Infinite Minds: The Omnium Gatherum Story Part IIMonday, 29th April 2013
The second half of our story on Omnium Gatherum begins in early 2007. Reeling after being dropped by Nuclear Blast, the departure of long-time bassist Janne Markkanen and the sacking of singer Antti Filppu, the Finns were clearly licking their wounds. And in the here-today, gone-tomorrow underground scene, a swift reaction to right the ship was a clear no-brainer. Therefore, with no label and no frontman, guitarist and founding member Markus Vanhala plotted the course for what could be deemed as “OG Mach II.”
“After Years in Waste and touring that album we felt that we definitely have to do something completely new and big decisions soon or otherwise, the band would be falling apart fast,” he begins. “We had our Nightwish moment, end of an era. But we surely ain’t gonna have another Nightwish moment anymore, ha-ha. So enter Jukka – the awesome vocalist, bad ass frontman, and warm and extra nice person! From the first minutes of the first rehearsals with him, we knew that here it is, this is working 110%!”
“Jukka” is Jukka Pelkonen of Elenium fame. Elenium notched two albums in their career – 2003’s For Giving – For Getting, and 2007’s Caught in a Wheel. While the band’s keyboard-dominated sound failed to strike a chord with the international metal community, Pelkonen’s vocals had a left a distinct impression on Vanhala, who was well-versed in the singer’s considerable talents.
“OG was ‘a friend band’ with ’em since the late 90’s trading demos, I played some leads on their recordings and we played a big bunch of gigs together and partied a lot. So we knew that Jukka is a nice guy and perfect for this job and he is delivering the goods the way we like it. Jukka was the only person EVER to ask to fill the vocalist place. I called him and he said after two seconds that ‘sure, I’ll do this.’”
Before the band could settle the matter of topping Years in Waste, a new label deal was to be struck. Marking the third label for the band in as many albums, Omnium Gatherum hooked up with United Kingdom-based Candlelight Records, the label responsible for launching the careers of Opeth, Emperor, and fellow countrymen, Insomnium.
“We were searching a new label after the split with Nuclear Blast so I thought that Candlelight might be a good label home, admits Vanhala. “So I sent them a pre-production demo of the new material and some other stuff and I never got any reply… even [though] I asked with email many times. Then I told this to [the] Insomnium guys and they were right in the business and sending notes to Candlelight office that they should really check these guys out, and then the Candlelight staff asked me to send the material again and after that, they signed us right away. But that’s the way how the business goes. Too many fishes in the sea so even the good fishes are hidden and you have to have some connects and rumors to get ’em.”
With a label deal secure, recording for Stuck Here on Snake’s Way commenced in late 2006 at Southeast Studios in Karhula, Finland. Snake’s Way saw OG emerge as a more refined unit; the songs were tighter, while the riffs and melodies became more rigid. Opener “Into Sea” has a lavish Scandinavian flavor, “Dysnomia” gives direct nods to Wolverine Blues-era Entombed, while the dastardly groove of “A-Part of God” and “The Third Flame” serve as undeniably heavy and coarse offerings.
“’Into Sea’ is my favorite, also ‘Bastard-O,’” adds Pelkonen. “’Into Sea’ offers so much variety packed in a neat little package. This particular song really stands out from the other tracks. The song is very catchy but it also contains a progressive touch which makes it unique compared to the other songs on the album. ‘Third Flame’ is a song that gets really close to that feeling but does not quite reach the level, though. This is of course, my personal opinion. ‘Bastard-O’ on the other hand, is a song that is so perverse in itself it blows my mind. The shear aggressive touch combined with twisted composing really give me a chill. The song has this ‘cowboy’ touch to it too which is fresh in the OG camp.”
“’Into Sea’ is then more like a door way to the more fast newer stuff of OG like ‘Nail,’ ‘Ego,’ ‘Nova Flame’ and ‘New Dynamic’ for example,” Vanhala chimes. “The musical evolution always goes via these doorway songs where you find something new to your output and step into that new world!”
Seeing Red…and Swano
Barely a calendar year after the release of Stuck Here on Snake’s Way, the band went back to work at Southeast Studios for the recording of 2008’s, The Redshift. An obvious continuation from its predecessor, The Redshift saw the Finns haul out even more towering melodies, and saw Pelkonen put his stamp on the recordings even more. “We simply had so good feeling and chemistry in the band after Jukka joined us, so we were full of creative force and new material just were flying in the air so much and easily,” says Vanhala. “We sensed that this is [such] a good fit that we can do it so much better than we did on The Snakes Way, so hey, let’s go!”
“It was time to move forward and the idea of musical changes had been cooking in the lab for some time then,” confirms Pelkonen. “So it really was an actualization of our plans to take a new step music-wise in OG.”
Opening with lead single (and video) “Nail,” The Redshift has several direct shots, including “A Shadowkey,” which boasts one of the band’s more saccharine and flowing melodies to date. “I just started to write more melodic songs with this one, ’cause I just simply love more melodic stuff and wanted to come back in a way towards the glory days of Spirits And August Light,” boasts Vanhala. “There was no leftover stuff, so I started from absolute zero and the first songs to emerge were ‘2nd Flame,’ ‘Shadowkey’ and ‘Nail,’ and I right away noticed that I’m going to the right direction and just kept on exploring and composing via that path!”
And some new steps like Pelkonen stated above? Start with the band’s first quasi-ballad in the form of “Greeneyes.” Vanhala enthuses, but disagrees with us at the same time: “Well, I think the really first OG ballad was ‘Just Signs’ from The Snakes Way. But ‘Greeneyes’ really was the most melodic OG song to that date, so yes that was one of these doorways I was telling before. Doorways to these new perfumed gardens of musical delights.”
The ace in the hole for The Redshift is Dan Swano, who handled mixing and mastering duties. A certifiable legend in death metal circles thanks to his work with Edge of Sanity (a band OG clearly bears some influence from), Swano’s production resume included other noteworthy acts such as Katatonia, Marduk, and Dark Funeral. For the OG crew, working with the Swede in his Orebo-based Unisound Studios was a dream come true.
“It was strange nightly brainstorm back in the day,” admits Vanhala. “I was listening to old Edge of Sanity and thought what hell happened to Dan’s legendary Unisound Studios where all the great Swedish death and black metal albums were made back in the ’90s. Checked it from the internet and saw that Dan had just RE-OPENED the studio, so it was like a destiny or at least a damn good timing. Then I hit him with an email and got fast reply that he liked the band and are surely into working with us. I was pretty happy and amazed that I even had a conversation with my old hero.”
“Dan the man has been a big influence to many members of the group,” affirms Pelkonen. “Back in when we were teenagers we really liked Dan’s various projects like Edge of Sanity, Moontower etc. So it was a big thing for us to work with him. The cooperation has been fluid and fruitful from the start. Mr. Swano can really heighten the mood in the songs through his work and he also knows how to listen to us when the whirlwind of ideas in the mixing are sent back and forth between Dan and us.”
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