INSOMNIUM — Shadows of the Dying Sun (review)

INSOMNIUM — Shadows of the Dying Sun album cover Album · 2014 · Melodic Death Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
Ever Diminishing

I remember, a long time ago, Insomnium were once my favourite metal band.

And yes, I will praise them for their melodic and harmonic ability and thank them for allowing me to tolerate harsh vocals (still don’t really like them), but I will never really be able to praise them for their ingenuity.

Shadows of the Dying Sun is the latest in a string of records with ever-diminishing returns for Insomnium. After hitting their peak with 2006’s astonishing Above the Weeping World, Insomnium have essentially followed each album with an ever-so-slightly weaker one again and again. Oddly though, for all the bands who have gone with this repeat-the-same-thing-forever band plan, Insomnium’s diminishing talent has gone down a bit slower than most, since this record is only a sliver under One for Sorrow, which was only a sliver under Across the Dark. But regardless of Insomnium’s odd ability to still kinda get my feet tapping on each album, there is rarely a time when I’m in the mood to hear over-produced and cluttered melodeath, and if I do, then the record of choice is nearly always Above The Weeping World (although recently Omnium Gatherum’s New World Shadows has overtaken that as my favourite melodeath record).

Although these four records have played a pretty similar style of melodeath, Insomnium have been steadily bringing clean vocals more and more into the mix, a route that was definitely necessary to keep from being too stale. But ironically for me, I still don’t think this record is as strong as the ones with full harsh vocals, even though I have constantly wanted Insomnium to shut the fuck up with those goddamn growls. I like the idea of clean vocals in their music, but they just don’t do them well enough, and with Shadows of the Dying Sun being the most abundantly clean of all their albums, it’s more frustrating that enjoyable. Because nearly every time a clean sung melody comes in, they feel the weird need to layer it with a whole ton of singers, making it sound like a weak choir rather than an emotive vocalist. They’ve done this on previous albums before, and I always thought it was because they never trusted themselves as strong clean vocalists (although it also may be a bit to do with Insomnium’s obsession of hiding all their great melodies under a pile of mud). This album opens nearly straight up with a clean melody in “While We Sleep”, but with the chanting choir, it sounds cheesy and weak – I’d much rather a single strong voice come soaring over the instruments than a whole lot of them hide under them.

But it’s not as if they are incapable. 8-minute centerpiece “The River” features an acoustic guitar bridge that finally boasts a strong, single voice. And it’s fantastic. Although yes, the combination of clean guitar with the tonality of the vocals does point rather massively toward Mikael Åkerfeldt, but I’m not really minding, since the guitars still have that Insomnium vibe to them. But when I hear this, I can’t help but feel that a track like “Lost To Night” could be much better with these clean vocals, since the melody on that track’s chorus is amazing. This album also features a far more prominent use of some “whisper” vocals, particularly in the soft verses when death growling would feel wrong. But I can’t honestly say they’re a great inclusion, especially since I feel many of these verses would be heightened by fully clean vocals. To point back to “The River”, the song utilises these whispered vocals over some nice finger-picked gutiars, but the entire time I’m almost wishing for some strong and powerful vocals, when all I get is this ~deep~ poetic whispering.

Musically, this album borrows excessively from their own back catalogue – often too much for me to fully enjoy. I’m sure if you were new to this band, it wouldn’t be too much of an obstacle, but as a long-time fan, hearing the opening riff of “While We Sleep” just makes me go “sigh, Insomnium, you’ve used this one before”. Which song it was from I’d never be able to say (even on their great albums they’re hard to tell apart), but I’m nearly 90% certain that this particular riff, or at least that chord progression, has been prominent on at least one Insomnium song before. And then straight after, “Revelation” brings in that bloody 12/8 pattern they use in every song in the history of ever, to the point when it may as well be called ‘the Insomnium pattern’. I’m sure it wouldn’t irk me as much if I hadn’t heard this band before, but it’s certainly not going to show their brilliant ingenuity.

Although I have had a bit of a crap on Insomnium for not making their music progress, there are tiny little hints at a change on this record, the sort that would help the band convince themselves that they’re “redefining their sound”. Firstly, the production here is certainly better than on previous records, although it’s still not without fault. This album is essential headphone listening, since many of the sounds can get insanely buried, but even then, I had to really strain to hear that very distant trumpet melody on “Lost To Night”, that I’m sure would have made the song better if it were upfront. And the same goes for the strings on “Collapsing Worlds” – they’re just too buried. But overall, this album is less painful than their past records, and some of the tones and drum sounds are actually quite good, particularly the performance in “Black Heart Rebellion”. But the most prominent of new sounds on this record to me are the use of intense blast beats during this track and “The River”, complete with some great tremolo-guitar riffs floating on top, and honestly, these parts are just a few gargling screams away from atmospheric black metal, and they definitely make this album an easier ride in terms of breaking the generic doomy melodeath formula.

Shadows of the Dying Sun is a record that tries to push ever so slightly in a different direction, but the differences between it and its predecessors are so minute that it simply becomes forgettable. The riffs are not quite as strong, the songs aren’t quiet as emotional and so the album isn’t quite as good. I do enjoy it, and it’s by no means bad, but I can nearly guarantee that when this review is published I will likely never return to it again. There’s better stuff out there.


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