Crafting a 40-minute song is a bold strategy and one that has some really severe inherent challenges. Can you keep the listener interested for the full run-time? Can you make enough coherent music that’s stitched together well enough for that long? Few have tried, let alone succeeded. The best and most obvious 40-minute song that comes to mind is Edge of Sanity’s Crimson. Interestingly, Finland’s Insomnium wanted to pay homage to Crimson by crafting their own long-form song, similarly filled with diverse moods and sounds (notice both are exactly 40-minutes long). The track tells the tale of a group of Vikings who set out on a fabled island west of Ireland, despite the treacherous winter drawing near.
Vikings and winter sound like the perfect Nordic backdrop for some excellent metal, and thankfully Insomnium absolutely deliver with this album-length song. Winter’s Gate sees the band smartly expanding upon their trademark morose melodeath (though that style really suits the story here), adding heaping piles of death/doom, prog, and black metal. The latter is used to great effect in the chillingly beautiful closing section. What’s most impressive about the track, aside from how well it keeps your interest throughout its run time, is how invigorated guitarists Ville Friman and Markus Vanhala sound. While Shadows of the Dying Sun had some interesting melodies, the riffs were merely average. On Winter’s Gate, it’s clear this project inspired everyone involved, especially the guitarists.
The biggest issue with the track is its medium. Forty minutes is just a too long to demand attention for a singular song, and while it’s impressive how consistently Insomnium mixes things up to keep the listener’s focus (admittedly, the more Pink Floydian prog sections are a relatively low point), Insomnium just can’t quite shake the issues inherent with the long song. There’s a reason so few try to do it, but the fact that Winter’s Gate is filled with some of the band’s best material in ages is a really promising sign for things to come for Insomnium.