Review: “Anno 1696” by Insomnium

“The Torsåker witch trials were a horrible source of nightmarish inspiration. All that talk about 70 women beheaded in this small Swedish parish? It’s real stuff from history! And as if that weren’t enough, there are also some very dark tales of cannibalism and child murder from the years of the great famine.” ~ Niilo Sevänen, bass

Mixed by Jaime Gomez Arellano (Moonspell, Paradise Lost, Mordkaul) at Orgone Studios and mastered by Tony Lindgren (Enslaved, The Halo Effect, Amorphis) at Fascination Street Studios, the ninth studio album from Finnish Metal melancholists Insomnium is upon us. A tragedy of Greek proportions based on a short story by bassist Niilo Sevänen, “Anno 1696” welcomes us to an age of unrest. A great famine sweeps Northern Scandinavia bringing plague and pestilence while the Witch hunt is in full swing across Europe… 

For more than two decades Finnish Masters Insomnium have been telling epic tales wrapped in a depth of emotion unlike others and they show no sign of letting their crown slip with the Melodic Death Metal of opening cut “1696“. Powerful unclean vocals from bassist Sevänen drive home the tale, nestling in the space between a blink and a tear with emotive balance, against a backdrop of polished epic grandeur that reaches stunning new heights. Once again the band produce material that should require auditoriums worthy of the performance when it comes to playing live. Taking a more melodic and Gothically tinged approach “White Christ” doesn’t have the cutting edge of the opening track, instead reaching a cinematic level of musicianship that is simply stunning. Synths add an an ethereal touch while perhaps unexpected guest Sakis Tolis (of Rotting Christ fame) gives the cut a little more punch towards the end. The flames of hell are turned up a couple of notches with the scalding uncleans on “Godforsaken” which are contrasted nicely with some almost ethnic guitar work and female voices, the bands ability to move in waves from the heavy to the melodic and back within the confines of a single cut being second to none. From the dark and stormy night daybreak makes everything clearer and in “Lilian“, Insomnium once again offer something instrumentally bright with another Melodic Death Metal masterclass that owes some influence to the Gothenburg sound. Another stunning piece of work the band are the metaphorical Van Gogh, painting images in the mind with dark lyrics and majestic instrumentation, a group of musicians in their element.

Part of the beauty of “Anno 1696” is that the concept and lyrics are there if you want them and absent if you don’t, the band offering the thinker a lyric sheet to read and muse upon once the headbanging and marvel at the craft is over should you so desire. That in itself is no mean feat, Insomnium constantly treading a tightrope of their own making, probably without even knowing it. Building the mountain again, “Starless Paths” takes everything that came before it and adds some haunting piano moments and powerful blast beats from Markus Hirvonen. That drives home the sentiment of the story over nearly eight minutes, the finale of which is very much worth waiting for as for the first time the solos really stand out. Harsh spoken word moments and glorious clean sung vocal passages add depth, texture and dramatics to “The Witch Hunter” which despite being the shortest cut, is one of the most powerful and an obvious single. Folk inspired acoustic guitars then bring “The Unrest” to life like something from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Soaked in melancholy and infinite sadness there is a dark beauty and dull ache in the soul, it’s harsh whispers and clean vocal passages giving it an aged feel and respite from the tornado of souls that came before it. A grand piano gives “The Rapids” an icy cold feeling before the guitars rise with almost Black Metal majesty, the stunning leads adding vibrant light to the darkness once more. A fitting end to what can only be considered another masterclass in the epic and one which looks back on history without rose tinted spectacles, shining a spotlight on those who suffered at the hands of barbarians… [8.5/10]

Track Listing

  1. 1696
  2. White Christ (ft. Sakis Tolis of Rotting Christ)
  3. Godforsaken
  4. Lilian
  5. Starless Paths
  6. The Witch Hunter
  7. The Unrest
  8. The Rapids

Anno 1696” by Insomnium is out 24th February 2023 via Century Media

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