If you don’t know how much this Finnish progressive melodic death metal band means to me read my review of their previous album, "The Burning Cold" (6/6), my personal album of the year 2018. I have followed them from the 2011 "New World Shadows" through "Beyond" (2013) and "Grey Heavens" (2016), each a fantastic record in its own right, each proving more their musical genius, but "The Burning Cold" was the pinnacle. And as life shows, what goes up must come down. For me to give Omnium Gatherum less than a 5.5/6 indicates that "Houston, we’ve got a problem". The problem isn’t so much in the songwriting, as this aspect is still excellent if not quite as innovative as before, but it lies in the production which was purposely made to sound like…Def Leppard’s "Hysteria". This is precisely why "Origin", which comes out on November 5th, sometimes does not even sound like a death metal album but heavy, gulp, pop, metal. And no, I did not give it 5/6 out of respect or sentiment because the music is, again, in and of itself, still excellent. It’s just no longer fantastic but for precisely three notable exceptions.

Starting at the top with the aforementioned exceptions, the closer, "Solemn" may be one of the most ambitious and sprawling progressive masterpieces since "Deep Cold" but, it, too, is, sadly, a bit of a casualty of the poppy production. The definitely death metal Behemothian guitars (which I can tell only because of my ears’ over 30 year journey with all metal) sound like someone covered them with a blanket, not much teeth to them but, fortunately, not to the extent that they can’t be appreciated, especially where they suddenly sound massive and epic during the slow clean vocal part recalling Fear Factory. Yet, even here, the, admittedly excellent and very Omnium Gatherumic melodic bridge sounds like AOR rockers Find Me from "Wings Of Love". Interestingly, the second exception, the video single, "Fortitude" a kind of "Ophidian Sunrise" visiting "White Palace" along with "Who Could Say" is the least stricken with the pop bug, the riffs sounding crisper which makes me think the effect was not meant to dull all the metal but only some metal, and the ferocious "Tempest", where vocalist Jukka Pelkonen asks "how can you save yourself by blaming everyone else?" to the tune of the most progressive and most death metal, blastbeat-laden track reminiscent of In Mourning, is another testimony to that, everything sounding crisp, deadly, desperate and properly cold. All three tracks are the kind of innovative, brilliant Omnium Gatherum we know and love and where they all like this we’d be closer to "The Burning Cold" in the final score.

The second tier are the two very similar Be’lakorian melodeath pieces: "Friction" and "Unity", with excellent melodies but, sadly, none as riveting as on "Formidable", "Soul Journeys" or one of my favorite OG creations, "Planet Scale". You like what you hear but you breathe normally without anything taking that ability like the three aforementioned tracks from previous albums. You can even throw the first video single, "Paragon", in the same pile, excellent but nothing breathtaking, with a great guitarwork if strongly reminiscent of If Hope Dies’ "Anthem For The Unemployable", except it is here where we first get that poppy feeling courtesy of catchy and pleasant but definitely very accessible cleans of the founding SINGLE guitarist, Markus Vanhala. Time will tell how much those cleans will continue to defang OG core sound but, for now, at least I still like them and God knows I can sing but not quite that well, with this much balance and accessibility for the purpose of the, as Vanhala dubbed it, adult oriented death metal.

Adult oriented death metal is the term Vanhala invented to describe the current OG sound, manufactured by producer Jens Berger and sound engineer Tony Lindgren per his specific intructions to, reportedly, get a death metal version of Def Leppard’s "Hysteria". Why? In Vanhala’s own words, "Over the years, OG’s material has been deliberately moving further away from the anxiety of the windy Northern shores and traditional melodeath’s gloomy despair. These days our music is a powerful mixture of older deadly roots and newer AOR-vibes that you get while listening to Survivor and driving a Corvette along the sunny shores of Miami!" That is exactly the point, isn’t it, you like these tracks like you like Def Leppard, heck, let’s put it on and go for a ride, shall we? Except this is melodic DEATH metal and it’s SUPPOSED to be heavy, cold, brutal AND melodic and, ironically, Pelkonen’s harsh vocals ARE at their harshest, deadliest and most powerful on ALL of "Origin" so go figure.

There are songs like the video single "Reckoning" (ironically, with some thick Nevermoreic riffing in the verses) and the very Killswitch Engagesque opener, "Prime" (if you don’t count the instrumental, "Beyond"-like "Emergence"), which lined up, along with the aforementioned "Paragon" set you up for that feeling like, I don’t know, someone is no longer ok with being famous like Dark Tranquillity but more like Bon Jovi or In Flames. Yes, I went there, I’m getting "Reroute To Remain" warnings from almost half "Origin" and you know what followed. As my old Imhotep® pal, Roy Kristensen, would say, Omnium Gatherum started writing "songs". If Bon Jovi, In Flames, or even, heck, Metallica wrote "Prime", "Paragon" or, especially, "Reckoning" I would call them brilliant because I know these are the top tier of their abilities. But for a band as enormously able and capable as Omnium Gatherum it’s just…put it another way, when my late brother heard Depeche Mode’s "Precious" single back in 2005 he commented "it’s good but they can write stuff like that with their fingers up their butts!" Enough said, R.I.P. brother, in the end, you still loved "Playing The Angel" as much as I did!

Part of the problem, since it can’t be Vanhala, seeing as he is the founder and de facto the frontman, is the fact that OG had lost half of its lineup, including the SECOND guitarist, before they started recording "Origin" (Mikko Kivistö on bass and clean vocals and Atte Pesonen on drums joining Vanhala, Pelkonen, and keyboardist Aapo Koivisto during the recording sessions) which left Vanhala (who had also been Insomnium guitarist for 10 years) with an enormous task of handling all guitars and here, again, a nod to In Flames who started sucking precisely upon similar circumstances (although, in their case, the quality had already started depreciating much earlier). Vanhala’s guitar parts are tight, sometimes even virtuosic (Friction) but melodically they seem to draw too much from what he had already written before, at the risk of sounding like a commercial, without "the effect of wow", while, most notably, significantly bereft of the prog rock influences, which is another factor contributing to the sound poppiness. They’re there but in small, carefully measured shots. He was also responsible for much more cleans (in truth he had started contributing them back on "Beyond"), so it is possible, even likely, that he simply cracked a little under pressure. And hasn’t that new Insomnium EP just come out? Thanfully, the man, for whom I still have undying respect and admiration, pulled AODM over just those first four tracks, on less than half of "Origin", the material from "Fortitude" on definitely more complex and more inspired even if, again, not as much as in the past. Perhaps he is testing how far he can go before he goes all the way with it?

In the end, this is not Def Leppard, not Bon Jovi, not In Flames, not even Metallica – this is Omnium Gatherum we’re talking about here, and this statement is a two-edged sword, the first edge already explored above. The second is that, judging by the second half which deserves half a point more, I sincerely doubt that OG will either pursue this poppy death metal road much longer or further or stay a one guitarist band, they’re too great for either option. After all, their name is a Latin phrase that is literally translated as "a grouping of all things." It does not specifically infer this as people, objects, or intangibles but simply as anything and everything. They have never recorded the same album twice and I doubt they want to even as "Origin" does bear some striking resemblance to "New World Shadows", if only for the number of tracks (9) and approximately the same length. At the same time, the more accessible first half can be compared to "The Burning Cold", and, indeed, the signs were there with "Gods Go First!" or the simplicity of "Rest In Your Heart" or "Be The Sky". The groundwork was laid 3 years ago but only now we’re starting to see the whole house and marvel at it, some for good (Metal Temple, 10/10), some, like me, finding flaws in the construction.

Since this 5/6 review (borne out of six applications of "Origin" supported by re-listening to the previous four albums) has had much of a negative vibe to it, let’s end on a positive note in reference to the title of the album, per Vanhala: "The album’s diverse lyrics make a winding journey into the human’s mind – somewhere deep where "depth" and "height" meet – and with the help of these songs, I am trying to uncover some of the mysteries of a person’s inner self. So, after all, the title of the album comes from these studies of the origins of the mind. On the other hand, "Origin" also refers to the fact that no matter how many challenges and obstacles come in front of us, we will not forget the original enthusiasm for playing heavy metal… And therefore we will never give up!" I’ll drink to that!