A Dark Halo – Omnibus One Review

What is cyber metal? That’s the question that I got stuck on as I was snorkeling through the dregs of the promo bin and came across A Dark Halo’s sophomore album, Omnibus One. I had never heard of this band (billed as cyber metal) before but maybe they were all robots or some sick shit like that. A quick scan of the liner notes further whetted my curiosity with mention of “a fierce display of ludicrously heavy guitars.” Since I love anything that’s ludicrous (except for the guy who’s actually named Ludacris) and I love heavy guitar, it seemed like I had found a golden nugget in a sea of turds. I gently peeled the file from the bin, scraped away the burrito wrapper stuck to it, and placed it in my computer. Was I about to enter a new world of advanced metal – one that our forefathers who toiled with Marshall stacks and sweaty leather pants could never have envisioned? Or, was this just another “chip” off the same olde block?

The first thing I noticed is that cyber metal sounds a lot like nu-metal. Well, not exactly nu-metal but more like mid-2000s In Flames trying to be nu-metal, nu-metal. The opening riff to “Thin Be the Veil” pounds in with that low-register, repetitive chug that the kids loved back in the mid-90s and apparently still love. Nostalgic elements aside, there’s a definite formula to the songs that’s more contemporary. The order is more or less: detuned guitar riff, angry guy verse, soaring female chorus, pleasant electronic interlude, E-string/ double bass breakdown, repeat. While I generalize here, sticking to a formula is not necessarily a bad thing if done well. After all, most Judas Priest songs could probably be summed up in three to five short bullet (belt) points. The creativity a band demonstrates within the constraints they place on themselves is what makes them great.

This was a grower for me. Songs got stuck in my head and the album became a nice soundtrack for the end of the day. What A Dark Halo does well is balance catchy choruses and melodic passages with pounding guitar riffs. I mostly prefer the melodic work, but the harsh vocals and chug-a-chug of the riffs provide an interesting juxtaposition that I’d describe as an angrier-sounding Astronoid. Overall, the album has a heavy but chill vibe that is bolstered by some lovely guitar work. “Starfall” is a good example of these elements working in harmony. While more poppy, I find its huge hooks more engaging than saccharine and I appreciate the restraint applied to the harsher vocals. The song also contains one of my favorite guitar solos in recent memory. In a time when every band seems to have a guitar virtuoso, I favor those who use the instrument to create a narrative beyond the rapid-fire 16th notes. I hear a compelling voice come through in Abe Robertson’s guitar work here. It’s heartfelt, melodic, and takes you to a new place in the song.

Curiously, A Dark Halo’s previous record, Catalyst, from 2018 sounds much darker. There’s an unsettling feeling that lingers below the surface bolstered by a grittier production and more 90s-era electronica. Imagine Trent Reznor producing Powerman 5000. With Omnibus One it feels like the band wanted to create a more polished product and perhaps crack the Evanescence market. Here, they produced a kind of soundtrack to their escape that showcases both musical maturity and a commercial U-turn. The result is mostly compelling, but the album is hindered by the same yawning mid-range Metallica click-track tempo in nearly every song. Then there are the tiring breakdowns for breakdown sake over and over like those in “It Never Sleeps” and “Flame Betide.” And, there’s that band photo from their Red Dwarf cosplay days…

I’ve learned that cyber metal isn’t exactly my thing and I’m not sure how often I’ll return to this record, but it does showcase some talent and creative voice. There’s musicianship and songcraft at work here within a very genre-focused sound. I found it more a record to have on in the background than to work out to. My hope is that A Dark Halo germinates some of the melo-death seeds that they planted here instead of bringing us the nth variation of their favorite Korn riffs. Then I’d hop on the omni-bus too.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Self-Released
Websites: adarkhalo.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/ADarkHalo
Releases Worldwide: July 14th, 2023

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