Finnish outfit Insomnium need very little introduction, as they have been one of melo death’s finest for the better part of the last decade. With their potent combination of epic riffage, gargantuan hooks, and gothic tinged atmosphere, Insomnium has breathed new life into a genre that for all intents and purposes is considered to be passé.

Their trajectory to the top can really be traced back to their third record, 2006’s Above The Weeping World, which literally put them on the proverbial map, landing 9th position overall on the Finish album charts. Their 2009 follow-up, Across The Dark, was another strong effort, and one that features probably their most iconic song to date in “Down With The Sun,” which some critics have hailed as one of the greatest melo death metal songs ever written.

Yet after their last outing, 2011’s One For Sorrow, it was clear that the band had started to stagnate creatively. Although Sorrow did throw some creative curve balls, mainly with the introduction of clean vocals, the whole exercise seem halfhearted at best, and certainly didn’t add anything more than a few progressive sprinkles to their already now severely jaded formula. Ironically, though some sort of change was clearly needed to shakes things up, no one expected it to come in the form of founding member and guitarist Ville Vänni’s departure from the band soon after Sorrow’s release. But the band persevered on, and eventually enlisted Omnium Gatherum guitarist Markus Vanhala to the cause before returning back to the studio to write and record their recently released six full length, Shadows of the Dying Sun.

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Shadows certainly opens things off in typical Insomnium fashion, with the track “The Primeval Dark” acting as an introductory build-up to the record’s true first song, “While We Sleep,” which launches out the gate with a massive hook and sense of urgency that has become the band’s hallmark. From front to back this song does not disappoint, featuring lush rhythm guitars, radiant harmonies, and multiple blistering leads. The song also incorporates those skittish clean vocals previously heard on Sorrow too, but now with more confidence and vigor. The next track, “Relevation,” continues along in the same vein, with Friman’s clean delivery paving the way for Sevänen’s growls, as the song switches back and forth between acoustic delicateness and guitar driven aggression.

“Black Heart Rebellion” offers a very welcomed blackened edge to it, displaying a keen sense of tremolo pick and blast beast fun. The aural clearing that soothes you around four and half minutes in is also top notch, with a soaring guitar solo that blazes in the northern sky. The next track though, “Lose To Night,” is where the band clearly missteps, as this purely gothic endeavor sounds like a B-side and ultimately, is forgettable. On the other hand, “Collapsing Words” takes some cues from the Amon Amarth playbook in its introductory riff chug and Viking-esque feel. The hooks are again, plentifully abound and suck you into the void with ease.

“The River” is “Black Heart Rebellion” redux, until the song eventually diverges from formula and offers up a few synths and clean vocals to break up all the monotony. The rest of the record follows suit, with “Ephemeral,” “The Promethean Song,” and “Shadows of the Dying Sun,” all sharing the same timbre and tone as the first couple of tracks. Still, the ride to the end is pleasant enough, and by the time it’s all over, Shadows feels overall satisfying, if a bit anti-climatic.

Shadows of the Dying Sun was mixed by André Alvinzi and mastered by Svante Forsbäck of Chartmakers Studio. Just for the record (literally), I had very low expectations going in since frankly, the last few Insomnium releases have been dreadful. And the amount of dynamic range compression applied to their recent Ephemeral EP resulted in such a sonic catastrophe, it was rant worthy. Shadows luckily fares better than Ephemeral, but not by a whole lot. Both the mix and master present a slew of problems, ranging from stereo imaging to the lack of any real weight behind the low and high ends of the frequency spectrum. Hirvonen’s drums sound absolutely abysmal, with transients severely impaired because of all the DRC applied. The record’s saving graces are the fact that Sevänen’s bass is clearly audible throughout and the mix doesn’t sound as dejected as their last one. It’s amazing that after six albums in, this band can still not get their act together when it comes to production. Overall, Shadows sounds slightly better than One For Sorrow but still pales in comparison to their earlier releases. Note, the vinyl shares the same master as the digital one so don’t bother.

With Shadows, the band faced a major cross road; they could move move away from their prototypical formula or try to escape the creative gilded cage they so meticulously built. In many respects, the band splits the difference, as though they follow the same album archetype of the prior few, both in the album’s track layout and general construction, they also try to break out of this mold by bringing the gothic bits more to the fore and treating Ville’s clean vocals as a first class citizen in the mix. But the new elements are still not enough to put it over the top, and in the end, the record comes off redundant – a shadow of not the dying sun, but rather, Insomnium albums of yore. Regardless, Shadows is still an enjoyable record nonetheless, and one that will surely satisfy both diehards and general melo death fiends alike.