Winter’s Gate by Insomnium (2016)

Since I saw in August the trailer of the new Insomnium album, Winter’s Gate that was to be released later in September, I had great expectations. They announced some experiments on styles and structures, mixing their classical melodeath sound with doom, black or death metal, and also that the album would be their first conceptual one. I’ll say it again, I had great expectations, but I could have never imagine this: the album consists in just one track. An epic track that lasts 40 minutes. Coming from any other band, I’d have had my qualms about the quality of the result, but it was Insomnium, so I knew it had chances to be great.

The album is based on a story one of the members of the band wrote, about some Vikings that sail the sea lost during a stormy night close to the beginning of winter, and they see in the distance an isolated island that saves them from the cruelty of the ocean, but not from that of the winter’s will, or the one of loneliness, so that the characters end up wishing to have died in the sea instead of suffering that torture. So, the album starts quitely with some scattered and distant notes, accompanied by the sound of the blizzard. The feeling of cold and solitude that Insomnium manages to recreate in all their albums intros are just awesome, and one of the parts that I like the most. Then this dark tranquility is abruptly broken by a fast and brutal riff, and soon Niilo Sevänen starts to growl the laments of the Vikings lost to die in the sea. The music keeps with their hopeless, yet turning melodic during some chorus-like intervals.

But when the Vikings were giving everything for lost, in the darkest of nights they glimpsed an island between the waves and the blizzard, an island that would save their lifes (at least for a while). So, the heavy riffs aren’t anymore necessary and music turns more relaxed, introducing acoustic guitars and an original keyboard with a ‘space’, oniric sound. Also, the growls stopped to make room for cleaner, still very low, vocals. All this alternating with harder, yet melodic, interludes and some ‘free-style’ melodeath solos. This part of the song fades into silence, and here is where for me ends the first part of the song, a really stormy one, to give way to a calmer one, heavily influenced by doom metal, which I’d say is the best material in the whole album.

So, it starts with guitar plucking and a good bass line, distant keyboard and clean vocals, building an elegant sound. I appreciated the almost Pink-Floyd-like guitars around 3:40 (if you’re listening to the Part 3 on the album), just before the doom metal starts. This is one of the highlights of the album, as riffs, drums rhythm and the atmospheric keyboard are superve. The sudden burst of emotion leads to an acoustic guitar and piano break, before the melodic riffing takes place again. I must hightlight all the guitar solos, catchy ‘chorus’ an epic final part (I mean end of Part 4 in the album). The next passage opens with a rueful and simple, yet elegant, piano melody, that even turns sweet and emotional, right before growls and guitars break in, with a very slow rhythm typical of doom, so that riffing is responsible of adding the epicness and make the music unforgettable. And here ends the part of the song I consider more powerful.

The next one preserves at the beginning some of the doom atmosphere from previous tracks, with even darker riffing, but the rhythm gets way faster, until all gives place to a new experimental interlude featuring acoustic guitar and great solos. Finally, during the last six minutes, the circle closes and the mood from the beginning takes over, full of rage, of fear, of dispair at the cruelty of night, of fate, of the winter’s cold, all condensed in some of the more expressive minutes of music I’ve ever heard. And after the final cry of hopelessness, all fades into silence, with a whispering voice that prays to be sung a song of hope and spring.

So, the conclusion is that Winter’s Gate brims with originality and freshness, apart from its experimental nature. Maybe they could have done another standard album with their standard sound and things would have worked out almost the same, but instead decided to take a riskier decision for the sake of creating something new and exciting, and have passed with flying colors. A perfect album.

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