2019 Roundup: Melodic Metal
I haven’t kept up with my journalistic duties as of late, and to be frank, I don’t intend to entirely rectify this matter shortly. Yet, I’ve no desire to completely neglect them either, so I’ve compiled a smattering of melodic metal releases for you to enjoy in a bump ‘n grind styled, quick mass of short reviews (except not so short here) for you to enjoy at your leisure. Today, we’re looking at the latest from Insomnium, In Mourning and (ins)Omnium Gatherum.
Insomnium – Heart Like a Grave
A brisk three years ago Insomnium blew every other melodeath fan away with Winter’s Gate, a forty minute album consisting of a single song. It saw them delving further into their proggier side, take better advantage of the blackened edge they’d developed over the last couple of albums and introducing a doom metal influence that had only been hinted at earlier. Heart Like a Grave is easy to pinpoint as Winter’s Gate’s polar opposite: an unadventurous, dry-sounding Insomnium record that’s stripped down the imagination, pushed back Aleksi Munter’s keys that had become integral to the band’s sound previously and employs a third guitarist—without including songs that would take advantage of each.
Of course, the real reason behind the addition of Jani Liimatainen is rather primus motor Ville Friman’s (who currently resides and lectures at a university in York, England) lack of time. While initially excited for the shades Liimatainen and a third guitar might add, Heart Like a Grave shows little sign of them, though Liimatainen’s “Mute Is My Sorrow,” as the only track actually taking advantage of acoustic guitars beyond the fact of their presence, is closest to exploring new territories on the record. When Markus Vanhala originally joined for second guitar, he even noted himself that it was his work that remained most conservative for the band, and Friman’s the more explorative ones. Though not strictly as black and white, Friman has been the unquestionable force behind the band, dominating their songwriting until now. On Heart Like a Grave, he has contributed to one song. Though both Liimatainen and vocalist/bassist Sevänen have stepped up as songwriters, it’s Vanhala who’s brought most to the table this time.
This time around the band drew influence from the melancholy of Finnish poets, lyricists and singers. But while it may have affected the lyrical side of things, not much of that inspiration permeates the compositions, that is to say, any further than it has before. While it is natural to want to write more casual songs after such a massive undertaking as Winter’s Gate, one would have hoped it wouldn’t have meant writing such plain songs. That isn’t to say Heart Like a Grave is a bad record, or filled with idle tracks—”Valediction” is probably the most generically Insomnium-sounding song possible to write in 2019, but the contrast between the calm, clean-sung verses and energetic main riff works, and proves that you don’t have to push your own boundaries to make great music (not that you could tell, by this review); emotional resonance weighs more. The following “Neverlast” as well as “The Offering” demonstrate that achieving emotional resonance time after time with a recipe too similar will likely lead to diminishing results. Not bad songs by any means, but forgettable offerings quickly washed from the mind. An issue that describes the majority of the record.
The album’s finest pieces have unequivocally been placed in the first half, and after Heart Like a Grave’s liveliest songwriting on “Pale Morning Star” and the slow burning, calm melancholy of “And Bells They Toll,” a central piece to the record’s theme, it gets more and more difficult not to doze off, as the songs spiral down the pillar of predictability. Many large bands, the Slayers and Arch Enemies of this world, reach a point where their creative director, as it were, feels the need to reassure fans they’re not changing their sound; they worry that if they were to allow their newest member to participate in the songwriting they might lose the sound that makes them who they are. And even though all but one member of Insomnium is currently actively engaged in their songwriting, that’s what Heart Like a Grave sounds like.
A band that has forgotten why they started making music, their chief worry being if something will sound enough like themselves to please their listeners. A vision of the Insomniun sound clouding their imagination. I don’t believe this is the case, but Heart Like a Grave comes off like that. It’s not a bad album, there are very few lackluster moments and at its best it sounds inspired even. But it is uninspiring, dry and casual. Another date on the discography and not much else.
2.5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
In Mourning – Garden of Storms
Three years ago, I applauded (I think) In Mourning for taking their music further into prog-like complexity, and weaving their influences into a tight net from which none arose pronounced over the others. Garden of Storms weaves this net even tighter, and though if you were to splice the songs into immaterially small segments, you’d be able to point out its influences and building blocks clearly, they’ve achieved a point where their sound is all their own, and only theirs.
Where once the influence of doom metal could well be heard all over In Mourning’s complex melodeath, it now lies in the gloomy grind and sultry atmosphere that permeate much of the record. And if prog once stood for fairly standard songwriting within their own ilk, by now, it has come to mean a more eclectic and vivid direction, to match the complexities of the story, reportedly so convoluted even vocalist Tobias Netzell is unable to keep track of it at times, finally coming to a close. Already Afterglow saw the band subjecting each individual song into serving the whole, which manifested as a lack of highlighting songs. Outside a select few moments the songs had a tendency to meld together, though not in a poor manner, rather the album sounded as if written to one longer suite. Garden of Storms takes this idea and both turns it upside down and develops it even further.
Which is to say, it is now almost impossible to even pick out those few moments that would serve as highlights, anchoring the record in one’s mind. There is little choice but to swallow it whole time after time, clutching at whatever crags one might find on the way, if it is to open itself properly. But this time, it is done without risking the loss of each songs’ individual identity. Somehow, despite sounding like small cogs in a large machine, these songs are jam-packed with hooks. Opener “Black Storm” alone offers its guitar leads, main riff and a chorus which sees the band explore some new, post metal-esque territory (as infectious hooks) before it reaches the halfway mark. Though being spoiled for choice would at first seem to lead to a similar problem as their lack, through rigorous discipline, Garden of Storms keeps its ensemble afloat seemingly effortlessly, while offering some of the best melodeath put to tape in a good while.
There are some cracks in the surface; the album suffers from slight bloat that becomes most apparent in “The Lost Outpost’s” ten minutes, and while Netzell’s cleans have become much better over the years, “Tribunal of Suns” still finds him slightly staggering with his performance. But these are minor flaws, and only readily apparent against the general quality of the record, which earns the band an easy
4.5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Omnium Gatherum – Chaospace
After hitting the nail on the head twice with New World Shadows and Beyond (that includes the finest cover of Rush’s “Subdivions” ever made), the self-proclaimed AOR death metal band Omnium Gatherum has been stumbling. While last year’s The Burning Cold was both a step up, and delightfully devoid of blatant later In Flames rip-offs that sound nothing at all like Omnium Gatherum, it still lacked in the qualities that made the preceding albums so good. Jukka Pelkonen’s recognizeable, deep growls and Markus Vanhala’s trademark melodies were still there to be admired, but on a much less remarkable, and more ordinary melodeath foundation that saw their songwriting lacking in the prog flavour that had permeated it.
Chaospace, much like 2017’s “Blade Reflections,” is something of a gap-filling single while Vanhala remains busy with Insomnium, continuing on the very same, mildly disappointing path as the last few records. Yet its high-energy output, catchy (if not infectious) leads and complimenting keyboard- and guitar-melodies coupled with a cover of Sepultura’s “We Who Are Not as Others” (that somehow sounds more like Omnium Gatherum than the aforementioned “Skyline”) make for a pleasurable stop-gap towards the next full-length that’ll hopefully finally consist only of a few longer songs, like Vanhala’s been saying he’d most want to do, if it was just up to him. It won’t be, not as long as he continues to pull as big a duty as he currently does in Insomnium, but I can dream, can’t I? No? Well then.
3/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell