Insomnium Usher in Autumn with “Ephemeral”
Sunday, September 22nd, marked the official Autumnal equinox, and even though the temperatures here in Houston will still reach the 90s this week, there were signs in the air that the seasons had truly changed. It was in the sounds of an NFL Sunday escaping from the television, the outdoor smells of burning wood and grilling meats, the sights of a grey, overcast sky, and of course, the feel of much cooler breezes. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m pretty big on this time of the year, and of course I tend to gravitate to listening to those bands that tend to provide a suitable Fall soundtrack. One of these bands is Insomnium, whom I began to get into heavily last year around this same time after years of seeing their name pop-up repeatedly. This surging interest perfectly coincided with the chance to see them live in November supporting their One For Sorrow album, and I still remember the anticipation of the drive to the venue, the electricity of one of the most intense performances I’ve ever seen, and the shaking exuberance of the drive back home in the chilly late night air.
So perhaps my perception of time is distorted a bit, in terms of gauging my stunned surprise to the fact that four days ago on Thursday, September 19th the band released their new single “Ephemeral”. Seeing that One For Sorrow was released in 2011, a full year prior to my becoming a die hard fan, I might be projecting my personal timeline with the band over their working, reality based timeline. But it seems to have come as a welcome surprise to most of their fans, as the band had been recently posting cryptic Facebook posts for awhile hinting at something coming down the pike, only for it to end up being the release of a rather absorbing documentary on the making of One For Sorrow. So when another of these cryptic hint posts showed up on my Facebook feed, I figured it would be another retrospective based release, certainly not new music. That it actually ended up being so capped off what was the best week of the year for metal releases. And I can’t think of a better way to usher in the Fall than with new Insomnium music.
This single release is actually an EP to be precise, a collection of four tracks, the aforementioned “Ephemeral” and three acoustic based instrumental tracks. The title track kicks us off; a just under four minute slice of tempered Insomnium styled melo-death and its our first taste of the band’s slightly different take on their sound. Noticeably there is a lack of the band’s usual penchant for a slower, lengthy musical intro —- before we know it we’re launching headlong into a twice repeating up tempo verse section that accelerates into a nicely worked bridge, before exploding with a gush of ultra melodic guitars in the chorus. Whats striking here is the interesting tempo progression, a rhythmically uptempo verse to be sure, followed by an even faster bridge, and finally the guitars take the lead in the chorus to push the song to the speed limit. As usual for a band of their songwriting talent, Insomnium’s keen ear at layer separation between instruments is the key attribute at work here —- notice that the vocals continue from section to section at their own pace, never feeling the need to match the rhythm section or guitar leads. This song is catchy as hell. Probably more than any other melo-death band, Insomnium seems to have a never ending supply of ear worms that they liberally sprinkle all throughout their songwriting.
I want to point out the exceptional lyrics here as well. As lyricists, Insomnium have tended to lean towards the bleak, morose, and often flat out depressing —- but they always temper that approach with an underlying layer of optimism, or for lack of a better term, hope. On “Ephemeral”, verse lyrics speak to us of the grimness of living: “For this life will break you / Years will wear you down / And every day you die a little / Until the shadows will take you”, a plainly laid out sentiment that no one has managed to express as well since Sentenced. But the refrain that follows in the chorus is one of Insomnium’s best moments lyrically, a Norse mythological ethos steeped expression of sheer will: “Dying doesn’t make this world dead to us / Breathing doesn’t keep the flame alive in us / Dreaming doesn’t make time less real for us / One life, one chance, all ephemeral”. In my experience with Insomnium, its the melodies that draw me in first, but vocalist Niilo Sevänen’s perfect blend of harsh vocals with clear enunciation prevent these lyrics from just melting into the background. This song’s been on a regular rotation for the past few days and will probably stay there for weeks more at least.
There are three other cuts on this EP, as mentioned before, they are short atmospheric, acoustic instrumentals that actually served as the soundtrack to their One For Sorrow documentary. And before you yawn, let me assure you that they work within the context of this release. I suppose the obvious thing would be to say they were soothing, and at times they were, but “The Swarm” kicks off with a Jester Race sounding acoustic strum that is almost waltz-like in its tempo, bringing to mind the best era of that famed Gothenburg sound. They’re all good pieces, and nice to have in addition to the main attraction, but I think it would have been far more interesting had they re-recorded a few tracks from their back catalog in an acoustic format, perhaps with clean vocals over them? Ah can’t win them all. Regarding the documentary, I loved every minute of it, and its starkness in tone matched the band’s musical qualities, right down to the directorial decisions —- its worth checking out on YouTube. That coupled with the new single has me more anticipatory than ever, could a new album possibly arrive before year’s end? If not at least Autumn is finally here.