Only February and already the competition for album of the year is already in full swing. Harry has the great pleasure in reviewing the new Omnium Gatherum album Beyond.
Here we are so early in 2013 and already we have what will likely be the best heavy metal album released this year. It was on their fourth album – The Red Shift – where Omnium Gatherum began to break free of their influences and define their own sound. The follow-up – New World Shadows – took that a step further.
New World Shadows was a great album that really showcased the band’s progression but sometimes lacked momentum and cohesion. Don’t get me wrong, New World Shadows was fantastic, but Beyond is even better. The riffs are stronger and more memorable this time around and each song feels like a finished piece of work rather than a collection of brilliant ideas not quite gelling perfectly.
Jukka Pelkonen’s vocal performance is phenomenal. So many death metal vocalists nail aggression, but few manage the pathos and sadness that Jukka achieves. And while on Brave New Shadows the vocals didn’t always fit mood of the song here on Beyond there’s no such problem.
Meanwhile the performances by the rest of the band are just as strong. It’s wonderful in this age of drum replacement and invisible subsonic bass to hear a metal band play with a proper rhythm section. The bass is upfront and present in the mix, defining movement, offering melodies – rather than a subsonic afterthought echoing the guitars. The drumming is equally strong and there’s fabulous atmospheric keyboard work by Aapo Koivisto too.
Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (the best heavy metal album ever recorded) achieved something unique in that Dave Murray and Adrian Smith’s guitar solos felt less like solos and more like integral parts of the song storytelling, the logical step in the progress of the song and the conduit to the rest of the track. These were important melodic statements, not mere breaks for the singer while the guitarists show off.
And here on Beyond this all too rare feat of guitar storytelling is achieved by Markus Vanhala and Joonas Koto. Kudos to the duo for tempering flash guitar pyrotechnics with more thoughtful and memorable melodies. It’s a pleasure to hear this beautifully melodic guitar playing on a modern metal album.
And a modern record it is. Beyond boasts a shimmering production that allows every member of the band a chance to shine. I keep saying beautiful, a strange description of heavy metal you might think, but Beyond is genuinely a collection of beautiful melodic songs. The word progressive may get bandied about but Beyond is not really a “prog” record in the modern sense, there are no twiddly meanderings from the beaten path. It is progressive music in the true sense of a band striving to exceed their previous endeavours and create something new – yet most of the songs are relatively simple in structure, deriving their emotion, beauty and brutality from the power of the song-writing, performance and musicianship.
Opening track LuoTo introduces melodic themes that we return to in album’s closer White Palace. Between them we get straight ahead rock tracks like The Unknowing and baroque influenced stomps such as In the Rim. There are catchy tracks like The Sonic Sign, and crushing brooding heavy songs like Nightwalkers. Who Can Say begins as an ethereal track with clean vocals and builds into something very powerful. And White Palace – the final track – gives us ten minutes of perfection that sums up the hard work on the rest of the record. This is an extremely good heavy metal album, and as fine a musical statement as a band could make.
If you love heavy metal you must buy this record.
Omnium Gatherum’s Beyond will be released on February 22nd in Finland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland; February 25th in rest of the Europe and March 5th in North-America via Lifeforce Records.