Over the last few years, as the remaining remnants of melodic death metal withered on the vine, the genre as a whole began to suffer. It wasn't that the turn of the millennium strain of melodic death metal was a cultural touchstone that needed to be saved, but what replaced it didn't account for the very reason it ever existed. Melodic death metal was the bridge between those people who listen to music simply to be pounded by the loudest mash of noise possible, and those who can appreciate heavier sounds but still need to have a conventional song to wrap them in. Omnium Gatherum, along with Be'lakor, are the only bands who have managed to keep the bridge from falling into the chasm, while still maintaining, if not growing, their own popularity.
Last year saw Be'lakor winning accolades from all corners for their strong, but not career-best, effort, “Of Breath And Bone”. The most common theme through that praise was that they sounded a whole lot like Omnium Gatherum. So now that it's the original's turn once again, the comparison between the two bands must inevitably continue. When there are so few, the direct match-ups are inescapable.
What makes Omnium Gatherum different than every other death metal band is their ability to actually write music that is, dare I say, beautiful. The opening instrumental, “Luoto”, is three minutes of swelling sounds and melodic guitar leads, harkening back to the days when Death wasn't afraid to put a similar track, “Voice Of The Soul”, on their last album. Comparing this opening to the instant barrage Suffocation provided on “Pinnacle Of Bedlam” recently, the approaches to death metal are a welcome variance.
“New Dynamic” is still packed with melodic guitar ideas, but the roots of death metal are still apparent enough to anchor the music. The strong vocal in the chorus, the leads, and the clean vocals that pop up in the bridge all come together to make a strong first impression. There's a little bit of something for every metal fan to be found, unless you're one of those people who thinks turning the amps down from eleven is sacrilege.
The band shows a deft balancing of harder-edged death with lighter moments, both of which are able to highlight the other with a sense of songwriting sorely lacking from too much of the death metal we're subsumed by. Whether the tempered washes of keyboards, or the forays into clean guitar work, the songs ebb and flow rather than steamroll. “In The Rim” and “The Sonic Sign” aren't just good death metal songs, they're good songs regardless of the way they're presented. I can't say that about much of the death metal I come across.
The one criticism I can level at “Beyond” is in the vocals. While the rhythmic patterns and slight melodies running through the songs are above par, the actual performance put in by Jukka Pelkonen leaves a bit to be desired. Too often his vocal isn't coherent, and sounds as though he's struggling to reach the 'proper' level of grit. Pulling back to a more comfortable range may have done the material a fair bit of good, but would have likely led to more cries that this isn't true death metal, so I can see why he did things the way he did.
Returning to the start, and the best comparison I can draw, “Beyond” is a superior release to Be'lakor's latest effort. Vocal issues aside, “Beyond” is an assured set of songs that bring out the best in melodic death metal, in a way that's superior even to the original strain. A metal universe with a few more Omnium Gatherums in it would make my life a lot easier.