When great music flows from a band like water, it cranks up expectation to burning point. Your nerves tingle at the mere mention of a new official video. And your palms sweat a little as the band’s shiny new promo drops like manna into your outstretched, grabby hands (or at least it would if we still received physical promo). Back in 2008, Omnium Gatherum released The Redshift. It wasn’t the first rodeo for these Finnish melodic death dealers, but it was the first that got their growing fan-base to sit up and take notice. New World Shadows offered fans a moody skyline and so much more. The album not only earned a glowing 4.5 from a tight-fisted and miserly Angry Metal Guy, but it went on to become Steel Druhm‘s top album for 2011. Follow-up album, Beyond, carried with it the band’s Insomnium inspired sound, not only gaining the band yet another great score, but latching onto a noteworthy spot in Steel Druhm’s Top Ten(ish) of 2013. With so many full-bodied offerings under their belt, can Omnium Gatherum make a clean sweep giving themselves a mighty four out of four winning streak?
Grey Heavens is exactly what the name implies, it puts Omnium Gatherum in a grey area. It neither reaches the heights of New World Shadows and Beyond, nor does it leave the bittersweet taste of disappointment in your mouth. There’s a word for that, but I’m not allowed to use it. “The Pit” opens up more boldly that I expected, with Omnium Gatherum forcefully delivering their characteristic sound. Structurally, the song feels like a logical follow-up to where Beyond finished off. It’s a fast number, with lots of bite, twists and turns and some guitar work that sends me rummaging through Magnus Karlsson‘s past musical endeavors. It’s not all bombast and bluster and when things slow down, they’re thoughtful, dogged by reminiscence and moments of wistful nostalgia. Apart from feeling overly familiar in arrangement, it’s the unexpected cheesiness of the clean vocal delivery that really drags “The Pit” downward.
“Skyline” follows on very closely and consistently to “The Pit,” and most likely you’ll not even realize that a new track has begun. If it weren’t for the vigorous Avatar-like back and forth interaction, I might not even have looked up from my keyboard and caught the name change. “Frontiers” begins with an Amorphis-inspired intro before drifting into something akin to Voyager‘s “Iron Dream.” I’m not sure if it’s the lingering tragedy of Peter Steele’s death that permeates the mood, or whether “Frontiers” is just in fact that catchy, either way, it takes the honors of the strongest and most memorable song on Grey Heavens. “Majesty and Silence” has the darkest intro, and you wouldn’t be remiss in expecting a tirade of self harm and destructive philosophies from the likes of either of Skitliv‘s front-men were this that kind of blackened album. Instead Jukka Pelkonen’s burly vocal delivery breaks your trance and the track instead follows the sobering course that I’ve come to associate with a band like In Mourning. In case it hasn’t become crystal clear from my little synopsis, Grey Heaven’s is very front-end loaded. There are good to great moments in “The Pit,” “Skyline,” “Frontiers” and “Majesty and Silence,” but when I move beyond these opening tracks, my attention wanes quickly.
Omnium Gatherum once again left their mix and mastering in the very capable hands of Dan “the-Man” Swanö of Unisound. Thus far he’s applied his production skills to The Redshift, New World Shadows and Beyond, and I like the distinct sense of continuity that this brings to the band’s discography. What does surprise me though is that Grey Heavens demonstrates a marked shift towards improved dynamics and a much higher than before DR measurement. Where Omnium Gatherum‘s earlier albums could hardly be called works of dynamic prowess, Grey Heavens achieves some pretty decent levels. As expected, this has a positive effect on the listening experience, which leaves me wondering why I’m sometimes left wanting Grey Heavens and more importantly Jukka Pelkonen turned up a notch. I guess there’s just no pleasing the damn masses, right?!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, there are good to great moments on Grey Heavens, but listening beyond “The Great Liberation”‘s high-reaching guitar solos and pretty Amorphis-like keyboards, there’s very little to grasp onto and hold my attention. That combined with throw-away tracks like “These Grey Heavens” leads me to one conclusion – Grey Heavens would have made a very good seven or eight-track album. I can’t say I’m disappointed in Grey Heavens, but it doesn’t make me want to rush out and sell my soul to get a copy either.