Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Album Review: Insomnium - Winter's Gate

There is a long and growing history of metal bands turning over an entire record to a single song. From Edge Of Sanity's "Crimson", to Meshuggah's "I", to Green Carnation's "Light Of Day, Day Or Darkness", we can find a long list of single songs that clock in anywhere from twenty-five to sixty minutes. It's an arduous task to write such an album, to take so many musical ideas and fashion them together so that they form a single cohesive piece of music. It's easy to fall victim to largess, and to glue song fragments together without worrying about if the whole is indeed greater than the sum of the parts. Taking on this task is one that cannot be done lightly, and it certainly raises the bar for the result. If the entire album is one track, there can't be a single moment of wasted time, not a hint of filler anywhere in there, or else the entire track is ruined. So in that sense, I give credit to any band willing to put themselves under such a microscope.

Clocking in at exactly forty minutes, "Winter's Gate" is a single epic track that serves as the entire record. And I'll be honest here; I really don't know how to review this album. Without breaks indicating individual songs, or titles for subsections to at least refer to, describing the music in a way that can be easily digested is nearly impossible.

So let's first ask if this works as a single piece of music, which is the entire point of the record. In one way, yes, it does. There are enough segues in between the sections that it's blended together without jarring transitions. You can tell when we have switched from one 'chapter' to the next, but there is enough connective tissue in between to show the band did care about the flow. Those segues aren't always the most interesting, especially when they throw narration into the mix (narration is a pet peeve of mine; talking is not music). They do a decent job of making this sound like more than a handful of song ideas thrown together, which is appreciated, even if it still doesn't carry enough themes throughout the composition to make it truly feel like one piece of work.

The other thing to consider is the music itself. Is it interesting? Well, that's going to come down to how much you like Insomnium, since this is the kind of record you can't put on for a few minutes, do something else, and them come back to listen to a few more songs. The nature of the beast requires it to be consumed whole, which will strain anyone who isn't sold on Insomnium's brand of melodic death metal.

Myself, I have mixed feelings. There are section of this album that are really good. I especially like the section in the first half that features acoustic guitars and clean vocals. That is a strong piece of music. The more standard death metal elements aren't quite as sharp to me, as the band's tendencies don't mesh with my own. There aren't any riffs that stand out, which over the course of forty minutes becomes a problem. The music is always solid, and it's enjoyable for what it is, but I don't know what about this album will be so memorable that it stands out from the rest of the forty minutes of music. Without divisions, all we have is our memories, and I'm not sure that's a good thing as far as this album is concerned.

The other issue I have is that there is too much wasted time here. For trying to tell an epic story, and filling forty minutes with a single track, there shouldn't be anything superfluous here. But there is. There are moments of narration that add nothing to the music, and the transitional parts stretch on for too long, adding minutes to the composition, but little else. I would almost say the band was so dedicated to writing a forty minute track that when they realized they didn't have forty minutes of ideas, they stretched what they had to make the music fit the concept, and not the other way around.

I'm sure this will go down far better for people who are already long-time fans of Insomnium. For them, I can imagine this being everything they could ask for. For me, though, forty minutes of uninterrupted music is a bit too much. There's plenty of good in here, but this is an album for the die-hards, and I'm not one of them. So take that as you will.

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