It always feels like Insomnium have just existed but never really thrived.
The Finnish melodic death metal band has continually released a string of solid or impressive albums but never really got over that hump.
Their career highlight, 2006’s ‘Above the Weeping World’, is lightyears ahead of the rest of their catalogue and should have been the album that propelled them to greater heights.
It also came out at a time when Nordic peers like In Flames and Dark Tranquillity were floundering with sub-par records.
‘Above the Weeping World’ was a melo-death clinic, it seemed like the stars were aligned, but the follow-up ‘Across the Dark’ wasn’t up to much and Insomnium have recoiled into a sort of comfort zone since then.
Which leads us to 2016 and the Finns have yet again released a good album – just not a great one.
Credit where it’s due, ‘Winter’s Gate’ does a try a few new things but for the most part, it’s very familiar.
Firstly, it’s a concept record presented in one 40 minute track. ‘Winter’s Gate’ is a short story written by vocalist and bassist Niilo Sevänen that has informed the creation of this album.
And there’s an Irish angle too. According to Sevänen, it’s a tale of Vikings (of course) that set out in the dead of winter to find a “fabled island northwest from Ireland”.
Musically though it occupies a very similar vein as before. It’s big sounding, catchy melodic death metal.
The sprawling nature of the lengthy track means it heavily relies on peaks and valleys so there are some distinct breaks; let’s call them chapters. Unfortunately, it means that the album could just as easily have been broken into tracks as sitting through the full 40 minutes can be a bit of a chore.
There are great moments dotted throughout but some lacking ones too. It kicks off in thunderous fashion, flirting with a very melodic black metal tinge replete with blazing tremolo riffs.
The first 10 minutes or so actually the album’s finest moments. Unfortunately it flounders around the midway point with acoustic passages and samey riffs that do little to keep your attention.
After this midpoint however, ‘Winter’s Gate’ begins to pull back the reins into a more-paced, doomier territory, which is a much needed reprieve that gives the song some space to breathe again before scaling back to a very similar style of melo-death that opened the record and suitably bookends things.
These are great moments but it’s just not a great single piece.
3.1/5 – Jonathan Keane ::: 13/10/16