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Playful and dramatic melodeath - 87%

gasmask_colostomy, May 28th, 2015

Melodic death metal is a genre that can be immensely rewarding and sound everything from exciting to emotional, though there are a whole slew of bands who seem incapable of doing it right. Omnium Gatherum has never exactly been the foremost melodeath band, hailing as they do from Finland, taking a while to complete their debut, and never making things easy for the listener. 'Spirits and August Light' is perhaps the band's most straightforward melodeath effort, but it doesn't exactly stick to the early At the Gates or In Flames formula. At times, it reminds of fellow Finns Insomnium, and there is something unique about it too.

The opening 'Writhen' charges forward on a nippy riff, yet the guitar tone is wide and almost sludgy, with very audible bass gurgling and rattling in support. The general impression of this song is one of normal melodeath means (the change of pace for the chorus is stunning), but we slow down after the second chorus for trudging doom and keyboards that sound like they will accompany us to a fade-out; then a sudden flick of the drummer's wrists and the last chorus steams in. There are odd surprises like this on many of the album's songs. It would seem like these guys chose certain instrumental settings, a base style, and then mercilessly threw one at the other until they made everything work. There are some moments that strike as recognisably melodeath, particularly in the leads, then others that make use of hard rock, doom, and epic (black) metal elements, all tied together by that sludgy tone.

Perhaps this makes the album seem ponderous, but it is wonderfully light on its feet and everything stays fresh, even with Antti Filppu's vocals sounding like breaths of putrid air. The jump and twinkle of the guitars on the super-melodic 'The Perfumed Garden' and 'Amor Tonight' is breathtaking, firing off as they are classic and neoclassical leads and melodies over a couple of main riffs that sound like playful Van Halen pieces done up for a big heavy metal recital in a Victorian opera house. That all sounds strange, I'm sure, but the ideas are so elegantly conceived and clinically delivered that any less extravagant description would be an insult. The band also makes use of that unusual guitar tone by setting it against atmospheric keyboards, so that every song seems to be building towards a kind of epiphany, along the way to which the vocalist's rough voice forever struggles.

I can't really contend with the songwriting. There are ideas to spare by the time the album is halfway through and the quick pace at which they are delivered leaves me helpless to do anything but be swept along with them. These guys don't actually play so fast, it's just that the precision they play with and the momentum they gather as a result creates an astonishing flow that rarely leaves any time for contemplation. The guitarists' approach to melody is pretty interesting too, not really touching on any of the tried and tested In Flames or Soilwork stuff. If it helps you gauge how it sounds, there's half a second in 'Cure a Wound' when I hear a part of a Katatonia riff: then it's gone and I'm left wondering if this is what 'Tonight's Decision' would have sounded like at triple speed and with a death metal vocalist.

The album begins to slack a little by the time we get to 'Wastrel', which is well-done melodeath, though there are few surprises from the formula that the band have developed...except a power metal keyboard solo, heh-heh. The damage really is done in the first half of the album, where the breathless nature of the songs and the curious new elements initially overwhelm, so I would name the first four songs as strongest, not to say that there is anything disappointing on offer. Riffs stack up quickly and every solo is glorious, the lively bass is a brilliant feature, the ultra-tight drums a delight, the keyboards always used tastefully, and the vocals finely balanced: 'Spirits and August Light' is a delightful album and always an enjoyable listen, being both playful and dramatic. Long live Finnish melodeath!