Infinite Minds: The Omnium Gatherum Story Part I

Sunday, 28th April 2013

Blast off! Or not…
In underground metal terms, signing to Nuclear Blast Records is like getting the call up to the big leagues. And if we examine the climate of the mid-00’s, no style rang louder than melodic death metal. In Flames were in the throes of their brief flirtation with commercial success, Soilwork had come to define good cop/bad cop aesthetics, Arch Enemy became Century Media’s cash cow, and Dark Tranquillity rode the wave of Damage Done into global notoriety. Of course any band would want to make the jump…Omnium Gatherum were no exception.

“I can remember we were pretty excited about the Nuclear Blast,” relates Pikka. “We thought that now there would be some decent touring and gigs abroad. Also, [a] bigger audience would be familiar with the music of OG. These were the first impressions about [the] bigger label, but we were now a small fish in a big sea.”

“We went to Markus’ summer cottage and decided to take new promo pictures for our new record company, including full-frontal male nudity. I wonder if we ever sent them those,” jokes Markkanen.

Vanhala provides what is perhaps the best summation of the band’s hopes: “It was the gut feeling of us becoming soon the new In Flames and Soilwork, or something. Things went to pro!”

og-yearsinwasteOnce the excitement over signing to Nuclear Blast died down (and the nude pics were discarded in the mail), they were faced with the harsh realization of exactly what Pikka stated above: They were small fish in a very big sea. The band’s deal with Nuclear Blast was for the un-friendly and uncertain one album and five options, meaning, if the band sold well enough on Years of Waste, they’d be given another shot with their next album, so on and so forth. Aspirations of making it out of Finland and mainland Europe were quickly dashed, along with hopes of hanging on with the label.

“They had a really small amount of plans for us and didn’t do much for our business to be honest,” says Vanhala. “Of course a big label as Nuclear Blast does good for bands’ profile even they’re not working 100% for the band. So after all, it was good move in a way. But we were just waiting to get our asses to tour over the world and back, but nothing happened on that side and we were told some weird stuff like ‘It doesn’t make sense /not worth the money, etc.’”

“The contract ended with no exact reasons,” adds Pikka. “We all had some daily activities back then, and most of us still did full time jobs, etc. There should have been required more push and investments from Nuclear Blast. That way we could have been able to do it financially. Full-time heavy metal musician could be a cool thing to do!”

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERANot helping matters was Filppu’s rather vocal (excuse the pun) opposition toward the way Nuclear Blast was treating the band. “It was about rock and roll, not bending over for the big guys,” he notes. “But of course, this kind of assholeness did not help the band. Still I am not sorry, and the interviews were much more fun this way. But if I was now in that same position, maybe I would think twice before biting the hand that feeds. Well, there never was that much support from the NB, anyway. But one can’t blame them. A big label has its priorities.”

Lost in the squabble with Nuclear Blast is the album itself. As a successor to Spirits and August Light, Years in Waste proved to be up to the task, taking the heightened, earthy riff-action to new extremes, resulting in what is easily the band’s dirtiest and most progressive album to date. A strange dichotomy indeed, but the full-frontal assault of “Waste of Bereavement,” technical wizardry of “The Nolan’s Fati” and sullen “More Withering” proved that OG’s palette was far wider than some of their contemporaries.

“We were having a tech and prog chapter of the band during those years, and the song writing suffered lil bit because of that,” admits Vanhala. “And we wanted to deliver something different than on the debut to keep things interesting for ourselves. It’s a strange album with strange feel and the too-polished power metal production makes it even more strange. But there’s really good songs on the album too, like my album favorites ‘Black Seas Cry’ and ‘Auguries Gone.’”

And the suggestions the album sounds “dirty?” Pikka agrees. Filppu, not so much.

“Yes. It is maybe the ‘dirtiest” album we have written,” says Pikka. “The writing process was split between Harri and Markus. Again, Antti did the lyrics and the arrangements were written by all of us. That time we did lots of practice together which isn’t possible nowadays. I still think it is quite tight album with good songs, but maybe the overall picture is too experimental for most of the people.”

“Not at all,” exclaims Filppu. “Definitely not a dirty album. We have used the word ‘dirty’ when it comes to Spirits, but never with Years in Waste. Many musicians and even some members of the band have kept on saying that Years in Waste is among the best albums OG have done. At least it is the most sophisticated of the early ones, that much I can give credit to it. But I don’t compare.”

og-antti 2004The fall goes right through –>here<–
The longstanding criticism with early Omnium Gatherum centered on Filppu. Guttural, imprecise, and oftentimes akin to a rabid dog with no bone, Filppu’s vocal stylings served as turn-off to many who thought the band needed someone more discernible to connect with In Flames and Soilwork. Snagging an Anders Friden or Speed Strid clone never quite seemed to matter in the equation with OG, though. They just carried on with Filppu for as long as they could before it was clear to both parties that it was time to part

“We didn’t have any big troubles with Antti,” relays Pikka. “We felt that he wasn’t 100% with the band anymore. That was one reason that we thought to have a new singer. Antti had his own style in his vocals. There were reviews which didn’t like the vocals and some reviews said the opposite. Still, we thought that we should try to go with him, but after the motivation issues started to happen, we were forced to move on.”

“I think it was more like we were going to different directions style-wise and in life itself too,” chimes in Vanhala. “Antti wasn’t really into being a death metal frontman, even though he loved it and hated it at the same time. I guess we were then also longing after something new to our output.”

The decision to remove Filppu came in mid-2006, well after promotion for Years in Waste had wrapped up. With their label situation in limbo and distance growing between the two parties, the decision to fire Filppu was made, with Pikka delivering the bad news.

“I sent Markus a text message asking if this was true – and if not, when’s the next rehearsal,” says Filppu. “He put Jarmo to do the dirty work and tell me that I’m out, and there will be no discussions or negotiations. That hurt me, of course, because we had agreed that we will talk about things together, no matter what. But the truth is that I was just as happy to be out of the band as I had been in it. Ever since the beginning I was ready to step aside.

“And when the troubles came, I saved what I could save: first Nuclear Blast told us that our January 2006 demo had good music with bad vocals,” he continues. “I think it just may have caused a little problem inside the band, you know. I sent Andy [Siry, Nuclear Blast head of A&R] an email and told him that if he likes the music, let the band continue with a new singer, I could go out as this was ‘just a teenage nostalgia trip’ for me and the band deserved a real chance. He answered that I should stay in the band, Nuke will not sign OG anymore. Then we had a discussion with Markus and everything seemed to be ok. But when Spinefarm told the same thing: the music is good, vocals are bad, and I think it finally did the trick. No one answered my phone calls and eventually I would see a dream in which OG was looking for a new singer.”

Filppu’s tenure with the band was from 2000 to 2006, having helped guide OG during their formative years. It will forever be his off-beat, eccentric lyrics heard on “Amor Tonight,” “Son’s Thoughts,” and perhaps his best moment, “It’s A Long Night” that define OG’s unique flavor. There hasn’t been a melodic death metal vocalist since Filppu who operated in such a loose, personal fashion. Indeed, the anti-frontman Antti was ready to move on, too.

“It was Markus who pulled the strings and I was truly just doing a favor for a friend, ever since the beginning in 2000-2001,” he finishes. “It was always his call not mine. So there were no hard feelings in that sense. And besides, this kind of jesting needs a decent end, like in those hazy Wild West movies. Nobody knows what actually happened, shots were fired, smoke everywhere…and someone has disappeared from the stage. But that’s what cowboys do.”

Without a label and singer, Omnium Gatherum were left twisting in the wind in 2006. Fortunately, an old friend came to the rescue, opening a new chapter for the band…

Part II of the Omnium Gatherum story will post Tuesday, April 30.

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