Sound: Many bands, ranging from Bad Religion to Bullet for my Valentine, have all made critical mistakes in their second albums, ranging anywhere from watering down the music to complete shifts in style. Heck, maybe an album is just flat out uninspired. Sometimes, there isn't anything noticeably wrong with the album, but it will fail to live up to a group's debut and become known as a disappointment.
This isn't the case with Insomnium. Now, I'm not saying that they didn't make any changes since their debut. Every band changes over time, for better or worse. The subtle changes Insomnium made in their sound produced what many fans consider to be their finest work to date.
If you know Insomnium from their debut album, you basically already know what the melodic death quartet is all about. You're familiar with their aggressive, sometimes folky riffing, and their conversely mellow acoustic passages. You've heard the powerful growls and the haunting whispers. And you know that these guys blur the line between anger and despair. Their claim to fame isn't really something unique at all. They do the same thing many melodic death metal bands do. They try to balance the aggressive aspect of their music with the softer, more melodic parts. It's a cliched formula, yes, but some bands can really pull it off. Insomnium has continued to stick to this basic strategy.
But their sound has evolved in some areas, and has been refined in others. The riffs remain in the same melodeath realm, but the leads have become less folky and more melancholy. There's a greater emphasis on atmosphere, as you will notice from the addition of keys (check out the intro track, it's super depressing), synths, choir melodies, and longer acoustic/clean passages (check out the break in Song of the Forlorn Son). Leads also play a much bigger role in the album than in the last. Not only do they give you something catchy to hum, they also command your emotions. That's always the best kind of music. At any rate, some of the melodies are epic and sound like they belong in power metal (for example, certain leads in The Day it all Came Down) and others make you want to crawl into a corner and forget the world for a while (the verses and chorus in Daughter of the Moon). There's even a few solos around.
The production is alright. Hearing the bass is difficult (again) which is ironic because the production is very bassy and loud. The only time I can really hear it is when most of the other instruments are quiet, or in acoustic breaks. I don't know if it's better than the last CD, it sounds about the same. // 8
Lyrics: "From now on, there's an absence of smile". If you ask me, that's a powerful way to open up a record. Right off the bat, you know that this band has a heavy doom influence on their lyrics. Depressing? Yes. Angsty? No. These are grown men. Not grown men pretending to be 17 again. They express their sorrow eloquently. "Now lonely is my road, path paved with bitter thoughts/Conception of beauty excluded from this heart" is worlds apart from America's "Cut my wrists and black my eyes". I'm not saying these guys are lyrical geniuses or anything, but they do have a way of dampening your spirits.
Lyrics, unfortunately, mean nothing if you can't understand them. And, unfortunately, you can't understand them! I'll admit, the bassist has a really nice growl, but combine that with his Finnish accent, and it can be pretty tough to comprehend some of the words at times.
The thing that I love about this band that I don't really see in other bands is the whole spoken word aspect. Instead of using clean vocals during acoustic breaks, Niilo opts for spoken word, at times almost a haunting whisper. While it's nothing new for the band, it does help them with creating the overall atmosphere that they carry through the record. // 8
Overall Impression: Some people think "watered down At the Gates ripoff" when they hear the term Melodic Death Metal. Make no mistake though, this isn't your average Gothenburg knockoff. Far from it. They may be using a tired old formula, but they're beginning to form their own way of doing things.
The songs all run smoothly, and there isn't an out of place transition anywhere. That's important for a band who relies heavily on contrasting music styles. The only thing I don't like is the production. It can really start to hurt your ears after a while. But hey, you can't have it all, right? In the end, I think the actual music outweighs the production quality issues anyway.
Check out the tracks Daughter of the Moon, Closing Words, The Day it all Came Down, and Disengagement to get a good idea how this album sounds. If you like any of these, do yourself a favor and grab a copy of this album. // 9