I have had a hell of a time thinking about how to approach this review. About six weeks ago I was given the privilege of interviewing Ville Friman for SK, and here I didn't even realize they had an album coming out. I subsequently bought the Ephemeral EP which featured the title track and three ambient instrumentals, and as usual... I loved it. There's nothing by this band I don't love. So how do I objectively review something like Shadows of the Dying Sun? I've reviewed a couple of their albums over the years, how do I avoid repeating the same gushing over and over?
I guess I just can't. Even with the departure of Ville Vänni and the subsequent acquisition of former Omnium Gatherum guitarist Markus Vanhala, the sound of the band remains uniquely theirs and they haven't missed a step. A point I once made in previous reviews is how the music of Insomnium has evolved slowly over the course of many albums, and that continues here. The pace is very measured, no radical departures or panicked reinventions, it's just not necessary. It's an Insomnium record, and one that fits in nicely with their entire catalog.
It seems as if the band has accepted the challenge of taking things that are often criticized in modern metal and making them sound viable. For example, the opening song, The Primeval Dark has a very odd structure where it's half-instrumental and begins with... a breakdown? True, it's not entirely a -core breakdown, but the chug is strong and it sounds great in context with the song. Then it leads into While We Sleep, and the first verse is sung cleanly. And well. Both elements are repeated here and there across the whole album, but the most marked difference is just how atmospheric the overall record is. In songs like The River, Insomnium take their foot off the gas and lay back, letting the music glide through airy, cinematic-sounding passages that have you hearing thought patterns.
Markus Hirvonen is probably one of the most understated, underrated drummers in modern metal. All through Insomnium's long career- 17+ years at this point- he has been rock solid, incredibly subtle and understated, and extremely tasteful. He realizes that it's about the song, not about overplaying the double bass or blast-shredding over everything else. On Shadows, Hirvonen indulges himself a little more, throwing in some traditional blast beats that underlie beautiful, soaring, and melancholy riffs. The tempos aren't breakneck because they don't have to be. His drumming, even when fast or punctuated by double kick, always allows the songs to breathe. The fact that the songs always sound like someone taking their final breaths lends itself to that atmosphere.
As always with Insomnium, the general somberness of the music is tempered with a sound of yearning and hope, a struggle against the inevitable that defines life. I hesitate to even consider them "death" metal of any style because the music IS so vital and alive, moving and present. This is not music for nihilists, this is music for those who have fought and lost, have suffered amazing loss, but still keep fighting. Since that describes most of us, it's no wonder that the appeal is so universal, no wonder that the music strikes us right to the core of our being.