Review: Insomnium’s Anno 1696 is One of Their Very Best


It’s the dead of winter here in the Northern Hemisphere. Perhaps the perfect time for some new Insomnium from the frigid town of Joensuu in the state of North Kareila, Finland. It’s way up there in the Arctic where temperatures below zero are the norm. It’s no surprise then that Insomnium presents us with another somber and sorrowful opus that, at the same time, evokes some heartened and bright elements as well. Anno 1696 gives us a brilliant interplay between the light and the dark. The songwriting on this new record is really at the band’s apex and I’d argue that this newest LP has some of the band’s best songs they’ve ever written.

Let’s start with “White Christ,” the second track on the record. Featuring Sakis Tolis of Rotting Christ, it might be one of the very best songs of the year. Incredible melody interspersed with masterful chord progressions that build to a crescendo in one moment and then to a more contemplative one in the next. The lead vocal trade off between Tolis and Insomnium bassist/vocalist Niilo Sevänen give the song added texture and intrigue. This six minute masterpiece will grab you from the first listen and it’s just powerful. Really, it’s like Insomnium put on a clinic in songwriting with this one.

“Lilian,” first released back in November, is a nod towards the band’s earlier work in terms of cadence and sonics. It touches all the bases in stellar melodic death metal with brilliant guitar harmonies, emotion-rich crescendo offset by an undercurrent of melancholy, and just the right amount of epic wistfulness. The breathtakingly beautiful video doesn’t hurt either. It’s a particularly cold sounding song – yet it really seems to warm your heart as well, especially given the lyrics are all about completely losing yourself in another.

The acoustic “The Unrest” gives me some shades of Ghost. And I mean that in a good way, because Ghost is an amazing band. It’s the perfect respite from the angry “The Witch Hunter” which precedes it and the uptempo “The Rapids” which follows it. Changing tempo and sonic atmosphere is what really keeps the listener engaged in this record. You never really know what to expect next and there isn’t any particular reliance on one style of song or composition. While there’s still this underlying thread behind all the tracks that’s unmistakably Insomnium, it’s the diversity that makes this such a fulfilling listen.

Cuts like “The Witch Hunter” have a distinctly cinematic feel to them and the video conveys a building storyline that tells a story from the point of view of the The Witch Hunter himself. You feel like you’re on an adventure as your ears take it all in. The main riff here, by the way, is rather enchanting and really represents the expert level of guitar musicianship found in Northern Europe.

It’s difficult to think of new platitudes for a band that has had a twenty plus year career impressing fans and critics, but for those of you who might think the band might have a strayed a bit from their formula as they enter their third decade, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. In fact, you’ll still be able to hear similarities all the way back to their 2002 debut, In the Halls of Awaiting. Of course, the production quality has, happily improved a great deal since those early days.

Though it’s only February, Anno 1696 is going to find itself on a myriad of “year’s best” lists and I believe most fans of the band will gladly rank this new record as one their favorites.

Anno 1696 will be released on February 24 via Century Media Records, though you can preorder your copy today.

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