REVIEW: OMNIUM GATHERUM – “Grey Heavens”
Having been around for twenty years now, it never ceases to amaze just how under the radar Finnish melodic maestros Omnium Gatherum have flown. While not receiving the same level of recognition as some of their fellow countrymen (Children of Bodom, Insomnium, Nightwish), Omnium Gatherum has persisted and continued to grow musically with each of their releases. Not quite content to sit in their assigned genre of “melodic death metal”, the band has incorporated several elements from different genres to create their own unique sound, which is exemplified on their latest release, ‘Grey Heavens’.
Song structure and placement on an album is such an important thing these days, with bands wanting to engage listeners right from the get-go, and ‘Grey Heavens’ doesn’t disappoint. Opening track “The Pit” begins with the sound of a gun barrel cocking, which is perhaps a metaphor for the oncoming barrage as the song launches into a barrelling guitar riff over a galloping drumline, sending the message that this album means business. The track does settle towards the end, and, in true Omnium Gatherum style, transforms into something else entirely, culminating in a perfect ambient mix that is so far removed from the beginning that it’s difficult to tell if you’re still listening to the same song.
This works particularly well as a precursor to the slower “Skyline”, which is quite raw in comparison to the rest of the tracks, but not without its noteworthy guitar/keyboard solo towards the end. The slower tempo of this track gives a much-needed reprieve from the intensity, and builds emotive elements before progressing into “Frontiers” and “Majesty and Silence”. These two tracks wholly embrace the band’s melodic heritage by taking full advantage of their strong synth and guitar instrumentation, but it is the vocal delivery that really shines in these tracks. One of the most polarising arguments between Omnium Gatherum fans has always been that of Jukka Pelkonen‘s vocals and their place in the music; however, these songs should resolve that dispute, as Pelkonen’s vocals work incredibly.
Following a brief synthesized introduction, the band traipses back into some quicker territory with “Rejuvenate”, and once again reminds listeners about just what it is that makes them a very capable force in the melodic death metal genre. Each instrument in this track has the opportunity to take the lead at some point, and with its up-tempo nature, it is very difficult to listen to it and not want to move along to the music. Transitioning into more of a progressive sound at the end, this song is something that needs to be heard to be completely understood, but it is one of magic. “Foundation” embraces everything about the band’s melodic and more progressive side, making it a singularly brilliant track. With a heavy emphasis on a synthesized backline, it feels simultaneously dark and ominous, as well as upbeat and uplifting. This track is littered with some very brilliant and masterful guitar riffs, and an outro that is sure to evoke the listener’s emotions.
“The Great Liberation” is an interesting track, almost seeming like the track in which the band wanted to emphasise the brilliant keyboard work that ‘Grey Heavens’has been built upon. With lyrical content focusing on introspection, and an outro that builds tremendous emotion, this was a standout track on the album. This moves onto “Ophidian Sunrise”, which is another track to look out for. Its meticulous blending of beautifully humbling guitar work and an amazing synthesized passage sets the perfect song structure, and with a great sing-along chorus, this song is guaranteed to be a classic for years to come.
Not one to shy away from their success with instrumental tracks, Omnium Gatherum has tucked an absolute gemstone towards the end of the album with the titular track “These Grey Heavens”. The absence of the vocals or any of the harshness of some of the preceding tracks make this a strong song, as it imparts images of great frailty and unknowing upon the listener. This leads into the closing track “Storm Front”, which opts to briefly employ vocals, but moves into an instrumental outro that is very difficult to describe, but very magical to hear.
Looking at ‘Grey Heavens’ as a complete package, you are left with something that is sure to make a fair few “Top 10 Albums of 2016′ lists. However, looking at its individual tracks, you are left with songs that are masterpieces in almost every single way, and which achieve one of the most difficult things that music can do – evoke emotional responses in their listener. This album has that potential from start to finish, and whether you choose to indulge it in bite-size pieces or consume it as a whole from start to finish, you will surely not be disappointed.