I think it goes without saying at this point that Finish melodeath collective Insomnium is one of the most respected and consistent names in their genre. While Scandinavia is no stranger to exports of high-quality melodic death metal, many of the genre’s biggest names like In Flames and Children of Bodom have either compromised their distinctive sound in favour of more accessible elements, or in some cases, no longer exist. Insomnium however, has continued to fine-tune the gloomy atmosphere they first presented almost two decades ago in 2002’s In The Halls of Awaiting. Now, boasting a total of eight melancholic yet undeniably gorgeous releases under their belt, the band has done the UK and Ireland the honour of a nationwide tour in support of their latest opus, Heart Like a Grave (Century Media). An album that is less sprawling and proggy than Winter’s Gate (Century Media), but is an equally if not more epic and melodic record, packed with more guitar leads and solos than anything they have released to date. Certainly, it is the kind of material that you would expect to excel in the live environment, and so on a bleak Monday night in winter, I ventured out to Manchester Academy 3 for a necessary dose of metalised depression.
Personally speaking, my favourite kind of support act to see at any show not only features literal up-and-comers, but is also a band making genuine waves in their local metal scene, and in the case of this Insomnium show, it sure as hell happened that I got that. As it was, through the mist of the atmospheric fog, the indefinable, innovative mayhem of Conjurer UK opened up proceedings, offering up a brutal yet proggy set of sonic savagery that seemingly everyone who bought a ticket turned up early to witness. Having caught them myself for the first time in a small bar on an extreme metal all-dayer about a year before the release of their acclaimed debut Mire (Holy Roar Records). I would never have imagined that in the span of three years the band would go on to become this ruthless. Admittedly, I was skeptical when it was announced that they would be playing the main stage this year at Bloodstock Open Air, given how their particular brand of doom and sludge lends itself so perfectly to a dark and confined tent setting. However, as much as I was unsure before their set, the band proved that I was completely fucking wrong. Blasting through a tight, fast and angry setlist of six tracks, making their case and then some. While a few guys at the front tried and failed to start a pit, I do not doubt that they will get a bigger, more familiar crowd thrashing about when they perform this summer. If you are unfamiliar with this Rugby-based foursome, think doom and sludge if those genres were on crack, and sounded a bit like a blackened Code Orange here and there. My favourite cut by far was ‘Retch’, an abrasive, punky assault of Converge-esque mayhem.
After the teeth-grating performance of Conjurer, it was now time for something more harmonious and melancholic. An admittedly strange vibe change in a way, but make no mistake that Insomnium was just as immediate and awesome as their opener, if not more so. Beginning with the inspiringly catchy lead single from Heart like a Grave, ‘Valediction’, the friend who I was with turned to me with a look of utter amazement and said; ‘they sound exactly like they do on the album’, and I couldn’t agree with that statement more. From a mixing point of view, Insomnium was spot on, as each instrument was as clear as the next. Also, from a performance perspective, the band demonstrably enjoyed being with their fans, despite the lack of movement from the audience overall (But to be fair, Insomnium isn’t THAT kind of death metal band after all). No, they are a band to stand back and appreciate.
Although I felt the setlist was a bit bare of crowd-pleasing classics like ‘Mortal Share’ and ‘Down With the Sun’, I would highly recommend catching them on this run of shows if you want to see a set packed with Heart like a Grave material, as much of that album was put right on display here, including ‘And Bells They Toll’ (complete with it’s Skyrim sounding acoustic intro) along with my personal favourite song on the album, the righteous yet mournful ‘Mute is the Sorrow’. Of course, the set wasn’t totally devoid of some of their more mainstream and familiar tracks such as ‘Ephermal’, as well as practically everyone’s favourite Insomnium song, ‘While We Sleep’.
For an act that has become well known for lyrics covering topics like loss, introspection, as well as deep-seated emotional pain, I have to admit to witnessing a hell of a lot of smiles surrounding the stage this evening, and I was certainly among them when I wasn’t headbanging. Having never had the honour of seeing Niilo Sevänen and the lads previously, as well as only being a casual fan of their music, I’m happy to report that I left the gig impressed. If you need serious emotional support, do seek it out because it’s out there. But if you just fancy crying to mournful guitars and screams, I’d recommend finding your nearest city and drowning sorrows together with Insomnium.
WORDS BY MICHAEL MILLER