Omnium Gatherum – Beyond

Finland’s Omnium Gatherum made a considerable impression on the metal world with their 2002 debut EP, Steal The Light. The following year’s full length Spirits And August Light was equally impressive (seriously, if you don’t have Spirits or the compilation album, go buy it). Vocalist Antti Filppu decided to depart following the release of Spirits, and the band struggled a bit with their next two releases, Years In Waste and Stuck Here On Snake’s Way, as they developed their sound.

Things really began to turn back in the right direction with 2008’s The Redshift, which brought a powerful mix of hard-charging, tightly integrated riffs and solos, and a much more confident vocal performance from vocalist Jukka Pelkonen. While The Redshift showed what Omnium Gatherum were capable of, 2011’s New World Shadows put them on the map. Shadows was considerably more intricate than its predecessor, with expanded use of synth elements and more complex arrangements. All of this brings us to today, and Omnium Gatherum’s latest effort, Beyond. Already in the elite class of melodic death bands, where would the band go next? The answer is a bit surprising.

Rather than march straight into an assault of guitars, instrumental opener “Luoto” takes ample time to develop, with a gentle acoustic melody that builds layers of intensity until Omnium Gatherum’s signature melodic leads are finally introduced to carry the song forward. “The New Dynamic” at first seems to share some common traits with songs like “Chameleon Skin” or “Ego”, but before long it becomes clear that things have changed a bit. The thundering riffs are still there, but they play more of a supporting role than on previous albums, while the synth and lead elements are given more of a direct role. This is particularly evident during the song’s closing structure, which features a delicate interplay of spiraling lead parts. The clean vocals that the band began exploring on Shadows are also re-introduced and expanded.

“In The Rim” continues in the same vein as “The New Dynamic,” opening with an onslaught of guitars and synths reminiscent of Natural Born Chaos era Soilwork. Pelkonen’s terse shouts which coincide with drum and cymbal hits are a particularly nice touch. As with “The New Dynamic,” “In The Rim” turns considerably more atmospheric during its second half, with clean vocals also returning. “Nightwalkers” opens with an ominous synth and acoustic melody before unleashing a burst of furious guitars. The main verses are stripped down with mostly vocals and a simple repeating riff, with the choruses cleverly repeating the opening melody with synth rather than guitars. An interesting shift occurs at the half way point, with a mournful acoustic interlude leading into crushingly heavy death/doom riffs and subterranean roars from Pelkonen before the song finally cycles back, repeating its main melody as it closes.

“The Sonic Sign” is the album’s most riff driven song, and the one most traditionally Finnish extreme in its style. The blazing guitars really get your blood boiling, and the blizzard of technical leads and sweeps show off the abilities of founding guitarist Markus Vanhala and new player Joonas Koto. “Who Could Say” has some hints of “Greeneyes,” though it’s definitely more melodic and atmospheric, with flashes of aggression that finally culminate into burning leads and furious riffs during the song’s second half. “The Unknowing” has a bit of family resemblance with “Soul Journeys,” and is one of the best songs on the album, with hooks that dig deep into your skull and refuse to let go. “Living In Me” returns to the high-energy blitz of “The Sonic Sign” with a bit of classic thrash influence thrown in for good measure. The song’s out of nowhere surprise comes at the 2:33 mark, with a Jerry Cantrell style, blues rock guitar solo. It’s frankly a bit of a shock the first time you hear it, but it works. “White Palace” is the album’s finale and it’s most ambitious song, spanning nearly 11 minutes. In many ways “White Palace” is a summation of what Omnium Gatherum has created with Beyond. It’s progressive, in parts very atmospheric, in others aggressive, always melodic.

As with Shadows, mixing and mastering for Beyond were handled by Dan Swanö at Unisound. That album, given the limitations of so much compression sounded quite good, and the same is true here. If you’re expecting the kick drum to hit you in the chest or the cymbals to shimmer and reverberate throughout the room, that’s just not going to happen – not at DR5 no matter who is behind the controls. Dan’s mix does do an an excellent job of balancing the instruments though. The kick drum is at least there if tempered, and new bassist Erkki Silvennoinen’s contributions are clear and well defined. The riffs are pushed back a bit in favor of the lead and synth parts, helping to highlight the change from the bands earlier work. There have been no vinyl editions of Omnium Gatherum albums before, but this certainly sounds good enough to be on wax should they choose to go that route. And of course I’d love to hear it with the dynamic range in double digits.

Omnium Gatherum are obviously not content to rest on the laurels of their previous critically acclaimed album and have continued to challenge themselves, with impressive results. Here we see more of their progressive side, though the heaviness that the band became known for still remains. For melodeath fans, this is a must buy, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on a few “best of 2013″ lists around this time next year. If this is a sign of things to come, 2013 is going to be a great year for metal.

Beyond will be officially released in Finland, Germany, Austria, and Sweden on February 22 by Lifeforce Records. Other EU countries will get it on February 25, and North America on March 5. Pre-orders are available on the Omnium Gatherum webshop.

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