Anno 1696 is one of the darkest albums that Insomnium have released. Their trademark sound switches between crushing Death Metal and soaring melodies, and this is the case here. The songs are often long, such as the 8:56 Godforsaken, which sees harrowing blast beats mixed with calmer, gentle passages. Sevänen’s godless growls contrast with the serene, clean vocals of guitarists Jani Liimatainen and Markus Vanhala.
The band draft in Rotting Christ frontman Sakis Tolis for the punishing White Christ, which follows the dramatic opener 1696. The songs are as strong as ever, the band’s razor-sharp edge cutting out any fat, leaving Insomnium leaner and stronger than ever before. First single, Lillian, tells about the meeting of the tragic couple in the story.
Whilst Insomnium have shifted their sound, it’s not substantial, and songs like the rampaging Starless Paths reassure long-time fans that this is a band who are not stepping far away from their roots. The playing is as magnificent as ever.
Starless Paths is the central pillar of the album, an epic of gargantuan proportions which showcases the dramatic effect that the band can bring. It features some exquisite lead work as well as opulent, swirling keys that add layers and texture. It’s exhausting just to listen to the songs as they stand, such is the quality.
Elsewhere, the powerful The Witch Hunter features a classic Insomnium riff that cascades from the album in splendid form, allowing all vocalists to add their parts. “For me, this song has a really strong cinematic feel to it,” Guitarist Ville Friman says, “and I can easily travel into the story in my head when I close my eyes.” It surges, almost taking flight, such is the powerful drive which underpins it.
“This is Markus Vanhala’s composition,” Niilo Sevänen says of The Witch Hunter. “It actually does not really sound like the archetypal Insomnium song and has some very interesting elements. One of the songs that improved the most in the studio, in my opinion, and became one of the singles. Lyrically it continues to tell the story from the Witch Hunter’s point of view.”
The penultimate track, The Unrest, sees the band strip things back, acoustic guitar and piano feature alongside some of the most emotive clean vocals heard on the album. It sends shivers down the spine.
There’s nothing to dislike here. It’s an album that needs time. It’s not an instant hit, but repeated plays have slowly drawn me into the band’s captivating spell once more.
A phenomenal release in a year of incredible music, the Finns are once more to be congratulated on a spellbinding release (no pun intended).
For those wishing to indulge in even more melancholic misery, the extended version of the album comes with Songs Of The Dusk, a three-track continuation of the story. “We simply had eleven great songs, and we thought that this material is too good to be just bonus tracks,” Sevänen states. “They are part of the big story, so you can think of them as the director’s cut material that tells a little extra. For those who want to have more.”
Insomnium will return to North America for a co-headlining tour with Enslaved, plus Black Anvil as support.
Apr. 5, 2023 – New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
Apr. 6, 2023 – Boston, MA @ Big Night Live
Apr. 7, 2023 – Montreal, QC @ Corona Theater
Apr. 8, 2023 – Toronto, ON @ The Opera House
Apr. 10, 2023 – Detroit, MI @ St. Andrew’s Hall
Apr. 11, 2023 – Chicago, IL @ House of Blues
Apr. 12, 2023 – Minneapolis, MN @ Varsity Theater
Apr. 14, 2023 – Denver, CO @ The Gothic Theatre
Apr. 15, 2023 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Complex
Apr. 17, 2023 – Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile
Apr. 18, 2023 – Vancouver, BC @ The Rickshaw
Apr. 19, 2023 – Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre
Apr. 21, 2023 – Berkeley, CA @ The UC Theater Taube Family Music Hall
Apr. 22, 2023 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Fonda Theatre
Apr. 23, 2023 – Phoenix, AZ @ Nile Theater
Apr. 25, 2023 – Austin, TX @ Come and Take It Live
Apr. 26, 2023 – Dallas, TX @ The Echo Lounge and Music Hall
Apr. 28, 2023 – Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
Apr. 29, 2023 – Raleigh, NC @ Lincoln Theatre
Apr. 30, 2023 – Baltimore, MD @ Baltimore Soundstage