Friday, March 25, 2016

Omnium Gatherum - Grey Heavens (2016)

I thought the last disc from these Finnish melodic death metallers, Beyond; was rather boring to be honest. I couldn't really get into it at all. Maybe there was a song or two that popped out in the mix, but nothing more than that. In fact, that record was so bad that I was ready to consider the band all washed up. They had only really made waves with New World Shadows as far as I was concerned, and nothing else had been all that entertaining. I wasn't even all that fond of The Redshift nor debut Spirits and August Light, which are both heavily praised by fans. (Although I will say that I liked Spirits and August Light much more than the former.) That was, until I heard this unexpectedly brilliant album, which is what I would consider a return to form in the vein of true melodic death metal and quite possibly, one of the band's greatest efforts. It's safe to say that Grey Heavens surprised me and even though Autothrall's lone review on Metal Archives seems to state it as rather bland, I should mention that he appears rather biased towards anything from these guys that isn't Spirits and August Light, including their highest rated release, New World Shadows (of which I mentioned earlier.) Everything that one might expect from high water marks efforts from bands in the vein of In Flames, Dark Tranquility and Insomnium are here for your enjoyment, and this return to the roots performance is what I feel I needed after suffering through that previous effort.

On the second listen, I don't feel that “The Pit” is nearly as strong as it was the first time I heard it. It comes in and delivers a rather solid job of melodeath that sounds pretty much like virtually anyone, with a growled vocal approach that is also common. But the keyboard work seems to really shine here, as well as the clean vocals when they finally come into the mix and update the approach a little bit from melodeath's heyday. “Skyline” changes the tempo to welcome grooves, maybe reminding me a little bit of In Flames' “Only For The Weak” and it's very similar. Folk influenced melodies seem to compose most of the chorus line, albeit the chorus itself is quite strong on a vocal end. That's indeed where it hits, just as hard as anything that early In Flames did when they were engineering this style. It feels like a tribute, but it's a good one. “Frontiers” is the single, which caught my ear immediately. It's arguably one of the best songs I've heard from the genre in years. The mix of technicality and gravelly vocal grunts seems to really work well, but I think that chorus riff is pretty damn amazing. It's a pretty simplistic set of leads, but it really fucking hits – keeping in mind how well they expand upon it. The song is also a bit heavier than you might expect, with a lot of effort being placed in kit destruction, regardless of the fact that those leads can sound like a dream. There's a bit of a break here too, right before a rather awesome solo section that I sure as hell wasn't expecting. The song was already good enough because of that catchy chorus lead, but throwing a solo on the end of it really sold it to me. I also need to mention how well this song is broken down near the end, they really hammer it down as the solo comes into top it off. There's really no need in the clean vocal section at the end though, it seems overkill.

“Majesty and Silence” is nearly nine minutes in length, but such a measure is used so that the band can really spread their wings and utilize more atmosphere. It's a crunchy piece, but it gives way to more colorful leads and acoustic elements, a little bit like they did with Beyond, but not as overbearing. It was also nice to hear that some of those minutes were given to a flurry of solo efforts, which always seem to fill out such a lengthy piece quite well. For a number that feels so dark, evil, and dare I even say grim; there's something really mushy on the inside that doesn't come off quite so expectable. Don't forget about the clean vocals and the post riffs. The last one we're going to delve through is “Rejuvenate!” which comes off as an equally rather colorful slice of melodic death metal, possibly a bit more colorful than some of the previous efforts have been. It's decent, has a short solo and leaves it's mark, but doesn't really seem quite as potent as “Frontiers” or the lengthy piece I just heard.

As we go further into the album, we'll hear a couple of other memorable pieces like “The Great Liberation” and the instrumental “These Grey Heavens” but I will say that during the second time around, I don't nearly feel as strongly about this record as I did the first time through. It's incredibly melodic and captures much of what traditional death metal is, and is supposed to be – but it doesn't really innovate as much as I thought it would. Yet I look at the band's past catalog and think to myself, “Should it?” There's absolutely nothing wrong with melodic death metal, nor what these guys have done here, yet I don't think it will stand out as one of the greatest melodic death metal albums in the history of man. I think they already achieved their best years ago with New World Shadows and would place this just behind that one, which says quite a lot about how much I still value this performance. As a longtime lover of melodeath, I don't feel that any listener of my ilk would be upset or disappointed by this album. Simply put, Grey Heavens does what a melodic death metal record is supposed to do. You shouldn't want anything more than that, and I don't think that I would ever expect anything more from these guys either. If nothing else, I think that Grey Heavens is a sign that Omnium Gatherum aren't ready to throw in the towel just yet and still have some tricks up their sleeves.

(10 Tracks, 56:00)


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