Omnium Gatherum – Shining a Light on OriginsThursday, 4th November 2021
Finnish melodic death metal band Omnium Gatherum recently celebrated 25 years of existence, and what better way to show it than with a brand new album. Origins is the latest in their catalog, with the band’s usual blend of uplifting melodies and aggressive riffs polished to a pristine shine. We chatted with guitarist Markus Vanhala about the new album, differentiating between Omnium Gatherum and Insomnium, his new band I Am The Night, and a look back to the beginnings of the COVID pandemic while the band had just reached US shores.
Dead Rhetoric: What was it like to be out on the road, just starting this big tour and then it’s completely cancelled the first day in?
Markus Vanhala: We had the worst start to this pandemic shitstorm, because I didn’t give many thoughts about the virus at all and I happened to watch the Finnish news the morning we were flying to New York – that was the first time when I thought it might be something bad because New York was like chaos. When we were in the air, the global pandemic had risen to the next level and JFK airport was closed. It was completely silent. It was straight out of an apocalyptic movie like The Walking Dead or something. It didn’t look good, but we were still thinking we could pull out the tour. But we only played Philadelphia and then everything was canceled. We had to fly back to Finland ASAP or we would have been stuck with the borders closing. It was not exactly cheap to fly to the USA for a one-off show, pay for the buses, crew, and backlighting and everything else. That was our first impression of COVID-19.
Dead Rhetoric: That was definitely a horrible start for you guys, and you are with both Omnium and Insomnium, it was a double whammy for you.
Vanhala: Yeah, a double-loss. We decided to do the live stream with both bands, and we basically one of the first bands to do that during the pandemic. Of course there were some technical issues but it went well and we sold some canceled tour t-shirts…people really helped us out in this disaster. They saved our asses.
Dead Rhetoric: Since The Burning Cold, you got a new drummer and bassist. What do you feel they added to OG?
Vanhala: We had some tough times, even before the pandemic. That’s why this Origin cycle has been really difficult. I’m really happy and proud that we got this done, because at one point it seemed like everything was falling apart. Old members, like our guitar and bass player, they had enough of touring and they didn’t want to travel because they had been doing it so long. If you don’t like tour buses and airports, that’s a problem. Then our drummer, we don’t know what happened, we just got an email from them one week after a really good week of rehearsals. He just decided to leave. The Corona crisis has brought out some mental issues for some people, and I think this was one of those [cases].
But we got some really good rhythm section guys in place to do the new album, and now we have a hungry new young drummer, and our new bass player was an old friend of mine. It was easy – I was surprised we got everything going so fast with the new guys. All of the tours have been cancelled so we had plenty of time to practice, which we haven’t done in like 10 years because there has been a constant lack of time. It’s been cool to act like a young band and rehearse together a lot. It can really be heard on the album, that we put more effort into everything. That said, this pandemic hasn’t just been about bad things. It made this album a lot better with all of the free time.
Dead Rhetoric: What stands out about Origins to you as an Omnium Gatherum release?
Vanhala: I think Jens Bogren did an outstanding job on mixing the album, and it sounds the best of our stuff so far. We really took a long time. We were supposed to do a new album just after the cancelled US tour, but everything was postponed, so we postponed the album. We took our time, and I basically threw half of the demos and threw them into the trash can. I did new ones and we really tried to make a strong package. It’s not too long, and we cut a number of songs from the album to get it perfect. Jens was insisting that we should drop songs too. There was some amazing stuff, so it’s hard to do an album with only good songs. Then Jens said, if you drop a few songs it will be hit songs for the whole album. We concentrated more, if you can say it, on pop metal elements on this album. There are catchy choruses and more clean vocals than ever before in OG material. I think it’s a much catchier album than we have done before.
Dead Rhetoric: I heard that myself – do you feel that being in both Omnium and Insomnium, you feel you can lean further in different directions with the new bands?
Vanhala: Yeah – I have been thinking about that a lot lately, trying to separate the bands further and I think that Insomnium is more of a traditional, melancholic Finnish band and OG is the more uplifting side of me. I would say it could be described as being more Americanized Finnish metal. So in my head, both bands play a different type of style even if they play melodic death metal. That’s the funny thing, with the names being so similar. It’s just fate – I formed Omnium Gatherum when I was like 14 and then later on I joined Insomnium and the bands didn’t know each other back then.
Dead Rhetoric: Talk about the video for “Paragon.” I don’t think I ever expected to see cheerleaders in an OG video.
Vanhala: That was one of those things that I wanted to do, because Insomnium videos lately have been so depressing and melancholic. There’s always some old guy in misery and going through all of this darkness. It was summertime in Finland and I really wanted to do something different with OG. This song is so uplifting, and I’m a huge car nerd. So I suggested a band video with all of the guys racing each other, and we need cheerleaders cheering the guys on the race. That’s what we felt we needed, and many people needed during this weird and miserable times. That’s basically why we did it. It was one of the most fun videos I had done. I was doing my own stunts with the car racing and racing with the guys – driving my own car, that lime green Corvette. It was a lot of fun playing in the garage as well.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the evolution of Omnium Gatherum over the past 25 years?
Vanhala: We had our 25 year anniversary since the first high school version of the band this year. In terms of evolution, I feel like the old stuff was more harsh. It was more traditional death metal. During our own journey, we have been learning to do more catchy songs and finding our own spirit. Hopefully people see that OG has our own sound and not sounding like any other band. We call this adult-oriented death metal, and with that comes with us listening to US radio bands like Journey, Toto, Winger, Van Halen, and taking inspiration from that time to our music. I think it makes the music sound more original to take inspiration from outside of your genre. It’s more original than just taking inspiration from Soilwork or In Flames or whatever. It would be stupid to copycat your own genre, so it’s better to take influences from outside the box. I think that’s the main evolution of the OG sound.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s been a while since you have been touring. What’s a road memory that stands out to you, either with OG or Insomnium?
Vanhala: That last US one-off show, that is a bad tour memory that will stay forever. But there’s always a lot of fun stuff happening on tour. It’s always the most difficult question to answer because there are so many shows and tours that it’s impossible to grab a memory from somewhere. We were lucky this year, whereas most European bands didn’t play one show this year, OG played like 4 festivals and Insomnium did too. We were lucky to at least do those shows. The first one we did with OG in June, that was just such a great moment to be back on stage after lockdown and get on stage. It was almost like every guy was crying when things started. At least crying inside, because it was so cool to be back.
Dead Rhetoric: Insomnium recently released the Ardent Moon EP, what’s your take on the more melancholic material?
Vanhala: That EP was a bit different. That was supposed to be a middle-work due to COVID. We composed those songs during the first lockdown last spring. The isolation sounded like these more mellow melodies, but it’s definitely nothing to be worried about because we are already writing new stuff and it’s going to be more aggressive, and not getting old and doing only ballads [laughs]. There’s been time to do a lot of music. Ardent Moon just came out. New Omnium Gatherum is in November, then I just did a new black metal band called I Am the Night with some friends, and that album is going to be released in the near future too. There’s a lot waiting to be unleashed, and we are already writing a new Insomnium album. I have one new secret supergroup too, which is also doing an album. There are creative times here – gotta do something besides sit on the sofa and watch TV.
Dead Rhetoric: I was just going to ask about I Am The Night. There was a single released, and I was curious if there would be more. How did the group come about?
Vanhala: This is something that I always wanted to do, but didn’t have the time with bands being on tour. But I have always been a huge fan of early ‘90s Norwegian black metal and that has been my favorite music through the years. I was doing these songs for therapy. Insomnium did more mellow songs, so I accidently wrote an album full of black metal. Then I asked a few friends, like Janne who used to play bass in OG and who is one of my best friends. Walterri from Paradise Lost and Bodom After Midnight, I asked him to do the drums. Then my wife’s brother is singing. It’s cool, it’s a group of friends. Friends and relatives, and I think it turned out really cool. It was a really easy album to record and compose. We had a lot of fun. The album was postponed because we were waiting for the cover from the legendary artist Necrolord, who painted all of these classic Emperor and Dissection and Dark Funeral album covers in the ‘90s. He was a little slow, but he did a real painting. It was just ready this week. Now everything is ready to be unleashed. We will see when it comes out.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your plans for 2022?
Vanhala: We do have a lot of gigs in the calendar, and some of them have been released. There’s a Finnish tour and a European tour this year, but no one knows if they are happening due to the climate. Next year, we do have an American headlining tour on the calendar, and both Omnium and Insomnium will have lots of stuff coming. We just need to see what will actually happen and what is coming soon.