Anno 1696 by InsomniumRelease date: February 24, 2023
Label: Century Media Records
By this stage of a career, bands like Insomnium are not going to be springing many surprises. Not that we should expect them to be entirely predictable, either. Record number nine, Anno 1696, is the second concept album to be based upon a short story from frontman Niilo Sevänen, a twisted tale of terror set amongst the witch trials that swept through Europe in the seventeenth century – a fun read in itself, and worth a gander alongside the music.
After the semi-acoustic musings of Argent Moon eighteen months ago, it feels like the band are having a ball here as they continue to play with the contrast of light and dark, mellow and heavy, all on a grander scale. The opening title track is a perfect distillation of this, lulling us in with a bleak acoustic intro, before it explodes into a frenetic blitz of the finest blistering blasting. Throughout Anno 1696, it is this joy of working with these diametric elements that imbues it with the freshness that warrants repeated plays.
Moving further away from their deathly doom-laden roots and more into the realms of black metal, the soaring melodic guitar lines are thankfully still very much present, and still just as catchy. This is Insomnium’s calling card, in a style very few have been able to achieve as successfully, so it feels important that it remains a strong element in anything they produce.
Of the guest performances, the haunting vocalisations from guest Johanna Kurkela on ‘Godforsaken’ proves to be a real highlight of the whole package. Her voice creeps in over a sparse background, building to a tantalising crescendo for the band launch into. As the piece swings from murder-ballad depression to blood-curdling dread, it opens up the scope of the music to create a much bigger, far more vibrant soundscape that is spine-chilling even after multiple listens.
Anno 1696 is unlikely to convert too many people who haven’t found themselves engaged by Insomnium before; however, it should prove to be a delight to existing fans with its carefully balanced blend of signature sound and musical exploration. Despite the horror of the fable, and the menace with which the final product is often delivered, this is yet another highly enjoyable release for those tickled by such Nordic flights of fancy.