It is safe to say that no-one does melancholy like the Finnish and when it comes to dark and melancholic metal that Finland has more bands in that style than most other countries. One of the finest bands to embody that sound and to also come from Finland are melodic death metallers Insomnium who have been releasing their gloomy take on melodeath since 1997.
is the ninth album from the band and continues a seemingly unbreakable run of insanely strong material from the band with
being up there with some of the best material from the band. Much like 2016’s lauded
is a concept album with influence drawn from the Aino Kallas' 1928 novel ‘Sudenmorsian (The Wolf's Bride)’. The album's concept is even brought to fruition in the form of a short story penned by frontman Niilo Sevänen which accompanies the album.
Insomnium, like a lot of Finnish metal bands, has always taken influence from their native folk music and we really see this influence brought to the forefront in the form of a gorgeous acoustic song The Unrest. Anno 1696 also features some guest musicians with Sakis Tolis of Rotting Christ appearing on the wonderfully atmospheric White Christ. We also get Johanna Kurkela of Auri appearing on the albums finest moment which is the stunning Godforsaken - an absolutely stunning piece which has some of the most beautiful melodies of the entire album and utilises Johanna’s beautiful ethereal voice to jaw-dropping effect.
Insomnium are a band that have maintained a ridiculous amount of high quality from their first album to present day and there is not a weak moment in their discography though it is commendable that 26 years into their career that they have released what could easily be their finest album to date in Anno 1696. I mean it has some stiff competition in albums such as Above The Weeping World, Across The Dark and Heart Like A Grave but Anno 1696 feels like the band most accomplished work thus far and songs such as Lilian, Starless Paths and Godforsaken are the finest the band has written.
It’s a bold statement to make early on in the year but Insomnium may have given us the best album of 2023. It takes what has made Insomnium one of the most beloved bands in the melodic death metal subgenre up to another level. A must hear album. 10/10
Eulogy – Rebirth (Self Released) [Simon Black]
Down here in South Wales it feels like there is a real hotbed of new talent right now (despite the real challenge of availability of small grass roots venues in the Cardiff area). It was not always thus, but right now there’s a whole bunch of acts who’ve dragged themselves up by the bootstraps from the starting blocks and started to make a wider impact.
A huge part of this has been the robust way the local Metal 2 The Masses competitions have been handled down here, with Eulogy being one of the acts who have worked through that process and although they didn’t ultimately win 2022’s round, they have not let them hold them down. I always say to bands who do get that coveted slot at Catton Park “don’t let this be as far as you get”, as the competition should be a springboard on a tough gruelling journey, although for many it becomes the finish line and Eulogy have this down pat. Keep Calm And Carry On indeed…
We also seem to have a renaissance going on with more traditional metal and hard rock influenced style, which let’s face it never goes away or evolves too far from its roots and can cross the generational divide better than many a passing sub-genre fad that this old fart of a hack has seen in my half century plus, and with other local rising stars like King Kraken making waves, there’s plenty of room for other solid acts, and Eulogy fit that brief like a hand in a studded leather glove.
Musically this band pull their influences from older classic tropes, but they’ve got a nice modern metal edge to them to go with it and manage a strong and distinctive sound all of their own. I love the deeply heavy crunch that goes with everything they deliver, and it’s always a promising sign when the low end is down and dirty enough to rattle the windows in my office and start the teenagers shouting at me to turn things down.
This is well-phrased riffage of the highest order, and it drives each and every track through like a relentless steamroller, regardless of the tempo of the individual song, although the slower elements are as ruthless and powerful as the faster ones. Neil Thomas takes bass and vocal duties, so is absolutely at the centre of this merciless rhythm but avoids the trap many bass/vocalists fall into of synchronising the melody lines. He also has a really strong and charismatic voice, which can scale well whilst retaining a strong and gutsy rock n roll edge.
The songs themselves are really strongly well written and arranged, leading you in and addictivley dragging you into their thrall, and the nine songs on here do not hold one minute of unnecessary padding between them, honed as they are from the band’s history to date. With a rich fat production sound and an impeccable standard of delivery, this feel like a band destined for much bigger things. Keep Calm, Carry On and Turn It Up Really Damned Loud, because this is a highlight of the month so far. 9/10
BIG|BRAVE - Nature Morte (Southern Lord Records) [Mark Young]
Forming in 2012, Montreal natives BIG|BRAVE started writing experimental music that fell into a softer and subtle approach that fulfilled their initial approach of ambient and minimalist music. This changed following a switch from acoustic to electric guitar which has brought them to the album you have today. Nature Morte
is their latest release which delivers a slab of metallic folk which is extremely heavy, underpinned by Robin Wattie’s vocals. From the outset this is a difficult ride, as the heavy work here is done with the singing with the background space filled by guitars, drums but Robin’s voice just absolutely dominates it. It sounds like it is being literally dragged from her in a violent act of aggression and then in others its soft, anchored by ethereal background.
can be translated as meaning ‘a still life’ in which It is an image depicting inanimate objects and consulting their socials the literal translation they use is ‘dead nature’ which makes complete sense when placed against the music on offer here.
This music is so far out of my wheelhouse I can only review it on what feelings I get immediately from listening to it and it reminds me of late 80’s and early 90’s Jesus And The Mary chain amongst others and each song has a direction and a story within it. The arrangements are sparse with just enough movement to carry the song along with equal measures that are quiet and loud with the only constant that the vocals are launched at you in such a way that they slice through everything else and are in your face.
Everything here is honest, its stark and the effect is that none of these songs were built to pander to anyone or what they think heavy music should be. It’s heavy even in the soft parts because these generate such an atmosphere of oppression and tension you welcome when the heavy parts kick in. It will welcome repeat listening because I don’t believe you will get everything from it in one sitting with It with you certainly finding more within the soundscapes they have created here. 7/10
Dark Embrace - Dark Heavy Metal (Massacre Records) [Paul Scoble]
Spanish band Dark Embrace have been making music since the year 2000. During the bands 23 year career the lineup has changed many times, but main man Oscar Rilo remains the constant centre of all things Dark Embrace, at different times playing different combinations of instruments depending on how full a lineup he had. On Dark Heavy Metal he is joined by Mou Trashno on guitars, also Markos Villar on guitars, Kike Vilar - bass and former Mercyful Fate, King Diamond and Dream Evil drummer Snowy Shaw, with Oscar taking just the lead singer role, as he has a full band on this album. Dark Embrace are also joined by Antti Wirman (of King Company and Warmen) playing a Guitar solo on the track Endless Months and Jari Pailamo (of King Company and Daimonic) plays keyboards on This Is The Rain.
In Dark Embraces 23 history the band have released two and a bit albums, First album The Rebirth Of Darkness in 2006, and eleven years later in 2017 they released The Call Of The Wolves, and 5 years later The Call Of The Wolves (Re-Howled) a re-recording of their 2017 album was released, making the ‘and a bit’ of their two and a bit albums.
During their career Dark Embrace has segued from playing a style they described as gothic doom, to a style of symphonic/death metal, in many ways Dark Heavy Metal comes in somewhere in between the two styles. Lead singer Oscar Rilo sings in 3 different ways on Dark Heavy Metal, he has a harsh voice that is low and guttural, a Harsh voice that is in a higher register and is quite shrill, and a very good clean singing voice. Personally I don’t like the higher register harsh voice, it’s too screeching for me, however vocals are always contentious so you might like the higher voice and think I’m an idiot, the lower harsh voice and Oscars clean singing voice are excellent, and fit really well with the music.
The album opens with the title track Dark Heavy Metal, which is in a similar style to Children Of Bodom’s take on melodeath, it’s full of energy, drive and loads of melody with an excellent guitar solo. Never Seen The Sun is a mix of the melodic death metal style we encountered on the first track and a slower style that is closer to power metal. Oscar uses his clean voice to great effect and added keyboards help keep it atmospheric. The track that follows, Personal Hell, has a similar style and structure, another great solo and some really good galloping horse riffs.
Endless Months has a mid-paced tempo, clean vocals, yet another great solo and tunes that feel fairly Baroque in style, kind of classic power metal, in some ways the melodic elements also give a slight folky sense to the song as well, which is helped by having some gang vocals in the chorus. Next comes Metal Is Religion, which, as you would expect with a title like that, is an up-tempo, driving, fist pumping blast of awesome heavy metal, the chorus is very good and has some great chanting on it.
Next comes the track Life And Legacy which is fast melodeath with lots of keyboards that really add to the song, vast amounts of energy and (yet again) a really good sing along chorus. Dark Heavy Metal throws us a bit of a curve ball. This Is The Rain is a ballad that is based around a piano riff. The song is very emotive, partly due to that great piano riff and partly due to the vocal performance. The song does get a little heavier for the guitar solo, but returns to a softer sound afterwards.
Time Is Telling is a short instrumental before the final track, Bitter End MMXXII. Bitter End MMXXII is a big and very heavy track with lots of keyboards that has an epic feel to it. The song is melodic and tuneful, but always very heavy, we get our last excellent guitar solo and it feels like a very big and powerful way to end the album.
I must admit I had some issues with this album when I first listened to it; I wasn’t sure about the higher register harsh vocals, and the ‘Dark Metal’ tag is something I have known as a small, not very well known Black Metal sub-genre, so I was expecting some kind of depressive black metal. The album confused me. However, I don’t think any album I’ve listened to has won me over as much as Dark heavy metal. After a couple of days I started humming tunes, then I started singing along with the (excellent) choruses, and pretty soon I couldn’t wait to listen to it.
It turns out this is a great album full of amazing tunes, great riffs, awesome solos, sublime choruses and (Mostly) great vocals, I am very happy to report I got it totally wrong, it’s fantastic. 8/10