Friday, February 26, 2016

Omnium Gatherum - Grey Heavens (2016)

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 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.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

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