Omnium Gatherum - Grey Heavens Review

Omnium Gatherum - Grey Heavens
Century Media Records

Finnish six-piece Omnium Gatherum has given it their fiercest attempt to date to find melometal brilliance in a drab world, and they have succeeded. It is a complex and demanding album that cannot be fully appreciated after a cursory listen. The band’s progression to the left of melodic death metal and toward the progressive realm is in full evidence on Grey Heavens.

The abundant instrumental arrangements and melody-heavy orchestration reveal splendid counterpoint resting atop scaffolding of top lines, punch-and-jangle riffs, and verdant keyboards. The album is not a flak gun bonanza, but more like an expertly choreographed storm of lush immensity amidst the singularity of guitar strings hammered into lightning bolts of molten brass.

Their sixth album down the melancholy highway, frontman Jukka Pelkonnen directs the boys from Karhula over the ten tracks of Grey Heavens and through the dusky goodness of bleak territories. “The Pit” spins the album up with a nice ferocity coupled with sheets of thick guitar harmonies that highlight the track in the same way that torches highlight a pagan parade.

Pelkonnen applies his finely-honed growl to the proceedings with a silky similarity to Spiros Antoniou of Septicflesh. “The Pit” applies the ground floor cement for the rest of the album in the way it sets up its chord progressions followed by proggy embellishment and rhythmic pacing all astride a supple bass. Solos throughout the song, and album, alternate between keyboards and guitars depending on who has caught his breath first. 

Pelkonnen’s growl sits centered in the mix. He keeps the focus dagger-sharp as all the dangerous vibrations ripple around him. When the choruses burn down to clean vocal harmonies cushioned in thorny refrains, the effect can be mesmerizing. Though every band in metal uses the dirty and then clean and then dirty vocal cliché, few do it more effectively than Omnium Gatherum. “The Pit” makes the dirty and clean thing work because the chorus constructions are built to handle the turn of the color wheel.

Skyline” was the initial album teaser that showed up a few months ago, and it brought with it an odd constrained feel that seemed to rest a bit too much on the central riff as if the band didn’t want to give anything away. Still, the fabric of what was to come shone through the tightly-knit threads and there was a good dollop of Pelkonnen’s dirt mixed in with Markus Vanhala (Insomnium) and Jope Koto’s quicksilver guitar work.  “Frontiers” is better on every level possible. The possibilities of level are both transcendent and intense as the band lifts you on to the peaks of the album’s strengths.

The album is a teeter-totter of extremes. It takes chances with the formula that bands like Year of No Light, Insomnium, Septicflesh have buffed onto a bright shiny grey. Not every track is a kidney- punch success, take the shamelessly derivative “Only for the Weak” for example, but even the mightiest sea ebbs and flows.

So many metal bands have buckled under the group-think pressure to slap an airy instrumental on their albums that it has become as ubiquitous as the crashing wave intro found tacked onto the front of half the records made since Quadrophenia. Omnium Gatherum’s “These Grey Heavens” busts out the extended key-tinkles before getting back to the business of ruining your hearing with lead breaks and drum rolls.

“Majesty and Silence” is the eight-minute statement piece of Grey Heavens. It’s a valiant effort with frequent flashes of depressive grandeur. It treks a twisting trail as it propels the band toward a prog-vahalla, which seems to be the resolute goal for the evolution in Omnium Gatherum’s sound. The track’s footing is evasive in spots, unable to fluidly navigate a divot here or transition there.

“Majesty and Silence” may not coalesce into a true statement, but the track is best as a deconstruction of its parts than as the sum of them. All along the crest of the album’s range, the songs “The Pit,”” Storm Front,” “Ophidian Sunrise” and even “Rejuvenate!” are the tallest mountains. 

Omnium Gatherum has released a worthy and very enjoyable album. It may not be the over-arching step-up from Beyond, but they are classmates in an exclusive class.

(released February 26, 2016, on Century Media Records)