Twenty-five years into a creatively glittering career, OMNIUM GATHERUM are still the great unsung heroes of melodic death metal. The last 20 years have been a weird time for the subgenre, not least due to metalcore’s plundering of its key tenets, but while many of us are inclined to hide behind the sofa when IN FLAMES release a new album these days, Markus Vanhala‘s self-styled merchants of “Adult Oriented Death Metal” have been a model of consistency, building up a sturdy catalogue of acclaimed records along the way. In less capable hands, this band’s blending of melo-death ferocity with the sugary melodies of AOR could be disastrous, but as with everything the Finns have released since their 2003 immaculate debut, “Spirits and August Light”, “Origin” — their ninth full-length — showcases a masterful weaving of those ideas, resulting in some sincerely colossal slabs of life-affirming heavy metal. Half of the lineup that made 2018’s magnificent “The Burning Cold” have departed since its release, but despite staring disintegration in the eye, Vanhala has regrouped here with a new formation and some of his most grandiose and irresistible material yet.
In stark contrast to the glossy end of the melo-death realm, OMNIUM GATHERUM take audible pride in the tethering of old-school death metal’s power to the emotional ship’s mast of ’80s radio rock, while eschewing metal’s morbid preoccupations in favor of huge, uplifting emotional crescendos. Overture “Emergence” is almost overt in its debt to classic ’80s metal, from its “Heaven & Hell” stomp to its distinctly SURVIVOR-like waves of synthesizer. Here once again Vanhala‘s melodic sensibilities have an immediate impact, deft chord changes conjuring an atmosphere of widescreen, progressively inclined awe.
When first proper song “Prime” kicks in, it’s genuinely stirring in the same way that melodic death metal’s greatest arcane classics were, but with a density of sound and a nimbleness of gait that make it sound unprecedented and vital too. Frontman Jukka Pelkonen‘s devastating roar is as natural a fit as ever — the humanizing howl at the heart of these gleaming, futuristic onslaughts — as he hammers home a series of razor-sharp hooks with spittle-spraying authority. Recent singles “Paragon” and “Reckoning” are both grand examples of OMNIUM GATHERUM‘s enduring prowess: in particular, the former is the kind of perfect, four-minute melo-death anthem that no one (else) seems to make anymore.
Even as one is bombarded by giant tunes and a mounting sense of fists-in-the-air wonder, Vanhala‘s crew are more than capable of expanding their remit and diving into more progressive waters. “Fortitude” is a beautifully melancholy thing that switches seamlessly from mid-paced crunch to shimmering, post-rock sweep, before a final crescendo of almost intolerable gorgeousness; closer “Solemn” is a barreling, prog-death sprawl that cries out to be performed at a festival at sunset, such is its skull-rattling brawn, lethally sweet melodic drive and heart-wrenching dynamics. As it fades, sparkling, to a close, diehard fans may reasonably ponder why this band are not vastly more popular and successful.
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