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Yet another symphonic death metal gem. I had only heard a few songs off their previous album before delving into this one, but they definitely seem to have upped the consistency factor superbly on this album. From beginning to end, this album just screams epic from every angle, yet not at all in the overbearing and tiresome way that bands like Dimmu Borgir, Fleshgod Apocalypse and the like tend to play the genre by completely overwhelming the metal part of the sound with the symphonic orchestral bits, but rather with an equal emphasis on the guitar and spicy songwriting as well as the symphonic parts in general. Some have made the inevitable comparison to Greek titans Septic Flesh and while the comparisons are not entirely unwarranted (since both the bands are drawing from the same pool of symphonic death metal) I feel that Shade Empire tend to focus a lot more on the atmospheric elements of the genre while toning down the brutality aspect.
The opener “Ruins” gets off to a real bombastic start with a surging synth intro only for the guitars to crash in along with one hell of an addictive guitar and synth lick delightfully playing off each other during the chorus. “Traveler Of Unlight” (with some really subtle melodies to be revealed on multiple listens) “Nomad” (another epic intro) and “Dawnless Days” are of the more straightforward symphonic death metal variety whereas “Malicious Winds” (listen to the gorgeous mid-section at 3:13 followed by a stunning guitar solo), “Until No Life Breeds” and “Ash Statues” are a seamless marriage of epic soundscapes and subtle guitar and keyboard touches into the hammering rhythmic battery of the band.
The two towering monstrosities of the album are truly something to behold with a wide array of scintillating guitar riffs and licks, soaring keyboard runs and lines with a gorgeous ebb and flow that just paints a fascinating mythical picture in your mind. Well at least in my mind. Just listen to the last 3 minutes of “Disembodiment” and be floored by the bands amazing skills at arrangement and songwriting. Truly a lesson on how to ace the art of dynamics within a metal context. The title track is a more straightforward beast with a somber piano part during the first half of the song up to the part where the guitars and keys eventually dominate leading the song and album to the epic finale. To all the other concerned bands - kindly take notes. Every song has hooks and delightful licks aplenty - even the 3 minute long epic “Devolution” (what a damn intro!) is worth listening to again and again. Truly an addiction of the best kind. The two mega-epics really give the band a solid opportunity to stretch their legs and let the progressive and epic factor of their music take center stage, with almost flamenco like strumming, (this is a morose album, after all) epic piano runs and lines, not to mention the godlike synths plus a host of colourful leads and solos on top to properly spice things up. Needless to say, they absolutely nail it, in spite of both the songs hardly having any vocals at all. Yep, you read that right. These two songs should also delight the prog fans as well as metal fans with a die-hard fetish for Original Soundtracks and all things atmospheric. I know I'm starting to sound repetitive, but man these two songs just bleed atmosphere from every damn nook and cranny and a lot of bands could (or in fact, should) take a few lessons on how to build proper dynamics and flow within the realm of metal from these two gems alone.
Finally while the overall length can be a bit tiresome for some listeners out there, I am not affected by that aspect in the least and have been digging this unknown gem for the past 3 years now, with absolutely no signs of stopping whatsoever. Let the last sentence be enough of an indication that you should definitely get your hands on this album as soon as goddamn possible. Pure atmospheric heaven awaits.
While Omega Arcane pushes Shade Empire's synthetic concept into brave new directions, it also falls victim to many modern trappings that simply weren't an issue in the past. This admittedly came out of left field to me, as Zero Nexus embodied a fairly compact, accessible amalgam of the panoply of disparate elements that embody Shade Empire's basic approach. It wasn't amazing, but it definitely had it's moments; moments that Omega Arcane can't replicate even if it wanted to by virtue of the bombastic orchestrations. Savolainen, for some reason, feels the need to layer most of these proceedings in programmed swells of brass sections and organic strings. It comes off as flippant and pulls the band into a direction that doesn't serve their darker, more traditionally gothic characteristics very well.
In the past, the keyboard arrangements embodied an approach akin to a daring balancing act; the band often lived or died by the potency of Savolainen's industrial surges. While it didn't always work, when the risk paid off it paid off well. On Omega Arcane, most of the keyboards end up sounding like modern Nightwish. The overlong opener "Ruins" is a good example of this theme. It makes false promises and acts like it is building up to a detonation of energy, but when Shade Empire's sludgy mid-paced riffs take over, you can't help but feel underwhelmed. "Malicious Winds" might be the only song here that successfully straddles the line from an orchestral standpoint, and even in that it still comes off as a poor man's "Silver Fix". "Until No Light Breeds" is without a doubt the best song here though, featuring more of the artificial, mechanized trinkets of terror that are more commonly associated with Shade Empire. I knew it would be buried somewhere.
The guitars feature an overdriven, gritty sounding tone that is similar to Zero Nexus, but much of their efforts are in vain as they can't hope to steal the spotlight from the attention-hogging orchestrations. It's not that the orchestrations are executed poorly, but Savolainen is most definitely not playing to his strength as a composer here. "Nomad" and "Traveler of Unlight" are decent as they feature a more synthetic disposition, but this only serves to drive the point home that the blaring, organic arrangements simply do not fit. "Nomad" actually reminds me of Intoxicate O.S. at times, so that rivals "Until No Light Breeds" for the top spot on Zero Nexus. I hate to keep dwelling on the keyboards but it really is that big of a hurdle, as they keep repeating the same licks and run up and down predictable scales.
Even Räsänen can't hope to break free, as his blasting is restrained and workmanlike in an effort to keep the keyboards in check. It almost is as if he can't let loose for fear of the keyboards falling behind. While Harju normally steals the spotlight, he is even an afterthought here, buried behind the organic swells and distortion. There are a couple of instrumentals near the end that bear mentioning. "Devolution" is throwaway, but the title track has it's moments. It doesn't need to be twelve minutes long, but it goes through a number of movements, taking care to touch on all of the band's past elements. It is almost bittersweet by the time the final notes ring out, as you realize that Shade Empire simply do not live up to their potential in Omega Arcane's case.
This is not the first time we listen to a metal album that has the special participation of an orchestra. Dimmu Borgir are one of the greatest examples of that. And I think we can say that Shade Empire took some inspiration from "Abrahadabra". But "Abrahadabra" was an album loved by some, but hated by many, so Shade Empire had to be really careful while doing this album. And that happens every time a band tries something new, like changing their style from a real death metal to a more melodic death metal, there are always pros and cons. There will always be people saying that they loved the old sound and that want it to be kept the same, but there will be those who didn't like that band so much and that think the band needed a change. That always happens, and when the bands to that style changing, they are always taking a high risk. Regarding Shade Empire, I am more in the group of those who knew this was a good band, but that never really caught my full attention. I'm not saying they needed a change, but for the band to gain my interest they would have to be a little bit different. Albums like "Intoxicate O.S." or "Zero Nexus" never made me listen to them fully. They just... didn't. But "Omega Arcane" did. Yes, it did! This one really surprised me. I sincerely believe, that this is easily one of the top ten albums of the year so far. Not only so far, I think this will easily be one of the top ten albums of this year.
The album starts with a song that, in the realm of the more melodic death/black metal, is, in my opinion, the song of the year, along with "Formidable" and "The Unknowing", both by Omnium Gatherum. The song "Ruins" starts with a great guitar work and, at the same time, an awesome work by the orchestra led by Mikko Mustonen. After that, the fastest part of the song, which stops for the clean vocals to come in. When the clean vocals end, the song goes to its fast part again and after that, just listen to the piano. What else can I say about the majesty of "Ruins"?
And although I think "Ruins" is the best song of the album, the songs that follow this one aren't in anyway worse. "Until No Life Breeds" is the only song that I don't like that much. All the others are amazing. The harmony between the elements of the band is perfect. The growls, the guitars, the bass, the keyboards, the drums (fast like hell!) and, of course, the orchestra, all these elements are perfectly fused as one solid piece. These instruments are put together to create a pretty interesting fusion between black and death metal. As we know, black metal is much more focused on the atmosphere than death metal. On the other hand, death metal is much more focused on the technical skill than black metal. Shade Empire are focused on both these points: atmosphere and technical skills, which is, once again, not unique in the metal world, but they do it perfectly. All the melodies rise to the surface while the speed indicator is in the max. And that is creepy. In a good way. I was instantly speechless when I heard this album for the first time. And after listening to it for the eighth or ninth time, I never get tired.
This album is only made of high points. No low points here. I feel a lot of shivers down my spine when i get to the minute 1:27 of "Ash Statues". It may not seem much of a big thing but the simplicity of it is what makes it fabulous. I think the best songs in this album are "Ruins", "Ash Statues", "Disembodiment" and "Slumbering Giant", but I think no one will disappoint you. It is an album made to remain in the history of metal for many years to come. There is no hope for our pitiful race but there is Shade Empire, and as long as they do things like this album, that's all we need...
As a black metal fan, nothing can satisfy my ears better than a grim black metal album full of orchestrations and melodies, and as Septic Flesh once satisfied such needs before two years, Shade Empire is here to feed us with true black/death metal riffs in front of a huge orchestral performance, making every single moment interesting and genius. The previous album "Zero Nexus" has caught my attention in 2008 and I was anticipating a very excellent fourth full-length album, and here is "Omega Arcane" is planting itself in the thorny garden of the best metal releases of the year.
Omega Arcane is the first album for Shade Empire to be released by Candlelight Records, which means that this album is a huge jump in the discography of Shade Empire after the last good three full-length albums. The orchestral outburst and the blackdeath metal rebellion are the basic musical themes of this album, the clean vocals and the creepy harsh vocals of Juha have stabilized the complex structure of the tracks, his low-high harsh vocal pitches are excellent for this kind of music. The talented guest musician "Mikko P. Mustonen" has handled the orchestrations in an epic way in this album, the result is really impressive and it gave the whole album a very majestic sound, just like his efforts in the album "From Afar" for the Finnish folkdeath metal band Ensiferum.
The tracks "Ruins" and "Dawnless Days" and "Slumbering Giant" show a lot of Dimmu Borgir influences, but the guitars and the drumming show more grimness and strength. The tracks "Traveler Of Unlight" and "Until No Life Breeds" and "Nomad" mix a lot of influences of orchestral and industrial music beneath the massive wall of guitars. The track "Ash Statues" is one of my best tracks in this album because it simply has a very interesting tune and impressive guitar work. The longest tracks in this album are "Disembodiment" and "Omega Arcane", both tracks contain a lot of musical elements and a lot of epic moments, the instrumental minutes of these tracks used acoustic guitar sections between the orchestral sections to make everything sound perfect, both tracks are literally masterpieces. The track "Malicious Winds" is one of the strongest and fastest tracks in this album, it contains a lot of impressive orchestral movements and a very good guitar solo, plus the drumming of this track is my favorite.
If you want an epic mix of "The Great Mass" and "Abrahadabra" in one album, then you have to get a copy of Omega Arcane right now, every single track will blow the dust off your speakers and let a massive void of epic and majestic music hollow your mind! Prepare yourself for one of the best metal releases of 2013.
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