Sound: Every year, as autumn approaches, the sun sets sooner and the days grow colder. Plants wither and die, the wind shifts, and summer's beauty fades into the bleakness that is the year's end. And occasionally, once every few fall seasons, Insomnium release a collection of songs that becomes the soundtrack to the season for the lives of listeners world over. It's been two years since a new Insomnium album carried me into spring, but it was a two years that was worth the wait.
Ever since their formation in 1997, Insomnium have been shaping out their own signature style of downhearted melodic death metal. Unfortunately, melodeath as a genre is seen as somewhat inconsistent within the metal world. In Sweden, melodeath can often mean At the Gates ripoff. In Finland, sadly, it can sometimes mean Children of Bodom clone. Fortunately, Insomnium have never in any point in their career fallen into either of these categories. Beneath the death growls, aggressive riffing, and pounding drums, there is a melancholic quality to Insomnium's music that in my opinion have always set them apart from their peers in the melodic death metal world. While they do follow some of the same patterns as most melodeath bands these days (certain riffing styles, alternating clean/heavy passages), they've been doing so in a manner that promotes their own evolution rather than letting them become stagnant.
Following this trend, One for Sorrow is undoubtedly contains all of Insomnium's signature elements, and while the music does sound familiar, the guys have definitely pulled a few new tricks out from their sleeves. The sound overall could be compared to their previous album Across the Dark, but to leave it at that wouldn't do the album justice. The album opens up with Inertia, a track that sounds almost like a post-rock track. For a second, it sounds more like Russian Circles than Insomnium. But the atmosphere is so fitting for the album. There are ambient bits throughout the album like this that weave their way in between the tremolo picked riffs and the double bass, and it really is a nice change of pace from having every clean break be an acoustic passage. There are only so many chords you can use when you're sticking to many of the same progressions. From a production standpoint, One for Sorrow falls somewhere in between Across the Dark and Above the Weeping World. It is much more raw than AtD (which sounded too pristine and polished in nature), but it isn't as powerful as AtWW's sound.
Much of this album is your standard Insomnium fare. Heavy sections, soft sections, and a generally melancholic (yet aggressive) sound. However, there are a few standout points which really deserve mention. There is, of course, the intro track. Then there's the fourth track, Only One Who Waits. This song came as a surprise to me. Insomnium tracks usually start out in one of three ways. They either begin with a soft acoustic section, some sort of pedal riffing pattern, or with a lead line played over some power chords. Only One Who Waits skips all that and goes straight into overdrive, with all instruments hammering away at top speeds. Double bass drum beats and tremolo picked riffs is an odd way to start an Insomnium track, so it was definitely a moment worthy of a double take. It just sounded incredibly similar to the beginning of Killswitch Engage's This is Absolution. Alone, that fact is negligible, but there was that track on their last album that I had mistaken for a Darkest Hour song
Okay, so even I as a long time Insomnium fan have to admit that sometimes, it's easy to predict where their music is going to go. Some of the melodies and the riffs sound vaguely similar to things that I've heard before in other Insomnium songs. Unsung has a lead line in the end that sounds very close to the lead in the end of Drawn to Black, off of 2006's Above the Weeping World. The rest of that song is great, but that lead was so close to being identical that it stuck out like a sore thumb the first time I heard it. I can't really fault them for this, though, because when you've been a band for 14 years, there's bound to be some similarities in what you write. And even when listening to this album for the first time through, I felt like I sometimes knew what notes were coming next, where the buildups and breaks would be, etc, but that didn't mean that I couldn't enjoy it. Quite the contrary. While some melodeath bands can be a little predictable, Insomnium's execution of the genre is what makes them stand out so much.
Another thing I love about this album is that it's the first album since their second album, Since the Day it All Came Down, to include an instrumental song. Decoherence is the most relaxing instrumental they've done, and to be honest, I would love to hear more material like this from them. I wouldn't mind an entire instrumental album from Insomnium if it sounded like this. It's very ambient and dreamlike in nature. The keys, once again provided by Aleksi Munter (Swallow the Sun) really add atmosphere not only to this track, but to the entire album. The keys on this album may even be better than the last. There's also the track Every Hour Wounds, which sounds like it could have been on Since the Day it All Came Down. Classic Insomnium riffing in that song, you'll really have to hear it for yourself in order to compare. The album closes with the title track, One for Sorrow, which, while maybe not as powerful as the closers on their last two albums, still does a pretty good job of wrapping up the album. // 8
Lyrics: The vocals and lyrics in Insomnium have always been a major selling point for this band in my opinion. Niilo's growls have always been powerful, yet coherent and easily decipherable. You'll have relatively little trouble understanding what he's saying in the songs, which is great because Insomnium's lyrics are not the kind to miss. Sorrow is an emotion that everyone can relate to, whether they want to admit it or not, and Insomnium's lyrics can really hit home with some people.
Vocally, this album is an improvement over the last. Of course, Niilo's growls have been improving as always, but One for Sorrow brings back the whispered/spoken word passages that were so blatantly absent on Across the Dark. Instead, they tried to fill the void left behind with clean singing. They had recruited Jules Naveri of Profane Omen to handle singing duties, and while he is a very good singer, he wasn't the best fit for Insomnium's sound. In many places throught AtD, the clean singing felt out of place or forced. It was their first time experimenting with them, so it is understandable that that was the case.
At the time, I had hoped that Across the Dark would be the only Insomnium album to feature clean singing. But when Ville Friman, one of the guitarists, started doing the singing during live shows, I knew that this would not be the case. But listening to him sing on this record, I don't mind it as much as I thought I would. In fact, I really enjoy the way his voice sounds. It suits the music more than Naveri's voice, and for the most part, the melodies flow naturally with the music. Tracks like Regain the Fire and Through the Shadows have immensely uplifting hooks that earn their place on this album. If Across the Dark was their trial album with clean vocals, then One for Sorrow seems to be where they've gained their footing with them. // 9
Overall Impression: As the final notes of One for Sorrow rang out, I looked back not only on what I had heard in the past hour but on the entire history of Insomnium. Their progression since their 1999 demo really is a wonder; they hardly sound like the same band anymore. Each album is a subtle shift from the last, and it all adds up. They've been changing and they'll continue to change, but if there's one thing nature can teach us, it is that change is inevitable. But the sky will always be above us, and the world will continue to turn. So while Insomnium have introduced new elements into their music and have taken a few away over the past few albums, one thing remains the same: consistency and quality have always been two key ingredients to Insomnium's music, and One for Sorrow is proof of that yet again. // 9
- Jay Brown (c) 2011