Sound — 9
Finnish melo-death band, Omnium Gatherum (Latin for "The Sun") has slowly been recognized as one of the best, melo-death bands in the world. This was especially true after the release of their previous album, "New World Shadows". With their newest album, "Beyond", Omnium Gatherum has soared to new heights. These new heights, in fact, may be above melodic death metal because except for Jukka Pelkonen's growls, I would not interpret this as death metal. The austere phrases and/or chugging sounds that can define death metal and some previous Omnium Gatherum releases are not present on this album except in very limited passages, putting this album instrumentally between Iron Maiden and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
The album contains an abundance of guitar hooks that are beautifully layered around dark chords as well as each other. The guitar solos, while there are less than I had hoped for, mesh nicely and add to the vibe of the song at all times instead of serving as a power metal shredding ground. The guitars are harmonized at many points during the songs, sometimes to great effect. The hooks and progressions mesh seamlessly with the synthesizer that is continually playing chords that texture the overall sound of a song, even connecting each song to a certain extent like a mastering technique. Aapo Koivisto does a great job with this, not adding too much, while adding enough to contribute to the sound of the album, which is typical of him in his time with Omnium Gatherum. He is the unsung hero of this album and he does occasionally get a spotlight part to highlight him individually.
The true talent of the album can be seen in its dynamics along with its superb production. Omnium Gatherum knows when to proceed with caution and when to attack vigorously. Attributed to the album's production, the silky cleans give way to epic riffs with ease.
The feeling is that the cleans are present and then at some point, the listener realizes that the sound has become dark and hard, yet he cannot describe how it got there. If the listener replayed the part, he would realize that the transition was so subtle that he could not even tell it was happening. With feelings such as this, Omnium Gatherum is able to create compositions that transcend time, so that the four minute, "New Dynamic" feels just as long/complicated as the ten minute progressive manifesto "White Palace".
The production aspects played a role in these superb dynamic changes as well as emphasizing certain instruments, usually the guitars, when necessary. This may seem like a given for any album, but on here, it is used to advance the overall sound of the album, usually rubbing off as more of a melodic feel, shunning the harsh chords, pounding drums, and guttural vocals when necessary, when at other points, embracing them. By the way, the drumming on "Beyond" is inspired and varied between songs and sections to great effect, it is just that the production seems to highlight this.
Overall, the production, as well as the dynamics, creates a high fidelity experience that is above average today, and certainly for this genre. Also, I'm not quite sure, but I think that the ever-present synthesizer contributes to the experience in production and dynamics that I just described. This would give extra credit to Koivisto that is well deserved. In fact, this total sound may be the consequence of incredible group dynamics. I just don't feel that Omnium Gatherum pulled it off without some resourceful help from their producer, Dan Swan.
As a final note, the songs transition into each other well, making the album very enjoyable to listen to straight through.
Lyrics — 6
Jukka Pelkonen's vocals are one of the things that still keep this album in the death metal category. He strikes again and again in songs, sometimes at inopportune times, with a litany of growls. I have read that his abundance of growls set a stage of contrast for the few times that clean vocals are used. However, I believe that for this specific Omnium Gatherum album, it should have been the other way around. Clean vocals suit the feel of this album much more than growls and they should have been the prevailing voice trying to show a contrast instead of the growls.
In addition, while the guitars use hooks and easily understandable solos most of the time, I think it is fair to say that the vocals contrast this. To put it plainly, there aren't easily discernable choruses. Whether this is to a positive or negative effect, I will let you decide. Though I expected nothing less going into this, I still thought it was valid to note.
I think that it is fair enough to say that we don't turn to Omnium Gatherum specifically for vocal performance, but rather for the sound that I described in the previous section. I don't think that Jukka Pelkonen's vocals have evolved since "New World Shadows", though I think that this still resonates well with fans and I won't explicitly blame him for the style undertaken here. As always, the opinion of the musician trumps my own, so I think that there is still something to find in his vocals, just not for me.
Overall Impression — 9
Overall, with "Beyond", Omnium Gatherum surmounts its spot on top of the world of melodic death metal. If "New World Shadows" didn't do that for them, "Beyond" certainly does. It shows a mostly evolving band that in my opinion, is weeding its way out of the death metal genre.
Combining hooks, progressive elements, superb dynamics, and interesting rhythms, "Beyond" is a uniquely epic experience. From beginning to end, the album flows well with everyone except Pelkonen playing in a harmony that allows the assigned parts of each section to flourish, though the parts may not be what you think at the beginning. Again, this album is instrumentally superior because it combines all of these elements while still knowing how to create a tasteful, simple vibe at the same time.
At this point, my two favorite tracks have got to be "New Dynamic" and "The Unknowing" because the former is just so much fun (you'll understand what I mean) to listen to. The latter is a progressive song that got me with its outstanding transitions and unique riff at 4:05 of the song as well as its fitting keyboard parts.
In conclusion, this album is within a certain spectrum that it should appeal to any metal player on this website, and not just the death metalers and extreme listeners. In my honest opinion, this will certainly be the premiere melo-death release of the year, as well as possibly the premiere death metal album of the year in general.