Album Title: Heart Like A Grave
Label: Century Media
Date of Release: 4 October 2019
Next up in my epic ‘2019 catch-up’ adventure is ‘Heart Like A Grave’ by Insomnium, a melodic death metal album that could have only come from the instruments and minds of a Finnish band. Sweden may have invented the ‘Gothenburg sound’ when it comes to melodic death metal, but Finland may just have stolen the crown when it comes to creating epic and melody-infused extreme metal.
Personal taste dictates that it has become insanely difficult to knock Omnium Gatherum off the throne right at the pinnacle of the subgenre but over the years, Insomnium are one of the bands that stands the greatest chance of upsetting the hierarchy. And, with ‘Heart Like A Grave’, the quintet from Joensuu have given me further cause to think.
Insomnium’s previous release, ‘Winter’s Gate’ was rightly lauded as being their best to date, with many declaring it as unbeatable. With such lofty praise being lavished over what was essentially an epic one-track album, the pressure must have felt quite intense. Or not, as the case may be, because any hint of nerves or a downturn in quality is quickly dismissed when listening to this, the eighth album in their career.
It would have been surprising had ‘Heart Like A Grave’ been similar in construction to its direct predecessor, because one-song records are a rarity and are usually created when there are greater forces at play; the pull of inspiration for example, or an inner desire that’s too strong to ignore. As such, it won’t come as a shock to learn that ‘Heart Like a Grave’ is much more ‘normal’ in terms of its delivery; you get ten distinct songs and a running time of just over the hour, so plenty of material for your hard earned cash. A couple more and lavish artwork as well if like me, you end up purchasing the glorious media book edition. I’m a sucker for a limited edition.
There can be no argument either that the material on this album is of a very high standard, with professionalism oozing from every corner of the band. With Jani Liimatainen now a fully enrolled member of the band, Insomnium boast three guitarists in their ranks and alongside Ville Friman and Markus Vanhala, they lay the foundations for what is an undeniably entertaining listening experience, without ever overpowering the listener; in fact, they come together nicely to create layers of melodies and plenty of dynamism within the compositions, everything from crunchy riffs to mournful lead breaks.
Speaking of trios, ‘Heart Like A Grave’ is further enhanced by three vocalists. Joining the growls of bassist Niilo Sevänen and the clean vocals of guitarist Ville Frimen is the aforementioned newcomer Liimatainen. Together with Frimen, they combine to give greater scope to the clean vocal approach, introducing another welcome facet and increasing the melodic sensibilities of the band as a whole. An early example of this can be heard within the superb ‘Valediction’, which is a cracking track, utilising the dual clean vocals to great effect.
But it’s not all sweetness and light though, as tracks like ‘Pale Morning Star’ attest – whilst it might contain plenty of melody, well-placed acoustic guitars and an incredible sense of the epic, there’s also a pronounced black metal edge to much of the composition thanks to the blastbeats of drummer Markus Hirvnen and a dark, menacing undercurrent that is nectar to my ears. I find that melodeath works best when there is a sense of danger and trepidation, and this track provides an excellent combination of everything I enjoy.
It is also undeniable that there are a few nods on ‘Heart Like A Grave’ towards the recent output of Omnium Gatherum; whilst Omnium Gatherum refrain from using clean vocals, there is a familiarity with one or two of the melodies here and there, which echo the Karhula-based band. But that being said, I also hear the odd dash of early Amorphis (‘Neverlast’ for just one example) but overall, Insomnium have plenty to distinguish themselves in what is becoming quite a congested subgenre.
I worried at the beginning that there might be a slight issue on this album with variety and contrast as initially, many of the songs seemed to bleed into each other in something of a fuzzy blur. However, with repeated listens, I have decided that my early thoughts are simple tosh and piffle, the musings of a feverish mind, probably under the influence of too much alcohol or too little sleep. The more you listen, the more distinct the songs become and the more memorable and enjoyable they become.
Nevertheless, it is quite tricky to pick out further tracks for special mention because dips in the overall quality are few and far between. If there’s been a criticism levelled at Insomnium in the past it has been that early albums in particular suffered a little in the consistency stakes. I’d argue that ‘Heart Like A Grave’ is the most consistent record they’ve penned. But if my life depended on it, I’d mention the slower-paced behemoth that’s ‘And Bells They Toll’ thanks to the stunning melodies and excellent use of clean singing to mix things up within a track that’s of a generally slower pace than those that went before it.
Plus, I’d also mention the title track that starts off in magical fashion with a beautiful acoustic guitar-led melody and which just gets better as it develops, from the plodding riffs that get the head nodding forcefully, to the epic and rousing melodies that are accented by layers of clean vocals. In a way, this should probably have been the closing track rather than the beguiling instrumental ‘Karelia’ because it has the feeling of a closer and the way it makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck is just scintillating, especially when the lead guitar solo breaks through the gorgeous tumult.
The longer you listen, the better ‘Heart Like A Grave’ gets, to the point where it is impossible not to get swept up in its grandiosity and brutal, bitter beauty. Insomnium have, right here, produced the best album of their career as far as I’m concerned. If you’re a fan of melodic death metal done the right way, ensure that you find a space in your collection for ‘Heart Like A Grave’. You’ll not regret it.
The Score of Much Metal: 92%
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from 2019:
Soen – Lotus
Avatarium – The Fire I Long For
Mother Of Millions – Artifacts
Meshiaak – Mask Of All Misery
Strigoi – Abandon All Faith
CyHra – No Halos In Hell
Klone – Le Grand Voyage
Vanden Plas – The Ghost Xperiment: Awakening
King – Coldest of Cold
Alcest – Spiritual Instinct
Port Noir – The New Routine
Nile – Vile Nilotic Rites
Ray Alder – What The Water Wants
Borknagar – True North
Leprous – Pitfalls
Myrath – Shehili
Prehistoric Animals – Consider It A Work Of Art
Voyager – Colours In The Sun
Odd Logic – Last Watch Of The Nightingale
Avandra – Descender
Darkwater – Human
ZW Band / Zonder Wehrkamp – If It’s Real
Teramaze – Are We Soldiers
Rendezvous Point – Universal Chaos
Our Destiny – Awakening
Evergrey – The Atlantic
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: