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A truly spiritual undertaking. - 85%

hells_unicorn, April 13th, 2013

It's been a longstanding principle that if one truly wants to know a band, go back to their earliest offerings and set them as the basis of its worth. This naturally comes with the caveat that every band has the opportunity to improve over time, but there isn't really a second go around at a first impression, and many bands sink or swim based on their first LP. By the standards of contemporary Finnish melodeath by 2003, Omnium Gatherum's debut "Spirits And August Light" can be seen as par for the course, incorporating most of the usual tricks of the trade from a strong keyboard emphasis, technical guitar playing, and a mid-ranged lead vocal growl that tends to mirror that sepulchral mutterings of Alexi Laiho of Children Of Bodom fame.

While stylistically this is pretty standard fair for Finland in the early 2000s, the delivery is fairly unique when considering the competitors. In somewhat of a similar vain as early COB (think "Hatrebreeder" and "Follow The Reaper), there is a tendency toward speed thrashing with a lesser emphasis though still a real presence of slower, NWOBHM inspired melodic content and atmospheric devices that was more a staple of the Gothenburg sound. Nevertheless, there is a pretty overt nod to Dark Tranquillity to be found in "The Perfumed Garden" that really brings out the singing, Iron Maiden oriented guitar riffs and even throws in some acoustic guitar work, though mixed in with a lot of shredding and technical gymnastics that hints at the subtle influence that Yngwie Malmsteen had on Finnish melodeath, nay, the entire Finnish metal scene.

Truth be told, this is the only offering out of this band that truly attempts at matching the speed and climactic zeal of both Kalmah and COB, and never really lets up from the impressive foray of frenzied power metal influences. When approaching the blistering riff machines that are "Amor Tonight" and "Cure A Wound", one wouldn't be able to help but speculate that a different duo of guitarists put this album together, in contrast to the next 3 albums which actually have the same two axe men in congress. These are the sorts of blistering cacophonies of harmonic consonance and aggression that made "Hatebreeder" such a thrilling listening experience, though here it's slightly more restrained and has the misfortune of being put together about 3 years too late to claim pioneer status.

But more powerful of a factor on this album than even the powerful songwriting and technical mastery is the melding together of each individual part into a cohesive, unified whole. The balance and production work on this album approaches impeccable when accounting for the era it seeks to capture. Nino Laurenne, whose work with Kiuas and Wintersun in the recording studio have proven exemplary, really outdid himself in the way the instruments all have their individual presence without sounding detached or jumbled in the process. A good basis of comparison would be the aesthetic achieved on the Wintersun debut, though on a slightly smaller scale given the lack of dueling clean and harsh vocal tracking and a smaller overall instrument arrangement.

This is an album from what is now largely a bygone period where Finnish melodeath was animated and downright formidable. Occasionally some glimmers of this youthful and explosive period can be heard in the recent works of prime movers Kalmah and Children Of Bodom, but most of them have found themselves in a more scaled back and nuanced state, including this particular band given recent output. Ultimately Omnium Gatherum would prove to be slightly more adept at offering up a slower, more contemplative approach to this style than some others, but "Spirits And August Light" stands among the more impressive works to come about in the closing period of the early 2000s when swamps and The Reaper's scythe were at the helm.