Insomnium has long held the status as being one of the best melodic death metal bands to not emerge directly or indirectly from Sweden’s Gothenburg scene. While always owing a ton to Dark Tranquillity, these Finns built a separate identity through a focus on atmosphere and artistry, delivering a bona fide classic in 2006’s Above the Weeping World, and managing to never deliver a real clunker. As the scene eroded and slowly died in the eyes of most, Insomnium remained, simply maintaining and releasing quality.
If one thing allowed them to really survive in a continually less friendly landscape, it has been the class and professionalism of their music. Which is why it is a tad disappointing to hear some blatant, underdeveloped attempts at commercialism strewn throughout Shadows of the Dying Sun, their sixth full length album.
But before nits are picked and accusations thrown, allow us to step back for a second. The vast majority of Shadows ought to be precisely what the long-dedicated Insomnium fan yearns to hear: insanely layered, dynamic, and hugely atmospheric melodeath loaded with bellowing harsh vocals and great leads. (Plus blasts, interwoven tremolo lines, rhythmic chugs, acoustic passages, and smart use of piano and keyboards.) So yeah, none of it is exactly new, but when songs such as the soaring, haunting “Black Heart Rebellion” or emotional, mildly proggy “The River” reveal a band to still be very much at the top of their game, why change, right?
This question is particularly poignant when considering the areas of attempted variety, which is exactly where the filler pops up. The first eyebrows of disapproval will be raised during “Lose To Night,” a bland ballad loaded with trite lyrics, lazy songwriting techniques, and the brief appearance of the dreaded good cop / bad cop vocals. (I mean, come on. That technique hasn’t even been popular with the kids in about 10 years, and it was garbage then.) “Ephemeral” is a tad better, but its “lead single” format is obvious and, quite honestly, below the band. By the time another ballad appears, the album has largely run out of gas.
And that’s the kicker. Insomnium could easily have dropped these tracks in the interest of both overall quality and efficiency, but they instead chose to stretch the album to nearly an hour. As a result, Shadows of the Dying Sun will never be the first Insomnium album recommended to the uninitiated; or the second, or the fourth.
Much of it still shows a band with a lot to offer, but be ready with the skip button.