You hit play on the track, not fully knowing what to expect. Slowly, the sound of rushing, cold wind breezes by your ears. You check your senses, but the sound you’re hearing is emanating from your speakers rather than from nature. A calm melody starts to play in tandem with the wind. Just like the noise that preceded it, this melody feels like a cold and icy air coming from a distant place. Feelings well up inside you that you can’t fully describe with words. You had no idea what you were getting into, but now you’re intrigued. You just started this journey, and already, through some strange sorcery of sound, you already feel an obligation to finish it.
What I just described are the feelings and thoughts that will likely occur to you once you take on the task of listening to the album Winter’s Gate by Finnish melodic death metal band, Insomnium. Winter’s Gate is a long, epic, 40-minute track (broken up into seven parts by Spotify) based on a short story of the same name about vikings on a quest for riches and fame on a mysterious island where the horrors of winter await them.
For most, death metal is a genre that represents the furthest of extremes in music and an unpleasant chore on the ears. However, Insomnium is renowned for their ability to mix brutality and melody in a serene way that few can imitate, and they take that mixture to the next level in this album. I wasn’t lying when I said that this song starts off, not with the sound of blast beats or of blood-curdling growls, but with the sound of wind and calm melody. This album showcases a variety of sounds that all fit into its cold, dark themes, keeping it fresh for the entirety of its length. It does have traditional death metal vocals and instrumentality within it, but it also has beautiful piano sections, enrapturing verses sung— not growled, to soothing acoustics and melodies of nature which help paint the picture of the story this vast landscape of music is trying to tell.
As a standalone piece of music, even without one knowing the lyrical content, it’s amazing to behold. Wondrously, all of these different musical elements flow together to form one, coherent whole. When accompanied by the short story itself and its brilliant lyrics that hearken back to poets from a much more distant age, even more artistic intricacy is introduced in which each element of the work enhances the other.
Winter’s Gate is not just another melodic death metal album. It’s not just another piece of music to be passively listened to and forgotten about in years to come. This album, this song, is a fully engaging experience. It’s a journey of the mind, of the senses and of the emotions that you will want to experience again as soon as the last gust of wind passes your ears.
For those of you not primed to the sound of the genre, it may take some getting used to, but the rewards of doing so are magnificent. This one is not just for metal heads, it’s for all lovers of music. It doesn’t just show the potential and ability of melodic death metal, it shows the potential and ability of music as an art. If you want an extraordinary musical experience, do not sleep on this one. Start your journey.