If the world were as it should be and heavy metal ruled the airwaves unchallenged, Omnium Gatherum would occupy the same place that Green Day or the Foo Fighters do on rock radio. There’s nothing all that novel about what they do -- the Finnish group trades in the same keyboard-enriched melodic death-metal style pioneered by Gothenburg acts In Flames and Dark Tranquillity -- but you won’t find a more professional-sounding band working in their chosen style. Big on hooks, light on aggression and coated in producer Dan Swanö’s high-gloss varnish, Omnium Gatherum’s fourth album, The Red Shift, feels like a metallic overhaul of a radio-ready modern rock album.
That ain’t a bad place to be for Omnium Gatherum, even though it means that the band is mostly playing it safe here. There’s a peculiar politeness to The Red Shift, an unwillingness to get too heavy, to push tempos too fast, to stray too far from a well-contoured chorus. Every guitar lead, every keyboard hook is placed just so. Not to the point of sterility, mind you. On the contrary, the band sounds energized, believable. Especially lead growler Jukka Pelkonen, whose gruff sense of melody on “Nail” and “The Breaking Point” shoves a much-needed death-metal enema up the emotive asses of the whiners that usually sing over this stuff. But to truly love The Red Shift, you have to be OK with metal musicians acquitting themselves like gentlemen.
There’s an occasional lapse into cheeseball synth territory, and maybe it was inadvisable to pattern the chorus guitars of “The Return” after the 90210 theme or spotlight Pelkonen’s embarrassing clean vocals on “Greeneyes.” The album is also heavily front-loaded with its best material and winds down to a strangely tepid close that could easily have been avoided with different sequencing. Even when it’s merely solid though, The Red Shift offers up listenable slabs of slick, modern metal, and its best tracks are as good as new-school Gothenburg melodeath gets. When metal goes mainstream, all you’ll get are the best tracks.