Now in their 25th year as a band, Omnium Gatherum is preparing to release their ninth studio album Origin on November 5th, a more ‘80s-inspired musical journey, seeking to be a melodic death metal version of Def Leppard’s legendary Hysteria (where each track has the feel of a single, and it’s also noted to show its inspiration in the melody department). Having heard the album several times prior to this conversation, it certainly lives up to being a non-stop blast through some of Omnium Gatherum’s punchiest material to date, and is a fitting follow up to 2018’s The Burning Cold, also released via Century Media Records.
To discuss the forthcoming album, lead vocalist Jukka Pelkonen joins me over Zoom, the day following a media event promoting the album at Sonic Pump Studios in Helsinki and if the hangover he shares he’s nursing is anything to go by, the event was a success. Over a fun 25 minutes or so we discuss Origin’s inspiration and themes, the band’s videography, and working in new ways for this release.
“Lyrically speaking, it’s a continuation of the last albums, especially The Burning Cold.” Pelkonen shares. “Whereas that was a study of human beings as a race – starting as villages and building up to be nations – Origin is the same kind of thing but it’s more personal and more focused on inside as an individual. It’s both negative and positive things; what drives us to be capable of having deep feelings of devotion and love, but at the same time being enraged or hating someone so much it blinds the vision completely. You live for that feeling, and I’m trying to figure out why this is.”
The theme has been something known and brewing for a while, clearly from prior albums, however, it is shared that there is potentially a slight subconscious influence from the events of the last 18 months or so.
When discussing the longevity of Omnium Gatherum (frequently referred to as OG through the call for short) Jukka speaks of his own time in the band: “I’ve been there for 16 years. Antti (Filppu) was there before and sang the first two albums, and I joined from there (with Stuck Here On Snake’s Way)”
On what keeps him and the band feeling fresh and inspired for what is a hugely significant period of time, he says “I think there’s a lot of things, but it’s firstly because it like it so much, and secondly because we have such a good chemistry in the band – we’re really good friends and we’re not afraid to be too polite. We don’t scream at each other, well maybe sometimes when we’re drunk, but we discuss and have dialogue and I think that’s why the chemistry is so good, nobody is in an insecure place.”
Fans clearly play a large part as well (with more mentioned later through our conversation too). “Touring and people who come to see our shows is one major thing that keeps me going, and has made me realize how much I really like touring, I love it actually. Of course, the music that we make I still think it’s interesting, I feel that in our part we’re doing our best to move the genre forward in that sense. I believe I still have a lot to give to the metal community worldwide, and I feel like this band suits me.”
Origin marks the first release with Mikko Kivistö on bass, having been touring with OG since May 2019, fitting in as described by the band as a “charismatic bass beast.” On recording with Kivistö Pelkonen he mentions, “It’s been a bit of a change because we’ve had three previous bass players, it’s an Omnium Gatherum alright, and they all played with their fingers, whereas Mikko uses a pick. They were all really excellent bass players but for me, in metal, pick is the way to go – it’s more ‘metally.’”
For Origin, there’s been a breaking of a few habits for the band, beyond the addition of a new bassist as well as the amicable departure of long-time guitarist Joonas Koto. The band has returned to Helsinki’s Sonic Pump Studios for the first time since 2002. “The cycle in that sense is complete.”
On the experience itself, Pelkonen adds “It’s a really professional studio and Nino Laurenne who runs it is a total professional himself. I loved his work back in the day, and my previous band Elenium also recorded two albums in 2003 and 2005 there too.”
“With OG, it’s both a new experience and a nostalgic experience at the same time, we made a couple of changes for this album. The guy who’s been recording each album since Years In Waste (Teemu Aalto, and since 2004); we finally said we’ve been cooperating for so long now we want to try something else, not personal but we wanted to make some changes. Also, another change we made is that we’d been working with Dan Swanö since The Redshift (2008)… We love Dan’s vision but from the ten years we worked together, longer than some bands actually exist, so we also changed that.” Production duties for Origin are handled capably by the respected Jens Bogren.
“To get back to the studio, it’s a big studio and there’s a lot of musicians recording different kinds of music. It was really interesting to be able to hear totally different genres from hip hop to pop music, classical to TV music. There were professional guys who came and recorded 40 songs a day for TV and they did it every day in a week. It was really interesting because that kind of musicianship is very different from ours. So the experience was very giving, a good one.”
One of the other changes present in Origin is the first crediting (if perhaps not contribution) of Markus Vanhala, guitarist and founding member, bringing clean vocals. “He was kind of nervous about it for obvious reasons, but we rehearsed all those parts really well before (recording), and I think he did a really good job with that. OG’s clean vocals have always been more like a choir than individual singing, me, Markus, and Mikko are singing almost all the parts, then we had JC (Halttunen) who was working in the studio singing some of the higher notes, and also Jani Liimatainen, our friend from Insomnium, came to help us out. I think the end result is really quite good, it’s an interesting spice to have where the music is really harsh and melodic at the same time so it’s an interesting spice in that concoction.”
In terms of preparation for entering the studio, OG clearly goes in with almost all plans set in place. “We have always done a lot of pre-production, so when we go to the studio basically those are the songs. (We can) get inspired by something sound-wise, the sound always depends on which studio you are using and which gear, but composing wise they are pretty ready, over 95 percent, closer to 99 percent.”
“Lyrically I get inspired by working, so that’s my best source of inspiration. I quit my day job in 2015 and have been doing a bit of ‘day jobbing’ here and there with the last time in 2019. This is the main thing I do, and I’ve realized as I’ve matured a bit that this is what I have to do – I don’t have forever and I can’t postpone it, I have to do it now. And I love it.”
When performing on stage, Pelkonen virtually always bears a beaming smile, despite the aggression of the music, and it’s one of the most memorable parts of their performance. “That’s the whole point, sometimes I like it too much because I really feel the synergy between us and people who come to watch our show. Everyone is welcome, and not just in a sense that I just say it, my goal is to make everyone welcome and to have the time of their life in that moment.”
In terms of which tracks he’s most looking forward to performing live, “‘Friction,’ ‘Prime,’ and ‘Solemn’ are three of my favourites on the album at the moment so I’m really looking forward to them. Of course, ‘Paragon’ is that kind of song that’s super simple so for a live piece it’s one too, but for me those three are the ones I’m most excited about.” The Paragon video itself is somewhat of a standout from OG’s others in the past – there’s still the ripping performance by the band, but this one is embellished by classic cars and cheerleaders adding credence to the ‘80s vibe.
“It was a really, really hot summer day. Super hot. And we spent the whole day at that huge parking lot, that we’d done all the paperwork to go there (which was a complicated process) but we made it. Owe Lingwall is the Swedish guy who made the two videos, and they’re excellent, really tasteful, and you can feel that rhythmically they’re super cool – he’s a drummer so he has the rhythm pumping through his veins and you can really see it in the videos. It was fun because we had the cheerleaders there which was cool, and then the cars and the people who were kind enough to lend us those cars so we had a great time, but damn it was hot.”
On whether it’s his personal favourite, “I really like the ‘Frontiers’ video (from Grey Heavens, 2016) and that day it was cold, we spent it in a silo and that was really different! I like the ‘Paragon’ video a lot though because it is so different; we made a conscious decision to make something different. Markus said ‘Let’s have some cars,’ so we agreed and then, ‘Let’s have cheerleaders holding OG flags’ who were awesome, they’re professionals and did a really great job. It would have been a bit lame to get some random people to dance there but they are really doing the thing they know how to do.” It’d certainly catch some off-guard on just seeing the thumbnail who were not familiar with the band’s music.
Origin has nine original compositions, and then closes with a cover of Infected Mushroom’s “In Front Of Me.” “We’ve done a couple of covers before and we try to do a really different song each time, like ‘Subdivisions’ from Rush and last time it was Sepultura’s ‘We Who Are Not As Others.’ Back in the day when Antti was singing, they did ‘Hangar 18’ by Megadeth and ‘Money Talks’ from AC/DC, also an interesting choice for a death metal band!
For us you can’t get farther apart from Infected Mushroom genre-wise, because they used to be a psychedelic trance band, their style changed in 2007 or 2008 to a more poppish one which I like, but this song is really cool and turned out to be one of our best covers I would say, right there with the Rush one. It was interesting to see how that kind of song turns out making it death metal.”
On whether it would find space in their set in the future: “I hope that maybe not all the time, but that we’re going to play it live a couple of times at least. We’ve been playing it a lot in our rehearsals and it sounds really good, so I really hope so, but I’m not sure because we’re a democracy so we’ll talk about it.”
During the period devoid of live shows OG teamed up with Insomnium for a live stream, with one of the highlights of that being a cover as well, of Death’s “Crystal Mountain.” On whether there’s a chance that will pop up on a future album “It would be awesome, it’s one of the best Death songs in my opinion, but I’m not sure we’ll record it for some reason or another, but you never know… it’s really fun to play. It was for that huge North American tour (playing with Insomnium which was cancelled after just one show in Philadelphia) but we almost flew straight home. So, we played it there once then did it in a stream back in 2020.” So unlucky with the timing of it ‘but what the hell can you do, it is what it is.’”
In terms of hitting the road in support of Origin in the future, we talk about potential tour mates that have yet to join OG previously. “It’d be really cool to go with Obscura, they’re a cool band. Soilwork would be nice, we haven’t toured with them ever and it’d be an interesting experience. For the real, real big bands Iron Maiden would be the one for me. I have always respected Bruce (Dickinson) as a singer and a live performer, and I did one quote from ‘Déjà Vu’ in the ‘Fortitude’ song, there’s a couple of quotes, there’s also one from Star Trek the original series. In the first and second verse there’s ‘Feel like I’ve been here before,’ and they’re both intentional and in quotes because I don’t want to steal anything, so people will know they aren’t mine, they’re loaned.”
Closing out with a few comments to entice in a few more newcomers to the band, “I think for all the people that are interested in interesting melodic death metal go and check it out. I’d say and check us out live also because I think something’s happening on that side too – we’re going to see you guys pretty soon, I hope” – finishing with a tantalizing tease for some UK shows in the future, and perhaps with the UK melodeath flag bearers Countless Skies, who Pelkonen is swift to compliment off the back of the hat I’m wearing over video chat. One thing’s for sure though, the punchy and energetic tracks to be found on Origin will shine live, enhanced by the on-stage personality of Pelkonen and his charismatic bandmates.