Friday, March 8, 2013

Omnium Gatherum - Beyond (2013)

Every now and then, an album stops you in your tracks. You have things to do, places to go, other albums to hear, but you just can't put this one down. It happens fairly often in the world of Sorrow Eternal, which would make sense based solely on the number of albums we hear and digest on a weekly basis. And these albums impact our daily routines to varying degrees. And much like The innovative style of Malnatt changed the way we perceive black metal, Finnish five piece Omnium Gatherum may have ruined us for melodic death albums to come. With this, their seventh studio album and the follow up to 2011's "New World Shadows," the pride of Kotka have rounded out the few rough edges that remained, and reemerged as a titan of their craft. With towering epics and a vocal performance that is second to none, "Beyond" is a reminder that you never know where the new masterpiece will come from.

Fear not the sensible melodic tones that begin to form the foundation of "Luoto," for their time shall pass. They could be best described as having an earnest beauty in their simplicity and delicateness, but what they help to create is far more important; a burgeoning soundscape rife with squealing guitar harmonics and majestic structures. All of this leads directly into the fittingly titled "New Dynamic," which creates not only that, but a brilliant contrast of melody and murderous brutality. It is in these situations where vocalist Jukka Pelkonen is at his aggressive best, growling his way over the top of a crowded yet balanced mix. But it is the keyboard work of Aapo Koivisto that takes things to another level. His airy, atmospheric synthesizers bond the guitars to the rhythm section, and allow the track to grow. That cohesion, perfected over years of practice, has begun to reach its apex here. In tracks like "In The Rim," there is nary a string or rum stick out of place; forming an impenetrable fortress of blazing riffs and percussion. You would be hard pressed to find any dents in the armor, especially in the bridge and breakdown sections. Instead, the musicianship at hand is sure to leave your jaw hanging.

With some light electronic touches and pulsing beats, "Nightwalkers" looks different at first glance, but changes very quickly into something familiar, but frightening. Pelkonen shakes the earth with his guttural grunts and screams, channeling the devil himself. Thanks to an extended run time, in the neighborhood of eight minutes, there is time for variation and lateral movement. A more melodic middle segment is the benefit here, which then erupts in a lava flow of double kicks and layered riffs. In signature Omnium Gatherum style, "Formidable" stands as a monument to the melodic death genre, combining all of the most important tenets of the genre into one five minute beatdown. Worth mentioning, of course, is the importance of air tight drumming, a task handled mightily by Jarmo Pikka. There is something special to behold just beyond the three minute mark that serves as a reminder to the versatility that is possible, even in such a stereotypically heavy genre. If the more straightforward fare is your joy, "The Sonic Sign" is exactly what you've been waiting for. Full speed ahead and packed full of distortion and blast beats, the band holds nothing back in their attempt to rattle ever bone in your body. The result is a rolling thunder, punctuated by one of the most awe inspiring solos you will find on a death related album.

Flexing some of his melodic vocal muscle, Pelkonen croons softly on "Who Could Say," a track whose name tips their hand on its style. Much like Sons Of Aeon, they use this track as a ballad of sorts, trading in their unbridled aggression, if only for a few solemn minutes, to let an emotionally charged message come through. The dark screams are still present, and more impacting than you could imagine. It is in these subdued times that guitarists Markus Vanhala and Joonas Koto have a chance to go outside the box, something they do with great success.If there was one track that stood out above the rest, it may be the six minute "The Unknowing," which could easily lay claim to being one of the best single tracks of the year so far. Winding guitar riffs, a seemingly endless sea of double kicks, and a powerhouse performance on the mic, all come together in perfect distorted harmony. Much like we learned a few tracks earlier, Omnium Gatherum are still capable of doing a straight ahead death song, and do it to perfection. And while it may become the forgotten gem, sandwiched between the two wonders of the world, "Living In Me" is a wonder in and of itself. But the ten minute "White Palace" casts a mighty shadow. You could listen to this behemoth twenty times a day and still not be able to find the words to capture it all, something I am struggling with. Part beast, part masterpiece, this is a monument.

In speaking with other music reviewers, some professionals and some amateurs like myself, there are two ways that seem to dominate the rating system. You either treat every album like a 10 and mark off points for its failings, or you start each disc as a 1 and add points for its successes. Regardless of your preferred method, it would be difficult to find yourself in any position other than a perfect score for what Omnium Gatherum have put in front of us. There is simply not one thing wrong with this album, start to finish, front to back. Every aspect of this album is polished and shiny, from the writing to the recording, the production to the mix. This album is well beyond anything else the genre has going right no. No, that isn't a pun; "Beyond" may have already cemented Omnium Gatherum at te top of many a top 10 list for 2013.


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