Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In the seriously overpopulated realm of Melodic Death Metal, overzealous imitation has since long lead to a satiation of the genre. That the quality of most clones left a lot to be desired and that the pioneers failed to re-invent themselves ended up in a stagnant though oddly commercial successful genre. Fortunately there still are gifted bands such as INSOMNIUM that can break this insipid mold and breathe new life into this dormant genre. And once again, it’s Finland who bears the flag of innovation. INSOMNIUM’s 2002 debut album “In The Halls Of Awaiting” is more than a amusing fresh wind flirting with Death Metal boundaries, it’s a poetic work of outstanding artistry.
Taking a quick look at the disconsolate artwork and ditto song titles of their first infant, one might think these Fins are a Doom-laden band. And even though they translate their bleak and somber lyrics into equally compelling and tear-jerking melodies, this is nothing like MY DYING BRIDE or KATATONIA, but more akin to their country mates AMORPHIS or RAPTURE.
“Ill-Starred Son” kicks off with a powerful combination of acoustic and melodic guitar riffs, an approach that not only typifies the IMSOMNIUM sound but would even be further perfected on their later albums. This opener offers an intriguing glance to the grand collection of melancholic/melodic riffs to discover in the next 50 minutes. From the moment the vocals kick in, it’s obvious that Niilo Sevänen isn’t your average grunter. He masters a raw though very understandable deep grunt which he can vary in a lot of intensifications, in the same way that e.g. AMON AMARTH’s Johan Hegg is quite understandable to the trained ear.
Another brilliant track is “Medeia”, a reincarnation of the classic Greek tragedy written by Euripides. For those that have never heard of this sorrowful tale, I will give a short summary: In fear of rejection by her adulterous husband Jason, Medeia doesn’t only kill Jason’s mistress but her own children as well simply to avenge his treason. This calamity is beautifully transferred into the somber opening riff. And I felt an even more overwhelming feeling when the acoustic leads and mystic whispering began taking control of the song. Eerie shivers of melancholy will surely run down your spine as well. “Dying Chant” is, in comparison to “Medeia”, a more melodic powerhouse with the same mournful undertone thanks to Niilo’s howling wails.
All of the original methods exhibited on the first half of the album were only pieces waiting to fall into place on “The Elder” (their first single where they also shot a video for). A direful acoustic intro that vaguely reminded me of SUIDAKRA awaits to be ambushed by a thrilling -and again melancholic- lead riff. The well-written and tastefully triste lyrics are the perfect icing for this cheerless cake. An short example of the spine tingling chorus:
“I'm a whirl deep in dark waters,
A stare in the shades of fir-trees
I'm riding above with north wind,
Herding the black clouds of rain.”
“Black Water” and “The Bitter End” let the double bass roll freely and the riffs sound like a playful mixture of MITHOTYN and ENSIFERUM. Melody wise, these are easily the “happiest” song of the album. And our journey through these bleak lands of desperation hasn’t come to an end yet. The climax takes form in the name of the self-titled track “In The Halls Of Awaiting”. A lot of Metal artists would sacrifice a rib to have an 11-minute saga of these gargantuan proportions in their repertoire. I can only think of EQUILIBRIUM’s “Mana” or LOST HORIZON’s “Highlander (The One”) that can grab you so firmly by the balls for over 10 minutes without falling into tedium.
Taking in mind that this is only INSOMNIUM’s debut album, the level of consistency and craftsmanship on this album is beyond terrific, even in such a manner that it’s scares me. There is no filler nor inferior material to be spotted and there are standout tracks aplenty to choose from, such as the “The Elder”, “Medeia”, “The Bitter End” and the marvelous “In The Halls Of Awaiting”. It doesn’t reshape Death Metal as “The Jester’s Race” did back in 1996 but it comes damn close. Hands down a big recommendation to everyone who is sick of the CHILDREN OF IN FLAMES clones polluting their favorite genre.
(Online May 5, 2009)