Sound — 10
Melodic death metal is a funny genre these days. For every quality band from any given scene, there are thousands of cookie cutter bands that play the same old riffs over and over again. Since Dark Tranquillity went down a more electronic path, and In Flames have put their early days firmly behind them, the incredibly influential early Gothenburg sound has essentially burned out. Enter Insomnium.
Their first full length release, 'In The Halls Of Awaiting' was released in the same year that In Flames released 'Reroute To Remain', the album which essentially ended the Gothenburg scene as it was known. Insomnium are from Finland, but still you can tell that they're trying to keep that flame alive, and, to a degree, they succeeded. Their aforementioned debut and it's successor 'Since The Day It All Came Down' were both very positively received and the band have been hailed as 'the new In Flames', among other things. They return now with Above The Weeping World.
As usual, the album starts quietly, with a 2 minute song in the memory of Ari Friman (presumably related to guitarist Ville Friman), an incredibly well written piece if I do say so myself. It can only get better from here and, trust me when I say this, it does.
When you're in a melodic death metal band, you simply must have good guitarists, as the riffs and leads are what drive the music on. Guitarists Ville Friman and Ville Vnni have certainly impressed me on their past recordings. Some Insomnium tracks simply wouldn't be Insomnium if it weren't for them (classics like The Elder and Resonance come to mind), and they don't disappoint on Above The Weeping World. There's nothing dramatically different about their approach to leads (though it seems like there's more overdubbing than before) but there's so much more professionalism this time around. Every note sounds like it's meant to be there, even in tracks like 'Mortal Share' where the leads can actually be quite fast.
The riffs never really jump out at you because they're intended as backgrounds to either the leads or the vocals, but simply listening to their crunching rhythm tone is enough to tell you exactly how important they are to Insomnium's sound. Despite not being at the forefront of their music, the rhythm parts Friman and Vnni play never fall into the trap where they are glossed over and left simple to spend more time working on the leads. The rhythms are very catchy and quite often make the leads and songs in general that bit more memorable ('The Killjoy' is a prime example of this). Acoustic guitars are also used a lot, but not in the way that you see so many bands nowadays do it, where a song will slow down and they'll just chuck in a nice acoustic interlude, no, Insomnium will put it anywhere and it will always work perfectly. Some of the songs from 'In The Halls Of Awaiting' had fantastic acoustic work and I noticed that that element is not as prominent on Above The Weeping World, but they still pull it off fantastically. Listening to the album I never really noticed any 'solos' as such (though I suppose the lead guitar in general could add up into one massive solo), but when it's obvious that you're meant to be listening to the guitarists, they really step up their game. These two have the potential to surpass even the greatest guitar duos, given time.
I found Markus Hirvonen's drumming on past albums a little bit flat. Not exactly bad, but it sounded like he could do things so much better. On this new album he's improved a lot. He has a very nice little trick where he plays something fairly slow for a riff, then when the riff returns in the song he plays something very fast and upbeat, and while it doesn't sound like anything particularly special, it really works. He knows what he's doing all around, there's some great stops, interesting fills and fantastic use of cymbals (see Change Of Heart), as well as some double bass which, while nothing revolutionary, is certainly used only in the appropriate sections. I also like the fact that he has a variety of different styles and beats which really let the rest of the band do what they like without feeling like they really have to make every song massively different (I'm looking at you, Anders Jivarp). I mean, compare the guy that played drums on 'The Elder' to the guy who's now playing 'Mortal Share' and there's a very big improvement. Very good performance.
Bassist, vocalist and lyricist Niilo Sevnen has always been consistent. His vocals, while nothing special, suit the sound of Insomnium perfectly. They're rough sounding but blend in very well with the guitar tones. Unfortunately they're quite low in the mix, which means that their compatibility with the guitars actually makes it difficult to give a full evaluation of his vocal performance, but they don't take anything away from the music, so it's all good there. The bass is meticulously produced, and is clearly audible through the thick guitars and drums, but sometimes I wish it didn't, because Sevnen very rarely strays from the root notes, but he definitely does a good job in the quiet sections where there's no real guitar to hide behind (he particularly excels on In The Groves Of Death).
Lyrics — 8
The lyrics are massively influenced by poets such as Edgar Allen Poe (and the final track is based on a work by Finnish poet Eino Leino), and it shows. They seem to be themed around the symbolism of nature (yes, that old clich), however the lyrics are written very poetically, and they're actually very interesting to read (especially when accompanied by the fantastic artwork by Ville Kaisla and Olli-Pekka Saloniemi), even if the literal meanings of the songs aren't immediately obvious.
Overall Impression — 10
Overall this is a brilliant album, incredibly professional. Polished to perfection (aside from the lack of volume in the vocals), written and performed superbly and there's no major faults at all. The highlight songs are 'Mortal Share', 'Last Statement', 'Change Of Heart' and 'In The Groves Of Death' (which is a 10-minute closing epic, much in the vein of In The Halls Of Awaiting's title track). One can only hope that these guys can keep on improving as they have, and truly become the masters of melodic death metal.