New Insomnium‘s album “Anno 1696” (or “Year 1696” in English) is a concept album, based on a story, written by Niilo Sevänen himself. The story in a nutshell is about the witch-hunting during the Great Famine times in the North, and it’s, obviously, pierced with magical hopelessness and mysterious gloom. And before we dive into this dark atmosphere of the album I’d like to amplify the impression by saying that The Great Famine really happened during this year in Finland – a huge part of the population starved to death in the year 1696. Gruesome trials against witches also took place at that time. So, basically, if this album were a movie it could have a popular “based on real events” disclaimer. And now, when you’ve fully felt the vibe of the album – let’s go check out what we have here.
The opening track is the title track “Anno 1696”, and it starts with a suppressing acoustic melody, which measured rhythm associates with something between funeral procession and shamanic ritual, and mysterious and silent yet terrifying Niilo`s voice that floats into the song as if from the frozen fog and merges with the music only adds to this impression. As we know, Insomnium usually take time to tell their story in a song, so there’s no surprise that “Anno 1696” develops slowly, it’s the second minute when drums and riffs join the show, and only the third minute when the song goes in full metal power with drums like a rageful thunderstorm. Blast beats are then replaced by more measured and epic rhythm…just to be back again.
“White Christ” is generally less dramatic than its predecessor, and I’d call it a typical decent Insomnium song with a steady rhythm and powerful vocals, that’s marked by a duo with Sakis Tolis from Rotting Christ. The third track, “Godforsaken“, also has a guest vocalist, and oh my god this is a pure magical masterpiece in a shape of a song! Never in the history of the band female vocals were presented in any song, and here we hear not just female vocals, but majestic sparkling Johanna Kurkela, whose voice hasn`t ever been framed in such heaviness, gotta say. Johanna‘s contribution to the song makes a huge contrast to its common doomness and adds mysterious folkishness to it. Also here it becomes pretty clear that acoustic elements play a vital role on this album, here and further giving the impression of some creepy yet glorious campfire story in the dark winter forest.
We don`t have to go far to witness the next example of it, which is “Lilian”, the first single of the album, it sounds lighter than the previous songs, maybe I’d even call it the lightest on the album(yet this title will go to some other song). If it were not for the blastbeat elements and Niilos trademark growls, it’d be a bit of traditional Finnish love-metal for me. What I marked the most about this song is how it manages to sound gloomy and uplifting at the same time. Paradox.
“Starless Paths” is my favorite on the album, just because I’m a sucker for the waltzing metal and I consider three-quarters the most perfect rhythmical pattern ever. I’m amazed at how multifaceted this song is: acoustics go doom metal with epicness overload, tempo changes several times back and forth, then the song goes muted a bit, exposing the bassline, the choir also presents on this song, and an awesome guitar solo is like an icing on a cake here. “The Witch Hunter” has a habitual acoustic start, and what`s curious about this song is that here acoustic melody doesn’t fade into the song’s heaviness, here two elements are united and go hand in hand until the end, forming an atmospheric composition.
In “Unrest” the acoustic melody from the start traditionally intrigues us, as we start wondering where it will go this time. When you realize it’s a ballad – you get curious still for how long the acoustic will stay and when(and how) the metal part starts. But here the surprising act is that the song is fully acoustic, that`s the least heavy song I was talking about. It’s filled with ASMR’ish growls, clean vocals and delivers unapologetically melancholic folkishness.
“The Rapids”, which is also the concluding song, made me wanna sum up the whole album, as it is its finest representative. So this is melodic doom death meets dark folk kind of thing, that`s how it feels. As usual, in “The Rapids” we need to wait for a couple of minutes for a song to start blooming in full metal bloom and to get faster, a bit less sinister, but a bit more aggressive, with beautiful vortexing melodies in the background and the forefront. At the very end of the song, the level of ominousity reaches a sky-high level and covers us all with the hopeless creepy cold misery of the album.
“Anno 1696” is all about the atmosphere, first and foremost, which is dark as heck. I’ve always felt that Insomnium cay carry as their trademark their ability to musically visualize the raging storms in the dark winter forests or solemn solitude among the snowy hills below the black starless sky, but in this record, they’ve fully outdone themselves, in my opinion.