Artist: Omnium Gatherum
Album Title: The Burning Cold
Label: Century Media Records
Date of Release: 31 August 2018
It was within my review of ‘Grey Heavens’ in 2016 that I threw out into the open the possibility of Omnium Gatherum being my favourite melodic death metal band of all-time. It is in 2018 with the release of this, the Finns’ eighth full-length studio album that I confirm this position and shout it from the rooftops: OMNIUM GATHERUM ARE THE BEST MELODIC DEATH METAL BAND ON EARTH!
Did you hear that in every corner of the world? I hope so, because it is a statement that needs to be heard given how criminally underrated this talented sextet have been throughout their career. It is criminal because there has rarely been a wrong step from Omnium Gatherum over the years and, since the release of the exquisite ‘Beyond’ in 2013, these guys have taken their craft to an entirely new level of excellence. And, dare I say it, they have honed their craft to become ever-more original and with a clear identity all of their own. They might be lumped into the melodeath genre, and that overall description is warranted at its most basic level. However, to leave it there is doing this band a disservice.
Coining the phrase ‘adult-oriented death metal’ some years ago, Omnium Gatherum have always had a tender side. As such, they have consistently sought to blend the heavy and abrasive elements of death metal, with the soothing, atmospheric and downright gorgeous elements of AOR. And they do it brilliantly, as ‘The Burning Cold’ demonstrates, seemingly with ease. Swathes of keys, offering their soft, welcoming and atmospheric embrace are an ever-present aspect of the Omnium Gatherum sound, but rather than interfere with the overall feel of the music, they very much enhance it as far as I’m concerned.
What I love most about Omnium Gatherum though, and what makes me go weak at the knees every time I hear it is the combination of two big factors, namely those massive, atmospheric keys and the dual guitar harmonies and lead melodies. Together, the end result is devastating, pure nectar to these ears. Granted the Finns can belt out the spiky, heavy riffs and can provide some hugely powerful rhythms – without this they’d struggle to warrant the metal tag. However, it is the immediacy of the material that has an equally big impact upon me, not to mention the sheer amount of warmth that their music contains. Listening to Omnium Gatherum is a bittersweet experience; dark and heavy but also strangely uplifting and life-affirming. It’s hard to articulate, but that’s how this music makes me feel.
So, when I heard this new album, ‘The Burning Cold’ and when I heard the very first melodic refrain within the opening instrumental, ‘The Burning’, it was like I was welcoming back an old friend. In fact, I was immediately transported back to the ‘Beyond’ days, still arguably my favourite in the band’s back catalogue to date.
Despite these immediate similarities, one thing is noticeably different between ‘The Burning Cold’ and previous albums is that here, there are no longer songs. ‘Beyond’ had a couple of tracks over 8 minutes long, whilst ‘Grey Heavens’ had one. On ‘The Burning Cold’, every one of the 11 tracks clocks in at under six minutes in length. You’d therefore think, as I feared initially, that Omnium Gatherum may have sacrificed some of their ‘epicness’ in the apparent pursuit of succinctness.
Well, you’d be wrong, because ‘The Burning Cold’ is every bit as epic and grandiose, just in a more honed way. It is testament to their song writing nous, as the Finns become ever more confident and adept at creating their music.
Take arguably my favourite song on ‘The Burning Cold’ as the perfect example. ‘Rest In Your Heart’ is such a great track – it features everything I love about Omnium Gatherum in one glorious whole and it has to be in with a shout of being one of my favourite Omnium songs ever. It opens with the sound of smooth, modern synths before in marches a heavy and arresting mid-to-slow tempo stomp, driven by an effective drum beat from their most recent recruit, Tuomo Latvala and the guitar riffs of Markus Vanhala and Joonas Koto. As the song develops, hints at the future melodies start to creep in and lace the chorus until the song opens up to deliver an incredibly catchy and melodic chorus. The entire track, like most on this album, are bathed in Aapo Koivisto’s keys that add plenty of atmosphere whilst acting as an edge softener. The lead guitar harmonies are excellent, as is the quiet segment that arrives out of nowhere. This is pure AOR territory as it is a beautiful acoustic and piano-laden section with a delicately whispering electric guitar lead. The tension as it builds back up is superb, as is the pay-off which is one more exultant reprise of the central chorus melody. It ends as serenely as it began, with the keys accompanied by the sounds of waves lapping on the shore.
To be entirely fair ‘Rest In Your Heart’ might be my favourite track at this moment in time, but I suspect that things will change frequently because there is something to love about every single song on this album.
‘Gods Go First’ is a face-melter of an opening song, complete with all-out attack double-pedal drumming, a thrumming bass line from Erkki Silvennoinen and fast, razor-sharp riffs, overlaid with those guitar harmonies of that I spoke of earlier. It is a heavy track with Jukka Pelkonen’s ever-present and distinctive gravelly growl only underlining the death metal credentials at play here. There is also a great extended lead guitar solo section to be heard. But thanks to the guitar melodies and the swathes of synths, this song has an immediacy and makes a huge impact. The introduction of sparingly-used clean, multi-layered vocals adds a nice touch too, something that might just be creeping into the Omnium Gatherum sound just that little bit more. But worry not extreme metal fans, the growl, which is one of the very best in the business still makes up about 90-95% of the vocal parts, just as it should be with this band.
‘Refining Fire’ is a powerful follow-up, almost Maiden-esque in places thanks to the galloping, playful nature of some of the music, not to mention another big chorus. It also stomps like its predecessor but as the title of the track suggests, this feels a touch more refined, with plenty of space built in to the composition for the keys to work their magic, as well as a few more clean vocals, albeit hushed into the background and heavily affected.
Having said that the vocals are 90% growled, it seems a little contradictory but important to mention that within ‘Over The Battlefield’ we are treated to a sumptuous quieter interlude with some of the most pronounced and impassioned clean singing I’ve ever heard from Omnium Gatherum. The way the song comes back via some expressive lead guitar work is impressive, but equally impressive is the way the song effortlessly flits between light and shade to create some classy inter-song dynamics.
‘The Fearless Entity’ kicks off in pure melodic hard rock territory before introducing an-upbeat dual lead-guitar harmony that out-Arch Enemy’s Arch Enemy. ‘Be The Sky’, meanwhile, is made all the better thanks to a wonderful bass line in the quieter, more contemplative mid-section, dancing around playfully.
The following two tracks arguably offer the greatest contrast on ‘The Burning Cold’. Firstly, there’s ‘Driven By Conflict’ which has a demonstrable black metal feel thanks to the Gothic-sounding keys that smother a frenetic blitz that’s dominated by fast-picked riffs and blastbeats. ‘The Frontline’ is markedly different from its rather savage predecessor. It is the one song that took me the longest to appreciate fully. It reminds me of latter day In Flames insofar as it has a folky, swaying, waltzy feel, especially with the almost spoken-word vocals and the acoustic guitars. It is a little bit different for this band and whilst I like the epic and euphoric ending portion, it is probably my least favourite track on the album.
‘Planet Scale’ is another very cinematic and grandiose track, arguably the album’s most opulent moment. I love the way that it toys with its pace frequently, moving from fast to slow in the blink of an eye. Again, it creates a great sense of dynamics and only enhances the effects of the layers of synths that drip from every pore.
And then there’s the final act. I love the sombre ‘One’-esque four-note opening guitar picking of the final track, ‘Cold’. Plus, I really appreciate the reprise of the melodies first introduced in the opening intro. It is a theme borrowed from ‘Beyond’, which did the same to great effect. The result is every bit as engaging and welcome here, as the album draws to a close, coming around full circle in the process.
Once again, Omnium Gatherum have delivered a boy of work that further underlines their extensive qualities, whilst continuing to build on their numerous strengths in all the process. ‘The Burning Cold’ is, quite simply, an album with class stamped right through it. And so, in homage to Omnium Gatherum, I’m going to conclude this review by reprising something I said at the beginning of this piece: OMNIUM GATHERUM ARE THE BEST MELODIC DEATH METAL BAND ON EARTH!
The Score of Much Metal: 9.75
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Helion Prime – Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster
Madder Mortem – Marrow
A Dying Planet – Facing The Incurable
Árstíðir – Nivalis
Mob Rules – Beast Reborn
The Spirit – Sounds From The Vortex
Aethereus – Absentia
Unanimated – Annihilation
Manticora – To Kill To Live To Kill
Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name
Halcyon Way – Bloody But Unbowed
Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 1
Redemption – Long Night’s Journey Into Day
Distorted Harmony – A Way Out
Tomorrow’s Eve – Mirror of Creation III – Project Ikaros
Atrocity – Okkult II
Lux Terminus – The Courage To Be
Kataklysm – Meditations
Marduk – Viktoria
Midas Fall – Evaporate
The Sea Within – The Sea Within
Haken – L-1VE
Follow The Cipher – Follow The Cipher
Spock’s Beard – Noise Floor
Ihsahn – Amr
The Fierce And The Dead – The Euphoric
Millennial Reign – The Great Divide
Subsignal – La Muerta
At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Hekz – Invicta
Widow’s Peak – Graceless EP
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse