Artist: Terra Odium
Album Title: Ne Plus Ultra
Label: Frontiers Music
Date of Release: 11 June 2021
Due to my unexpected but much needed early June hiatus, I am playing catch up with many of the releases that threatened to pass me by unexplored and unreviewed. The focus of this review is the debut album from a progressive metal entity that goes by the name of Terra Odium and I was compelled to review this release because of the clientele involved. This is another of those Frontiers ‘supergroups’ you see, although unlike others on the Italian label’s roster, Terra Odium has not been put together by the label; as far as I can tell, this has been a more organic process that has led to a mouth-watering line-up.
Led by ex-Spiral Architect duo Øyvind Hægeland (guitars, vocals) and Asgeir Mickelson (drums), they have been joined by guitarist Bollie Fredriksen (Manitou), bassist Steve Di Giorgio (Testament), and keyboardist Jon Phipps (Angra, Moonspell, Dragonforce) who is in place primarily to provide the orchestration. As much as I hate the term ‘supergroup’, there can be little argument that this descriptor applies pretty accurately to Terra Odium. But, can the music live up to the lofty expectations that can come from such a group of musicians? You’d certainly hope so, but there’s never any guarantee.
This is so difficult for me, it really is. On the one hand, I cannot deny the quality of the music and the song writing. There is a lot going on within each of the seven tracks as you’d rightfully expect from a proper progressive metal release, especially with the clientele involved in bringing this together. It is heavy, it is technical, it is created with real attention to detail, and the production is huge and affords the clarity that you need for music like this. By way of example, the bass of Steve Di Giorgio is ever present throughout, perfectly audible so that you can hear everything he does, be it simple or complex.
Mind you, everywhere across the band, the performances are great. Mickelson’s drumming is tight as anything, with flamboyance built in when required. The guitar riffs are powerful whilst the dexterity is impressive. The orchestration from Jon Phipps fits well within the music, not overdone, but bold when necessary and subtle elsewhere. It has everything…
But, here’s the rub: do I warm to the music? Do I connect with it, and yearn to listen to it whilst I’m engaged with my fifteenth work video call meeting of the day? No. Sadly, I don’t. I admire it, but my admiration remains at arm’s length for the most part. For my tastes, the songs are lacking in the memorability stakes; whether that’s because there’s not enough melody, or because the instrumentational prowess overtakes and consumes the hooks that are already well concealed. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because whatever the reason, I’m left feeling a little disengaged.
The thing I like least however, is the vocals. I hate to single musicians out, but I am just not a fan of Øyvind Hægeland’s offering. This is a completely subjective view, but I find the singing to be cold and a touch sterile. Hægeland can sing, of that there’s no doubt; hell, he can hit notes that I could only ever dream of. But crucially, I don’t find his delivery to be engaging and warm. Instead, it makes the complex soundscapes that surround him even less penetrable, as if they are deliberately at odds with the music to create a vague dissonance at times. At this point, I can’t help but focus on the artwork, because it’s both compelling, but stark, depicting a lone soul entering a giant maze. That’s me – lost, confused, and about to suffer at the hands of the maze.
Having said all that, I will concede that there are flashes of music on ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ that I do like. The more melodic sections within ‘Winter’ are really nice, usually coalescing when the orchestration is at its most overt and bold. The noodling in between does little for me, coming across as virtuosic for the sake of it, but there’s just enough melody at the right times to counteract these parts. Just.
Elsewhere, the intro to ‘The Thorn’ features a really cool riff, complete with pinched harmonics, whilst there’s a dark, sinister, cinematic feel to the music. The slower tempo helps to build up a sense of drama, which is something that the entire album benefits from – the star of the show in many ways is Jon Phipps because without him, the music would also lack the depth and atmosphere that is a strong component of the Terra Odium sound. And to underline that point, check out the final minute or so of ‘It Was Not Death’. If more of the album was like this, I’d be raving about it.
I’ve got to be honest, but I’m disappointed. I have heard extremely positive things about Terra Odium on social media from sources that I trust as well as the normal background noise. As such, I know that ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ is a quality body of work. I’ve hopefully conveyed that within this review as much as possible. It’s just that, for some reason, it’s not for me. Clever, precise, and clinical, it just isn’t warm enough, melodic enough, or memorable enough to keep me entertained. But don’t take my word for it, as I’m just a lone voice within the crowd – give it a try nonetheless and I’ll be delighted if you like it.
The Score of Much Metal: 74%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: