Artist: Omnium Gatherum
Album Title: Origin
Label: Century Media Records
Date of Release: 5 November 2021
It’s fitting, in many ways the latest album from Finland’s Omnium Gatherum, ‘Origin’ should be released on 5th November, because you should expect fireworks. I wrote a review for the new Insomnium EP very recently and remarked that the two best melodic death metal bands hailed, not from Sweden where the genre originated, but from Finland. If Insomnium are one of the two, the other is Omnium Gatherum. In fact, if I had to order them, Omnium Gatherum would sit at the very top of the pile. And I’d not have to think very long or hard either.
Some of you will be well aware of my three-month hiatus over the summer this year. I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say I was in a dark place and went through a very rare period where I couldn’t face listening to music of any kind, especially new music. As I got my act together slowly, there was one band that I must thank for helping me get my mojo back and find the joy in listening to music again. And that band is Omnium Gatherum. It was to the Finns that I turned when I felt a mild interest in returning to music, a mild interest that blossomed into something more potent thanks to two albums in particular. I must have listened to ‘Beyond’ (2013) and ‘The Burning Cold’ (2018) upwards of a dozen times as I gradually emerged from my self-imposed exile. The combination of extreme metal and elegant AOR-like melodies, both uplifting and poignant at the same time stirred something within me, and with it, my bond with Omnium Gatherum became even stronger than ever before.
I am therefore delighted that the first album for several months that I am reviewing before it’s release, is ‘Origin’, the ninth album of Omnium Gatherum’s lengthening and ever-more impressive career.
It’s fair to say at this juncture, that the last couple of years have not been easy for Omnium Gatherum either. Not only have they had to navigate a safe path through the pandemic, but they have also had to negotiate some changes in the line-up. Continuing as a quintet, following the departure of guitarist and clean vocalist Joonas ‘Jope’ Koto in 2019, the band also had to replace their long-time bassist Erkki Silvennoinen around the same time. The current line-up therefore sees new bassist/clean vocalist Mikko Kivistö join up with vocalist Jukka Pelkonen, guitarist/clean vocalist Markus Vanhala, keyboardist Aapo Koivisto, and the relatively new himself drummer Atte Pesonen.
When you consider the upheaval that Omnium Gatherum have been through, you can forgive my slight air of apprehension going into this review. ‘Origin’ might be very different from previous records, it might be very similar. It might be incredible, it might be terrible. A new album shouldn’t make you feel so nervous and worried, but when it’s a band with whom I have some very special emotional ties, these feelings are entirely natural. The nerves are heightened slightly more when the band themselves proclaim that they want ‘Origin’ to be considered as the death metal version of Def Leppard’s ‘Hysteria’. I love Def Leppard, but what exactly does this mean?
In essence, having digested ‘Origin’ as much as humanly possible over the past week or so, it means that Omnium Gatherum have decided to dial down the death metal a smidge, whilst dialling up the melody. And the increase in melody appears in many ways, from the lead guitar lines, from the keys that have always been an important element of the band’s sound, and also from what I perceive to be an increase in clean vocals. This upturn in melody is accompanied by a more measured pace overall, with fewer bursts of intense, pacey aggression, leading to a feeling that ‘Origin’ is a more gentle and serene animal than anything before it within their discography to date.
At first, I felt a little unnerved and wasn’t sure if this was an album that maintained the stature of Omnium Gatherum in my eyes. As I type here and now, I’m still of the opinion that other OG albums contain a little more of their unquantifiable magic. However, there remains something about this band, even when they’re maybe not firing on all cylinders, that entrances me and pulls me back into their warm, comforting, melancholic embrace. And that something is the melody; this band can speak directly to my heart as if it’s on speed dial.
Let’s start with the couple of most familiar tracks to most of us, the opening two ‘singles’ released ahead of time, ‘Paragon’ and ‘Reckoning’.
Of all the songs on ‘Origin’, it is ‘Paragon’ that’s most in keeping with what your mind might conjure when thinking of a typical Omnium Gatherum track; bruising death metal riffs laced with synths courtesy of Aapo Koivisto alongside catchy lead guitar lines, a pulsating rhythmic backbone and the deliciously gritty gruff vocals of Jukka Pelkonen that ensures that the death metal tag is well-placed, even if blast beats are few and far between. And then, in comes the lighter chorus section, complete with clean vocals, that is like a breath of AOR fresh air, especially when built upon by exquisite lead guitar notes. It shouldn’t work, but by heavens it does, believe me.
The synth and electronics-heavy intro to ‘Reckoning’ has me grinning from the very first few notes. I make no secret of my love of proper 80s music, be it metal, rock, or occasionally pop. And this song encapsulates that feeling brilliantly. It has been, and continues to be, one of my very favourite Omnium Gatherum tracks, not just on this album, but overall. Strong words, but well earned, because the way in which double-pedal drumming and Pelkonen’s harsh vocals blends seamlessly with the most beautiful lead guitar melodies and rich 80s-inspired synths is exhilarating. It may not be as heavy as past endeavours but I love it, I absolutely love it.
Elsewhere, ‘Tempest’ is well-named as the closing section of the song in particular is the fastest, most urgent passage on the record, with the drums of Atte Pesonen setting a genuinely brisk pace upon which Vanhala unleashed a cracking lead guitar solo. And yet, despite the greater abrasiveness, the song remains smooth sounding, inviting and melodic to the core. I’m also a fan of ‘Prime’ which, after a slightly long, so-so intro (‘Emergence’) really gets the melancholy party started. It is a mid-tempo stomper that’s laced with everything for which Omnium Gatherum have become known, capped off by some of the best lead solo action anywhere on ‘Origin’.
Also worthy of extra note is the utterly morose and miserable ‘Fortitude’, which is so slow at points that it is in danger of veering into funeral doom territory were it not for the guitar accents that are solemn, but strangely inviting. It is Vanhala’s poignant lead work that helps to inject some achingly beautiful melodies into such a dark song. That and a sparing use of clean vocals make it a properly bittersweet experience.
The final composition, ‘Solemn’ is another track that lives up to its title, as it takes the listener on a melancholy ride over the course of nearly nine minutes, via various twists and turns along the way. Heavy moments where the riffs bite hard, are replaced by periods of relative calm where the bass of Mikko Kivistö plays an important role, and strong melodies elbow their way to the front to accentuate the dark, providing that much needed kiss of warmth, however bittersweet it may in fact be. And, as usual, the song is graced by a lead solo from Vanhala that sends shivers down my spine.
After a slightly sticky start, I have once again fallen for the not inconsiderable charms of Omnium Gatherum. ‘Origin’ may be even more melodic and less aggressive than ever before, but if you’re prepared to let the music get under your skin, it can definitely have the same effect on you as their previous efforts. I’m not sure at this point whether ‘Origin’ bests ‘Beyond’ or ‘The Burning Cold’, but considering the backdrop of the last couple of years, it’s remarkable that the Finns have returned at all, let alone with an album of this high quality. If the quintet can stay together and build on the foundations of ‘Origin’, I see nothing but good things for their future. Worry less about the heaviness of the music and instead give yourself over to the melody; if you do that, ‘Origin’ will not disappoint.
Oh and thanks again guys for helping pull me out of a very dark place and in the process rediscover my love of music. I couldn’t have done it without you.
The Score of Much Metal: 93%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: