I am not an Insomnium fan. At least not until I heard this. All previous outings have, sacrilege or no, left me bored and ready to take a nap. I thought that 2014’s Shadows of a Dying Sun would change things, as “While We Sleep” was one of my favorite songs of the year. But listening to the album as a whole still proved tedious. They are one of the few melodeath bands that have running street cred to continue to elude my specific palate. But with Winter’s Gate, the band has vastly improved my impression of them as both writers and musicians: a complete rebirth. This singular composition running just over 40 minutes is one of the most impressive achievements of the year, and Insomnium’s finest hour by a large margin.
In a nutshell, Winter’s Gate feels like the Opeth comeback long desired by those of us yearning for the days of Blackwater Park. This album is heavier and more progressive than anything Insomnium has embarked on before; and as a result it seems like an entirely different band than the Finns that I have come to know. The second movement in particular with its bouncy riffs and mixed vocals just screams Åkerfeldt, albeit with some Moonsorrow epicness thrown in.
Speaking of epic folk music, Winter’s Gate utilizes many of the genre’s hallmarks to push their sound to great heights. The ethereal synths are breathtaking, creating a massive stormfront of sound with the thunderous drums and raging torrents of guitar. Careful implementation of acoustic, piano, and certain riff structures add an unprecedented amount of texture and atmosphere to the overall composition. Seriously, it is rare that I go in for an album that is just one massive song. Not even the aforementioned progressive pagan masters Moonsorrow pulled it off on Viides luku – Hävitetty imo. But here I found every moment to be intensely gripping in its variation and development. And being able to jump around movements a la So Hideous doesn't hurt either when it comes to replay value.
Even the more subdued movements, the ones I felt used to dominate previous albums and turn them into gloomy sleepy-time music, now feel much more impassioned and interesting. They are rolled nicely into the overall product and feature more dynamics much like the latest Be'lakor album; another one with which this release shares certain parallels. I was skeptical coming into this, but once convinced to check out the stream below, I was glued. Not a grower: definitely a shower. Though I have a few 2016 albums I would put above this one, I guarantee we will be seeing Winter’s Gate on plenty top 10 lists this year. Buy it today.