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Contrary to what is often assumed, melodic death metal can be packaged in a way that it will surprise the listener, even as late in the game as 2007. Be this as it may, not all surprises are necessarily good ones, and the overall game that was played by Omnium Gatherum come this year is one that actually comes off as something as a mixed bag. This was the first album to feature deeper and meaner sounding vocalist Jukka Pelkonen, and while he has little trouble fitting himself into the sonic foray, it's a number of things going on around him that sink this effort slightly below the previous 2 studio releases. Bearing in mind that this is a Finnish melodeath album, a great part of what makes this beast tick is how closely it conforms itself to Swedish practices.
At first glance, "Stuck Here On Snake's Way" seems to be channeling 90s In Flames with a brilliantly conceived and haunting acoustic instrumental to kick things off in "The Snake And The Way". However, once the full length songs come into the mix, it becomes pretty clear that the band is taking a lot of cues from radio rock in terms of songwriting. Much of these songs seem unwilling venture beyond 4 minute long territory, and are loaded to the brim with grooving rhythmic guitar lines that are somewhat along the lines of the modernity that has seeped its way into present In Flames and Soilwork efforts. Granted, they don't fully take the plunge into metalcore territory as Jukka is still largely avoiding the whiny clean vocal style that tends to come with that formula.
For the most part, the songs tend to be fast and animated, and do occasionally throw a few progressive twists at the listener. Particularly in the cases of "Into Sea" and "Bastard-O", some of the guitar work has this peculiar hard rock feel to the riff work, almost as if throwing in some quirky mid 70s influences into the mix and dressing it up with a nastier guitar distortion. Other songs such as "Dysnomia" and "The Third Flame" trend a bit closer to a vintage Finnish sound as heard from Kalmah, complete with the usual power and thrash metal trappings and a much more pointed assault from the rhythm section. The drum work on this album is the one area where things really step out and shine, as these songs do make a lot of time for switching things up in terms of feel.
There isn't really any one particular thing about the mixture of modern and older influences on here that really jumps out and screams mediocrity, but on the whole this album just seems like it wants to go somewhere and never quite settles on making the trek, much as the album's title implies. This is perhaps best embodied in the album's post-rock infused semi-ballad "Just Signs", which just sort of coasts along on 2 basic melodic ideas and doesn't really seem to get its bearings. Simultaneously, there are some outwardly impressive crushers like "Drudgery" and the album's closer "Spiritual" that just seem to meander a bit too much and can't really seem to settle on a core idea. It's an odd way of putting it, but this album's biggest obstacle, in spite of having a lot of good ideas, is a lack of overall cohesion that is suffered from modern rock music and certain progressive metal efforts alike.
Prospective consumers of this album will definitely be geared a bit more toward the transitional period between 1999 and 2003 when the Gothenburg scene first started to move toward where it finds itself right now. It tends a bit more toward the "Clayman" and "Damage Done" style, but there is a bit of a musical tinge from the latter day sound of "Reroute To Remain" to be found on here too, along with a number of recent Children Of Bodom ideas, though not as technically oriented. However, in spite of some peripheral commonality, this is not a metalcore or modern Gothenburg album, and should be reasonably acceptable to most mainstays of the genre. But those looking to get into this band should definitely look at their latest 2 offerings or their early stuff before Jukka joined the fold.
After the underwhelming 2004 sophomore album Years in Waste, the once promising Finnish upstart Omnium Gatherum decided to NOT waste the next few years, acquiring a new vocalist Jukka Pelkonen (also of Elenium) and keyboard player Aapo Koivisto. The changes were for the positive, at least in the case of Jukka, who has a deeper, more interesting vocal style than Antti Filppu, rarely getting overpowered against the musical backdrop like his predecessor. A few years pass, and the band releases the third album, Stuck Here on Snake's Way, which strangely seemed to receive as much critical castigation as its predecessor...
The reason I found the reaction strange, was because I rather liked this album when I first heard it. Even more unusual, is that the album seems less complex than its predecessors, yet more immersive. The guitar work in particular has softened into a series of basic chug and rock rhythms, often bordering on nu-metal levels of simplistic groove, and yet through the momentum of the song writing, the subtle atmospherics of the keys, and the improved vocals, it delivers almost an hour of consistent enjoyment. Lazy and inarticulate it may be compared to the rest of the band's catalog, but the daftly titled Stuck Here on Snake's Way might just be my favorite effort yet from the Finns.
The album opens with a glimmering, memorable acoustic intro called "The Snake and the Way" before abruptly changing channels to the rather cheesy groove/rock rhythm that opens "Into Sea". Oddly enough, the song does transmute itself into something approachable, with a nice melodic lick and atmospheric, driving verse ala Soilwork with some synth lingering against the horizon, but my favorite moments are the muted melodies that cascade across the choruses. "Dysnomia" is a straight ahead heavy rocker that almost hinges on a d-beat/grind rhythm for the verse, Jukka splattering all over it aggressively. "A-Part of God" has another very cool descending guitar line over some nu-groove guitars, the keys emitting a glitter at the edge of the riffing, but this isn't one of the album's strongest tracks.
I rather like "Undertaker", if mainly for how the simple, subdued synth intro flows over the rolling chug riff, and then returns for the melodic climax, and the brief and often proggy "Bastard-O" ranges from another straight rocking, rather generic melodic death charge to a powerful emotive melody wherein the keys scream like some poignant 80s prom pop alongside the vocals. "The Third Flame" is one of the more potent and powerful tracks on the album, conjuring up a reflection of their debut Spirits and August Light, where "Just Signs" opens in a river of clean guitars while we get a taste of Jukka's tasteful, low and clean range. The guy would make a decent gothic metal singer. The rest of the songs are solid, with two of the late heavies "Drudgery" and "In Sane World" among the best of the album, both laden with catchy, simple riffing and uplifting melodic summits, and some great surprises like the spooky, urgent breakdown at 2:45 of the latter.
I cannot claim that this album has held up for me completely in the few years since its release, but I still enjoy it from time to time, and along with Spirits and August Light it's makes for the best of their body of work. I'd recommend if to any fan of a band like Norther or mid-period Soilwork, but do keep in mind that the band went out for something simple and effective rather than some dense effort like the first two, and its use of often lazy guitar rhythms (few individual riffs rise above the most basal of chugging to anchor the synth, vocals and beat) might turn off any who wince at modern metal sounds. The lyrics often involve subtle word plays with lines like 'Reason the real son' and 'the first to aid, the worst aid kit' which i found curious and somewhat appealing.
Stuck Here on Snake's Way sounds solid, with a crisp tone to the guitars that balances quite well with the keyboards, and the vocals are a definite improvement, the best of any Omnium Gatherum album. I was pleasantly surprised with it, and it's probably one of the better (and subtler) 21st century melodic death albums out of Finland, barring the highlights of a few other bands like Kalmah, Norther and Mors Principium Est.
Highlights: Into Sea, The Third Flame, Drudgery, In Sane World, Spiritual
After putting out a fantastic album like 'Spirits And August Light' and then following it up with the fairly lukewarm effort 'Years In Waste', 'Stuck Here On Snake's Way' acts as a big fork in Omnium Gatherum's road. They could either give us another great album and classify 'Years In Waste' as a momentary lapse in quality, or become another band where 'the old stuff' is all that matters. Things start off well, with a gorgeous acoustic track and the storming single 'Into Sea', but from then on in, 'Snake's Way' becomes a drag to listen to. The big issue with the songwriting here is that most of these tracks start in a thoroughly pedestrian manner, and even if the band develops it in an interesting or effective way, the listener is already totally disinterested. A melodic death metal album needs to grab you by the balls from the word go, preferably not letting go at all. Sticking with that metaphor, what this album does is swipes madly, but to no avail.
While some classic lead and harmony parts can be found occasionally, the majority of music here is driven by some kind of generic crunch riff, and maybe given a drop of life by the drums or keyboards. The production and mixing on this album is poor, a clear attempt to be 'raw' and 'aggressive', which instead ends up being inoffensive to the point of tedium. Take the album closer, 'Spiritual', as an example. The song is well written, and contains an absolute beauty of a motif, but is drained by the tinny production, as well as a questionable tempo. Fixing up the guitar and drum tone alone could have added another 15% onto my score for this album. Their last two albums both had passable (although not excellent) production, so why cock it up this time?
Another thing that's different here is the vocalist. Omnium Gatherum's last vocalist had a strange sound and technique, but it worked excellently with the band's sound. The same cannot really be said for new boy Jukka Pelkonen. His bark sounds aged and unconvincing, though he does compliment parts of this album. We can only hope the band's next album will gel better with him, as their taste in vocalists is clearly based more on chemistry than what is generally considered a good vocal style. It would be nice to see more of his lyrics though, as they are the sort of nonsense that provides some sort of amusement and interest when the music itself cannot.
All in all inconsistent songwriting, uninspired riffing and poor production bog this album down heavily, but the standout songs ('Just Signs', 'Into Sea' and 'In Sane World') are still little hints that this band can still write some kickass material. Here's hoping.