Omnium Gatherum is a band that took a while to win me over. I didn’t care for their first few albums, finding them rather boring and uninteresting. It wasn’t until The Redshift that something clicked for me, and it clicked hard. I was floored by the mix of heaviness and melody and wondered where they’d hid all those hooks in the past. 2011s New World Shadows was even better, re-energizing the melodic melo-death genre and nailing Album o’ the Year from yours Steely. 2013’s Beyond kept the good times rolling, but I wasn’t all that impressed with 2016s Grey Heavens. To my ears it felt flat and a bit boring, and the inclusion of a more stripped down modern sound didn’t feel like it fit the band’s tried-and-true formula. Naturally this led me to approach The Burning Cold with some trepidation, hoping for a return to form but bracing for diminishing returns. So which will it be for this Finnish melo-death institution? Newfound glory or further decline?
After a quintessential Omnium Gatherum mopey mood-piece intro, they smack the listener with a steel i-beam on “Gods Go First,” reintroducing us to what they do so well. It’s aggressive, heavy and urgent melo-death with their trademark ear for melody and hooks, full of slick, flashy guitar-work playing off crunchy riffs and the low-register death croaks of Jukka Pelkonen. The writing is definitely a return to the New World Shadows era but with an ever so slightly modern hue passed down from Grey Heavens. This time though, the fusion of new and old is organic and seamlessly executed, resulting in a rocking, rolling hit. “Redefining Fire” is more of the same, almost like classic In Flames married to the New World Shadows style, managing to be heavy and somber, and a wee bit sadboy all at once.
The first two-thirds of The Burning Cold deliver all that a fan of the band could want. Big riffs, big moods, epic-sized moments and enough aggression and heaviness to keep the death in the melo-death. “Rest in Your Heart” is the most “modern” song, sounding a lot like “Skyline” from Grey Heavens, but rather than feeling like forced innovation, it makes sense here and manages to stick the landing. Some of the guitars and keyboards on “The Fearless Entity” would be right at home on the latest Night Flight Orchestra album as they bear a distinct 80s flavor, and there are even some traces of Scar Symmetry in the writing. It’s the album’s final act that leaves me a bit less enthused, with “Planet Scale” providing anthemic riffing but failing to fully grab me, and closer “Cold” delivering moody sadboy fare but in a slightly less enthralling way. At 51-plus minutes, chopping one or both of these cuts would have elevated the overall package considerably, but the final product is still a major return to form.
The band took pains to dial-up the urgency this time out, which makes for a more dynamic and engaging listen than the last platter. Markus Vanhala and Joonas Koto bring the thunder with vibrant riffing and all manner of slick harmonies and soaring solos. Keyboardist Aapo Koivisto adds the extra layer of melody, but doesn’t often attempt to upstage or overwhelm the guitars or turn things into a cheddar-fest or disco club. Jukka Pelkonen does his utmost to keep things heavy at all times with his tooth-rattling roars. There are a few scattered clean vocals (unsure who provides them), and they add something to the mix making me wish there were more of them, but I love Jukka’s vocals and he does a fine job.
After a few weeks spinning The Burning Cold, it’s clear Omnium Gatherum still have what it takes to deliver a crushing melo-death platter. This is a superior album to Grey Heavens and sees the band back in the fight to rule the genre, hopefully for a long time to come. Fans of melo-death, take note and act accordingly.