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Brilliant on stage, bland on record - 65%

kluseba, January 31st, 2018
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Lifeforce Records

Omnium Gatherum is a quite complicated case. The Finnish melodic death metal band is absolutely captivating in concert but rarely transmits this certain type of magic onto its regular studio albums. This is particularly obvious on Grey Heavens. The band sounds as if it were on autopilot. The group is playing it safe without taking any risks. The songs are rushing by but won't get stuck on your mind. I don't know how many times I have already listened to this record and yet I can't remember one single song. That's a shame because the band has so much potential.

The mixture of melodic keyboard sounds and classic heavy metal guitar solos on one side, combined with gritty riffs, harsh vocals and faster passages on the other side, is a combination that makes bands like Amorphis or Soilwork stand out. In Omnium Gatherum's case, everything sounds quite by the numbers. The melodic keyboard passages always sound the same. The melodic guitar solos are inoffensive. The gritty riffs are too simplistic to impress. The harsh vocals sound like any other average melodic death metal vocalist. The fast passages rarely harmonize with the melodic and slower parts. The band only shines when it really slows down and focuses on melancholic melodies that are so charismatic for Finnish bands but aside a few positive exceptions like in ''Foundation'', the group doesn't give these passages enough time to unfold.

The most intriguing elements about this album are the brilliant cover artwork and the question why a band sounds close to perfection on stage yet so bland on a regular studio album. I hope Omnium Gatherum will soon release a live album because this will easily end up being the band's most essential record. Grey Heavens is neither great nor awful but it's painfully average. My advice for you would be to go see the band in concert and ignore this album.

Omnium Gatherum - Grey Heavens - 61%

Silicon Messiah, April 11th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Lifeforce Records

Omnium Gatherum is a very recent discovery for me, and so I haven’t explored them fully yet. I was in the process of doing so actually, when I found that they’d recently released their seventh album, Grey Heavens. Therefore, this review will be based on the thoughts from a second impression if you will, rather than those of a long time listener. They’re a band that walks the path of brooding melo-death, often with a grandiose feeling and a sense of theatrics. So far I’ve gotten a bit into the New World Shadows (2011) album, with its downplayed epicness and a few of the coolest guitar tracks I’ve heard on a death metal album.

The mere title of this album, Grey Heavens, alongside the equally grey artwork, gives an immediate impression that the music will lack colors, and stick to the volatile realm of shadows. That’s highlighted by the mainly slow tempo, which can often be very effective, and a dark atmosphere simply made for a dark Sunday afternoon. Dueling guitarists Markus Vanhala (Insomnium) and Joonas Koto (Malpractice) are bearing in this atmosphere, especially in doom like tracks ‘Skyline’ and ‘Frontiers’. Aapo Koivisto incorporates keyboards, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so much. ‘Rejuvenate!’ sees him higher up the mix, as well as epic closer ‘Storm Front’, giving him some moments to showcase, without going overboard. ‘Foundation’ on the other hand takes it too far, though a good song when it comes down to it.

Now, I admit a small weakness in favor of long, epic, progressive death metal songs, and from what I’ve heard of Omnium Gatherum, they’ve certainly succeeded in making a few (‘Deep Cold’ and ‘White Palace’ from previous efforts are worthy of mention). On here, we have ‘Majesty And Silence’, the biggest let down on this album. It’s too slow, too uninviting and too long for its own good, and it simply lacks any atmosphere present on most of the remainder of the album. It picks up at the end, but not enough to save it.

I really want to like some of the songs on Grey Heavens, being as how they’re well written and put together with a sleek grace that shows these guys know their craft. There’s just something here, that won’t pull me in. ‘Foundation’ as mentioned above is one, where the keyboards are too high up the mix for their own good. It works better in ‘The Great Liberation’, where keyboards and a riff driven rush drives the song inexorably forwards without either one taking too much of the spotlight. Omnium Gatherum obviously can get that balance just right, it’s just that sometimes they don’t. However, there is one saving grace here, and that’s the blistering mastery that is ‘Ophidian Skies’. The riffs are clear and inspired, with the keyboard maintaining a just subtlety for maximum efficiency. In the end, the album is slightly sprawling; a few bits here, a few bits there. Some songs have a massive guitar attack approach, while others go on the keyboard driven line. Grey Heavens is stable in one way though; throughout, it’s marked by grayness, a melancholy that only a Finn can personify.

Standout tracks: Ophidian Sunrise, Skyline, Frontiers

'It's what we do.' - 68%

autothrall, February 26th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Lifeforce Records

My biggest complaint with Grey Heavens is that it's almost entirely the product of a band resting on its laurels, having evolved very little from Omnium Gatherum's roots during the onset of Finland joining the melodic death metal boom of the earlier 21st century. It risks almost nothing, simply attempting to tidy up on elements of studio production and the balance between those slightly prog metal licks and ideas that have saturated the band's sound through their seven album journey. So many of the riffing structures here sound as if they've been inspired wholesale by bands like Insomnium, Kalmah, Children of Bodom, Soilwork and Dark Tranquillity that I had a problem trying to discern any genuine identity, but at the same time it's quite true to the initial stakes planted with Spirits and August Light, a disc that was honestly pretty good for its age...so there is the potential that some portion of its audience will find fulfillment that those roots have been exhumed and exonerated, even if the Finns rarely strayed too far from the proverbial litter.

Otherwise, this is functional, highly melodic death with the same deep guttural presence that they've more or less always used, in the lineage of the growls used by bands like Sentenced and Amorphis during their primes, and really similar to Insomnium. Occasional vocal clean passages are present, sounding relatively smooth and soothing, while not coming off terribly trite or hokey. The primary ingredient to this is the guitars, though, and how they weave off with the synthesizer to provide that same contemporary, sleek cubicle feel the band has been courting for several records now. Almost too clean for its own good, but I get the feeling this is due to a lot of exposure to progressive rock and metal bands like Dream Theater and such and attempting to genuinely intersperse them with the death growls and Sweden-like harder rhythmic guitar passages. Most of the note progressions and constantly erupting melodies and harmonies attempt to spread a 'warm feeling' through the listener. This has never been a dissonant, 'evil' sounding act in the slightest, and I feel like a handful of tunes here do accomplish their goal rather well. In particular, tracks like "Frontiers" which start off hitting quite hard and then cede to some of the most memorable, developed calm sequences where those airy, polished vocals are most welcome.

In fact, there's probably an EP's worth in here which would stand alongside Omnium Gatherum's strongest material, but that largely inhabits the middle and end of the album, and you've got to make it through a couple less inspired openers to get there. Much of the melodic component is simple, pop oriented and predictable, but that doesn't diminish its catchy nature once it arrives. The drums and guitars sound about as up front as you'd want for such a mainstream friendly mix, but there's still a little dynamic range in how some of the lighter guitar leads stand out against their supports. I do think there's an issue of relevance with this style in the current age, a bygone proposition, but then I'm also someone who enjoyed it about 12-15 years ago, so I can't fault a band for sticking to what it knows best. That doesn't exempt Grey Heavens from the notion that a little more risk taking could go a long way to helping refine and reform the style, but I don't think fans of their last few albums would find this a disappointment once they get into the meat of the track list. There's enough going on here that I enjoyed it a little more than Beyond, and fans of catch-all 'extreme' progressive/death metal bands like a Ne Obliviscaris might give it some new life, but I still can't help feel that a course has been run and the niche is in dire need of a creative defibrillation.

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com