It feels ungrateful to berate a band for making music which you like over and over again but here we are. When Insomnium released Across the Dark, it seemed as if the band were bent on forging their own paths. Even though, later on, Shadows of the Dying Sun further cemented their supremacy within their niche, there were some (like me) who wished they would keep exploring and mutating their sound, creating something that still bore their mark but perhaps excavated a bit more the boundaries of their style of dark, melodic death metal. As it stands today, this doesn’t appear to be on the band’s agenda; both the previous Winter’s Gate (despite structural experimentation) and the upcoming Heart Like a Grave are pretty much safe plays, leaning further and on the sound that has worked for the band for a decade now.
Which, don’t get me wrong, isn’t entirely a bad thing. If you’re looking for moving, melancholic, and epic melodic death metal, then there’s little on Heart Like a Grave that you won’t like. The basic formula is all there: the vocals are massive, the guitars parts are sweeping, the folk influences moving in that certain way. Tracks like “Neverlast” or the opening “Wail of the North” show that Insomnium are still pretty much the best at what they do, as they effortlessly paint the moving soundscapes for which they have become famous for. The production is as on point as ever, both on the level of the sound itself and the arrangement of the tracks themselves; the hits come when they need to and they sound great when they do. A good example is “Pale Morning Star”, one of the outstanding tracks on the album, as it pierces the middle of the album (more or less) with its ethereal sound and even a tremolo pick here or there.
This is not to say that nothing new has been attempted on this album. Some of the synth sounds for example are more pronounced, like on the opening track and its following companion. So too the classic piano tones; they’re sharp and present, possessing more of the mix and aural space when they do appear than on previous releases. Songs like “Pale Morning Star” and “Mute is My Sorrow” call back to Across the Dark with somewhat re-configured structures and a less “straight-forward” Insomnium sound although they both ring true with the band’s unmistakable signature (especially the latter one, who’s moving chorus is pure Insomnium). But, as you might be able to tell from the points I did list, overall our ideas from above are very much prevalent; Heart Like a Grave sure is an Insomnium album and there’s not much on it to differentiate it from previous release.
At the end, we come back to the original question: is that a bad thing? After all, there’s a reason you loved what came before (if you did) and the band reiterating on that is a strange thing to be upset about. Listening to more of something you like is not bad and I think the metal scene often seems to forget that. Even as its often busy with terms like “ground-breaking” or “innovative”, a lot of metal is all about homage, whether to your previous self or to perceived “greats” of the genre. And that’s fine. Especially when it’s executed with obvious skill and attention, as it is here. Bottom line, you’ll have to make up your own mind: are you craving for more of Insomnium’s brew? If so, then drink deep of Heart Like a Grave. If you’re looking for something new from the band or the genre then perhaps you should look elsewhere; you won’t find it here.
Heart Like a Grave releases on October 4th via Century Media. You can pre-order it right here.