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Album Review

Insomnium – ‘Anno 1696’ [Album Review]

Finnish melodeath masters Insomnium produce an outstanding, goosebump-inducing concept album in forthcoming release ‘Anno 1696’ – out February 24 on Century Media.



Artwork for the album ‘Anno 1696’ by Insomnium

Seven years ago, Finnish melodic death metallers Insomnium released Winters Gate: a one-track concept album based on the award-winning short story of the same name by vocalist Niilo Sevänen. Now, the band revisits the concept model with the album and accompanying story, Anno 1696 – a tale set in 17th century Sweden speaking of witchcraft, mystery, and the Christian church’s crusade against the unexplained and unsavoury. The album releases on February 24th via Century Media.

From the album’s beginning Anno 1696 lays out its episodic feel (compared to perhaps the ‘movie’ of Winter’s Gate) – there are character pieces (such as singles “Lilian” and “White Christ,” the latter featuring Sakis Tolis of Rotting Christ), scene setters like the opening title track, and a fully blown finale with “The Rapids” bringing all of the above together to cataclysmic crescendo, all in the Insomnium style.

Anno 1696 shines most when the pace is picked up; “Godforsaken” is a particular highlight with its driving double-kick drums to start, blending through the progressive and folk-inspired bridge that Insomnium fans since In The Halls of Awaiting (2002) will appreciate, and into a richly layered outro amongst any of the finest things the band have written involving clean vocals. The latter third of the song is a goosebump-inducing, neck-hair-raising tapestry of melodic death metal perfection. For guitar work, the band saves the best until last with “The Rapids,” with the triple-guitar attack through the chorus building the sense of whitewater and impending doom through to a blistering solo as the song approaches its conclusion and climax.

As such, a key triumph of Anno 1696 is the culmination of Insomnium’s progress to reach this point; pulling from their enviably back catalogue and evolution to distil compositions marrying a variety of sounds not only across the album but within individual tracks – separate parts of “Starless Paths” wouldn’t sound out of place in the aforementioned Winter’s Gate or further back on Across The Dark (2009) for example. This then feeds straight into “The Unrest” which is acoustic guitar and piano driven, with a spoken verse from Sevänen into a harmonised chorus featuring Jani Liimatainen and Markus Vanhala’s clean vocals. There’s perhaps more range within one individual album here than has been seen on previous releases.



The album has the same credit pattern as EP Argent Moon (2021) with Ville Friman (guitarist) no longer acknowledged as providing clean vocals, whilst Vanhala (fellow guitarist) is in this role alongside Liimatainen (again – guitars), who’s provided such vocals since joining the band. With this relatively new makeup, it’s perhaps of little surprise that the chorus of “The Witch Hunter” sounds like it could come straight from Vanhala’s other band Omnium Gatherum – a band who are known to have had Liimatainen, as a stalwart of the Finnish metal scene and friend of artists involved, lend his vocals to in the past as well. Mixing and mastering duties are taken on by Jaime Gomez Arellano and Tony Lindgren and the overall sound is strong within the genre, however when compared to some prior Insomnium releases there’s a degree of emotion stripped from the instrumentation – particularly in the lead guitars which lack the flawlessly searing quality they showed on Shadows of the Dying Sun (2014) most notably, and indeed since.

Overall, Anno 1696 is a superb album that stands as a first-rate piece of work and songwriting, even before it’s enhanced by being married with its mysteriously layered concept and gradually unravelling story through to its impactful ending. Fans of Insomnium will appreciate the breadth and diversity of the tracks on display, whilst staying true to their style and providing some deep delves into influences further back in their catalogue. Broader fans of melodic death metal and metal, in general, will be able to experience a band continuing to evolve whilst still having an instantly recognisable sound – and delivering in Anno 1696 another outstanding release in their legacy.

Anno 1696 Track Listing:

1. 1696
2. White Christ
3. Godforsaken
4. Lilian
5. Starless Paths
6. The Witch Hunter
7. The Unrest
8. The Rapids

Run Time: 52:06
Release Date: February 24, 2023
Record Label: Century Media