Monday, February 15, 2016

Omnium Gatherum (review by The Man of Much Metal)

Artist: Omnium Gatherum
Album Title: The Grey Heavens
Label: Lifeforce Records
Date Of Release: 26 February 2016
Ah, Omnium Gatherum. A band that have gone from being an ok melodic death metal band to arguably my most favourite band within the genre. These Finns really are a special outfit and with ’Grey Heavens’ they have once again proved how peerless they are. That said, the sextet will say that they are fundamentally different from the rest of the genre and, to a greater or lesser extent, they would be right to say this. The band refer to themselves as ’adult-oriented death metal’ thanks to the blend of extreme metal and AOR-inspired melodies. Of course, the whole idea with melodeath is to fuse catchy melodies and hooks with extreme metal but there is something fundamentally different about Omnium Gatherum. It is almost intangible but it is like their style of songwriting is just that little bit more sophisticated and honed than the vast majority of their peers.
I remember the moment that I fell in love with Omnium Gatherum like it was yesterday. I was taking the dog out for a walk and was on about the fifth spin of previous album ’Beyond’. Something just clicked, like a moment of enlightened euphoria and from then on, I have been thoroughly smitten. ’Beyond’ ended 2013 as my second favourite album of the entire year. My love of ’Grey Heavens’ blossomed in almost identical fashion; out with the dog again but, rather than one song bowling me over, it was more the vibe of the whole record, the sounds, the mood, the atmosphere. The smile spread and once again, I have found myself well and truly hooked.
Omnium Gatherum 2016 is untouched from the previous record and is therefore comprised of vocalist Jukka Pelkonen, guitarists Markus Vanhala (Insomnium) and Joonus ’Jope’ Koto (To/Die/For), keyboardist Aapo Koivisto, bassist Erkki Silvennoinen and drummer Jarmo Pikka. And, based on the output of ’Grey Heavens’, this continuity has paid massive dividends.
The blueprint for ’Grey Heavens’ is very similar to its predecessors but if anything, it is a little harsher, a little heavier and a little bit darker. It may be a trick being played on my ears but ’Beyond’ just felt a touch more positive, a little lighter and ever so slightly softer around the edges. Personally though, it is difficult to pick a favourite between the two because both are magnificent.
Instead of an anthemic introductory instrumental, ’Grey Heavens’ wastes absolutely no time in blasting away any lingering cobwebs for the listener. ’The Pit’ is a blood and thunder opener that takes no prisoners thanks to its fast pace, double-pedal drumming and gruff vocals from the outset. Before long though, those unmistakeable synths enter the fray, bringing with them a groovy riff and really nice intricate lead guitar embellishments. And then, at the half-way mark, the track slows to allow a soulful lead guitar solo and some superb clean vocals, almost choral in nature rather than a single voice. The pace quickly increases again and the song races to a conclusion. An exquisite opener.
In contrast, ’Skyline’ is a groove-monster, reminiscent of early In Flames in terms of the guitar riff and the cheekiness with which the composition is imbued. I defy anyone who likes quality metal not to listen to this track without a big grin on their face; it’s that kind of song.
’Frontiers’ opens with a big atmospheric keyboard intro before a chugging stop-start riff joins the fray. The keys are instrumental in creating the central melodies on this track and, coupled with a emotive lead guitar line, create an infectious and subtly beautiful chorus. At the half way point, everything quietens to allow the keyboards to take centre stage alongside some hushed clean vocals again, before the song is ushered out via a cracking but all-too-short lead guitar solo.
What I particularly love about Omnium Gatherum is the way in which they don’t ever overdo the clean vocals. They do have a soft and gentle side and they do inject plenty of warm and memorable AOR melodies into their music. However, they never seem to lose sight of the fact that they are also an extreme metal band. As such the wonderfully gravelly and low bass rumble of Pelkonen is almost ever-present, with those subtle clean vocals only added sparingly when absolutely necessary. This also means that there’s no danger of Omnium Gatherum descending into that dreaded emo or metalcore territory.
As with the last few albums, the Finns include a longer, epic track into proceedings. This time, it is present in the form of the delectable ’Majesty And Silence’. One of the most striking aspects of this track is the inclusion of acoustic guitars to such an extent. This is a more atmospheric and sprawling number that features some achingly beautiful melodies as well as something approaching a progressive metal structure as it shifts from one idea to another, flitting from light to shade, heavy to soft and melodic to harsh seemingly at will. The vocals even veer into more black metal territory at one point. As the title suggests, this is a majestic track, one of the album highlights, of which there are many.
Elsewhere, I love the bright and breezy feel of ’Foundation’ and the almost power metal leanings of ’The Great Liberation’ that also has a faint Children Of Bodom hint to it as well as an absolutely killer last ten seconds. ’Ophidian Sunrise’ reintroduces the acoustic guitar alongside some of the best melodic moments on the album, the instrumental piece ’These Grey Heavens’ is nothing short of sublime in terms of the bittersweet atmosphere it creates and closer ’Storm Front’ concludes the album as it began; fast, furious, heavy and powerful.
There’s really not much more to say about this record. It is exactly the kind of album that I hoped for from this talented group of musicians, a band that continue to grow and go from strength to strength. With ’Grey Heavens’, Omnium Gatherum have just increased their stock further and, for me at least, stand at the very summit of the melodic death metal genre.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.5
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