Thursday, May 7, 2015

Review: Omnislash, "Call To Arms"

OMNISLASH - Call To Arms
"Call To Arms"

- 10 out of 10

Baltimore is arguably home to some of the finest metal bands this country has to offer. Dying Fetus, Wretched, Iron Man, Pig Destroyer, Darkest Hour and Misery Index are just a few examples of some exemplary Baltimorean metal. It seems that bands born within city limits (and indeed, the surrounding areas of MD, DC, VA, WV, and PA) are all accomplished, talented, intelligent, and abundantly inspired.

That is why I was so excited to have the chance to check out the newest from Omnislash, a five-piece born of Baltimore that swerves between power and classic metal territory along with elements from nearly everything in-between. Somehow - and I'm really kicking myself for this now - they've managed to escape my notice for some time, but NO MORE! Finally the chance has come to experience their sound as they intended via their studio release, and just in time, too; they are slated to share the stage with Steel Panther on May 12th.

Now, I humbly present to you my review of their latest album, "Call To Arms".

Track 1 - "Burning In The Night"

Words can't really express how much I love the opening to this track. It's like they combined everything I loved about Kamelot, Epica, Sonata Arctica and Eluveitie and then totally switched gears to Amon Amarth and Blind Guardian -esque heaviness. When the vocals start, they start strong and fit perfectly within the myriad of notes and elements shooting around at breakneck pace. Despite it giving off a bit of a nostalgic feel of old-school metal, I'm almost hesitant to lump it into that category. It has the power and drive of Maiden, the slaughtering speed of Slayer, yet it does not follow them or rip straight from their playbooks. They meld these influences together in an altogether shiny new package, and by the end of this first track, they have already absolutely won me over.

Oh, and can I just say... holy shit, Jeremy's high notes! To say nothing of his lows and mids, which are equally incredible. The man could put King Diamond to utter shame.

Track 2 - "Call To Arms"

This one begins in more of a heavier style, but just as well done as the previous track. It ebbs and flows in perfect synchronicity, both the instrumental side and the vocals - and that, my friends, I can attest is extremely difficult to do! There's an incredibly sexy dose of blastbeats before a bit of a breakdown of sorts. There are just so many elements at work here that you might think it would be chaotic, and perhaps it is.. but in the most streamlined way possible. They attack insane and harmonious riffs with such ease that you'd think they were brought down from Valhalla just to blow us all away with their sheer mastery. Just before the end, they enter into a galloping interlude of solos and pure melodic bliss that leaves you wanting so much more.

Track 3 - "My Lament"

This one opens with a groovy bass riff that slams you right into a harmonious stew of riffs and unrelenting, ever-changing drum patterns. It has the emotional feel of a ballad with the speed and energy of power thrash, which really drives home the despair rooted within the title and lyrics. You think you know what's coming next and you're totally blindsided with each passing measure, keeping it unpredictable yet without discordance. The instrumental interlude is utterly beautiful with some haunting vocals backing it, after which you're snowballed into a build-up and returned to revisit the chorus. I love how the vocals here are somewhat changed from the previous tracks, as he adds a touch of grit to those soaring cleans you come to love.

Track 4 - "The Black Widow"

Oh man, the opening here is just fucking sexy. I can think of no better description for it other than that. Complex, cascading riffs compliment a primal pounding of drums before you are utterly blown away by the steady soaring high-pitch war cry from the lead and backing vocals. The depth in all of the tracks thus far is wondrous for your ears to behold, and this one is no exception. The searing shreds from the guitars set the stage for the epic-osity of this, and the vocals play up the strengths of each element on top of being glorius on their very own. When the drums enter that whirlwind galloping pace, they manage to maintain the element of surprise while keeping the beat completely intact, nary an off-note or loss of rythym to be found. Everything just sounds so right that at this point in the album, you're really starting to wonder why these guys are not being regularly played on every metal station everywhere - and goddamnit, with this level of talent, they should be!

Track 5 - "The Reckoning"

I've never quite heard guitars skip around like they do in the very start of this one, but don't let the word "skip" fool you into thinking it's light-hearted... it's heavy and it's magnificent, and it only gets better from here. Never before have I heard a band achieve such harmonic melody on so many levels, and much like Mozart, take away anything and there will be diminishment. In terms of visualization, they build up a cyclone of interchanging riffs and perpetual rhythm, leading up to a vocal bombardment of sweet, sweet cleans. They won't quite throw you off the ride, but let you down in a smooth descent with a small shot of serenity before picking you back up and throwing you into pit mode. Immediately following is the perfect starter for a mosh, with those powerhouse vocals soaring above the backing vocals of nearly everyone else in band while they simultaneously stun you with their ability to keep it all together in perfect time and perfect harmony as the track fades into dissonance.

It just keeps getting better and better! With each track, my excitement grows. How can they possibly outdo themselves? You wonder if it's possible, yet you know deep down that they are ready and willing to deliver.

Track 6 - "Ghost Town"

They set the stage proper with a haunting, ghostly introduction, and you know right away these dudes have talents that go far beyond just their instruments of choice. You even hear a hint of a guttural growl before you are spun without warning into a whirlwind of energy that just won't let up. There are a few elements here that sound as though you've heard them before, but that only adds to the charm of the track. Jeremy adds a bit of grit to the perfectly placed vocals that, combined with the ever-changing power being generated by the instruments. It's hard to pinpoint which element is infusing such feeling into the music simply because every single one, vocals included, hit their marks with surgical precision. All I want to do upon listening to this is go out for a drive on the craziest mountain road I can find at the highest possible speed my jalopy can cruise, blasting this album repeatedly the entire time.

There are still more tracks to review first, however, so I will defer that pleasure until I've dissected the remainder of this gem to ensure you are as stoked about Omnislash as I am now!

Track 7 - "Too Young To Die"

Here we start with a slower pace set to a completely unexpected, feel-good sound. This one is different and a bit more upbeat than the rest, yet it loses none of its grit nor its heaviness. I think the words I'm looking for are "radio-friendly", and this track will most certainly appeal not only to die-hard fans of classic and power metal but to listeners of alt rock as well. As in the tracks preceeding it, you are kept guessing despite it generally maintaining a slower, more constant pace. The end certainly doesn't feel like the end, and just as they reach the conclusion of a surprise breakdown where you expect them to throw you back into the fray, the track is over. Unpredictability executed in this way is the mark of true creative genius. If a band can keep you guessing, they are proving to you their ability to still be unique in a world where almost everything has been done before. No easy feat, but these gentlemen make it look like a cake walk, and that has been the singlemost impressive quality they possess.

Anyway, I'm rambling a bit... On to the next!

Track 8 - "Opposites In Harmony"

It begins hard and heavy, fast and furious, multi-faceted and deep as the ocean. They adopt a bit of a darker tone here, but they do it well, and without loss of potency. After being guided through the rock-hard riffs and vehement, dynamic drums complimented by those remarkably lofty vocals, you find yourself amid an incredible breakdown undertoned with what sounds like a ghostly chorus before you are lifted back into the skies by the familar hook we heard earlier. Almost immediately, you find yourself floating back down as a feather falling from the wing of a bird in flight, floating listless through the air as that ghoulish yet angelic ghost chorus that you heard during the first drop in tempo. The interlude that follows is soft and beautiful before its pervaded with limitless passion and feeling, as if you were in the midst of waiting for sunrise and overwhelmed by its warmth the moment it crests above the slant of the earth. It is ethereal and ravishing, and the perfect precursor to the insane arpeggios and gritty, power-packed cleans that await you thereafter.

I'd have to say that this one stands even with "Burning In The Night" as my favorites of the album, as hard as it is to pick favorites from such an outstanding piece of work.

Track 9 - "Awakened"

There's a beautiful celestial quality to the opening of this one, and it instantly improves upon itself by building into something bordering divinity. I've always been a sucker for songs of sorrow, and this one counts as a ballad that will rip out your guts in the most pleasing way imaginable. They capture the very essence of pain and despair before heaving you into the throes of crushing agony by picking up the pace and swapping out the soft acoustics with the electrifying power of their amps and, of course, the driving force of Robbie's powerhouse drum beats. Here again, every element interblends exactly as it should, with nary a note out of place. The chorus here soars, lifted by the ethereal keyboarding of lead vocalist Jeremy. They enter into a march of sorts nearing the end that blooms into such a rapturous climax of harmonies and profundity. They pull you even higher upward before ending on top of the world, making for one hell of a send-off into the next track. There are few bands that can translate such passion into their music, and in every track on this album thus far, you can feel their love of their craft, the soaring and crushing emotion behind each lyric, every note. They are syphoning their very souls into every measure, and it shines through like moonlight piercing a pitch black sky.

The album isn't even over and I'm just astonished at their capabilities. My excitement still grows as I eagerly dig into the second to last track, while at the same time I feel a bit of sadness that it has to end; unless I just play it again, that is, and you can be sure that I most certainly will.

Track 10 - "Shadows Cry"

Gods, what a profoundly beauteous opening this track has. The vocals here teem with woe, amplified by the steady sweep of melancholy notes from the guitars and enhanced by the ethereal effects of keys. Without warning, however, the heaviness factor is upped tenfold whilst losing none of the despair this track exudes. There are few things more goosebump-inducing than sorrowful harmony mixed with a gut-wrenching heaviness befitting such mournful tones. Don't mistake this for a lack of brutality - as anyone who has suffered heartache knows, with pain can come anger and a desire to lash out in violence against all that has harmed or oppressed you. They capture the complexity of true pain, the mixture of a loss of all hope and the fury towards the powers that be for inflicting the damage upon you. I love every minute of it, especially when it comes to the extra-heavy interlude wherein we hear a grittier version of the highs in earlier tracks. Every ounce of this feels 100% authentic, as if they were operating through their spirits rather than their bodies. Get ready to be surpised again near the end as you're quickly spun around and around, faster and faster, then dropping off for a moment before resuming the ever-quickening pace as you're raised from the depths into an energy unlike any you've experienced. It just keeps building into something even more amazing by the second and you wonder where they'll decide to drop you from the heights. It's not until the last moment that each element simultaneously falls, quickly yet smooth as silk, into a truly evil-sounding conclusion to what is now another one of my absolute favorites.

Track 11 - "The Accolade"

This track, I believe, is a bonus track, so I'm dying of anticipation to dig right in. Let's not waste any time! Apparently, they were able to get Satan himself to narrate the beginning of this one - at least, from the sound of it. It could have just as well been a vox effect, but with the sheer talent these men possess I wouldn't put it past them to book Beelzebub for a collaboration. From there, a militant march upon the drums begin with a beat so intoxicating that you couldn't think it could possibly get any better when just then, it does. The ghostly chorus appears and harkens in villianously heavy riffs and high-flying vocals with effects from the keys that only improve upon the perfection. So much unyielding power and energy is infused within every note, it is as if they are pulling from an ever-flowing fountain of it straight from the depths of Hades. There's a point where you are sure you're hearing the soundtrack of a tour through Hell, which seamlessly morphs into a slightly Eastern feel that had me visualizing some sort of brutal Egyptian chariot race through a battlefield of flames. You'll know what I mean when you get to it, but it is absolutely enthralling in every aspect and yet still it continues to build. Afterwards, they pull of a structured dissonance that leads to an quick descent back into the primordial pit of fire. The interlude that follows is so delightfully wicked that any black metal band would concede these guys have the ability to summon the spirit of abysmal darkness. The music fades and here is where they leave you, within the void, to ponder all that you have just seen and heard.

Believe me, you will have plenty to ponder once this album is over!

It used to distress me that there weren't many bands like this around these parts. So many great bands are right here in our backyard, yet many of them stayed somewhat within the parameters of death/grind and for a power metal fiend like me, it can leave you feeling a bit left out at times.

There really isn't any proper way to describe how elated I am to have discovered Omnislash, for they have once again infused the scene with some truly worthy, blood-pumping, soul-reaching, euphoria-inducing power-driven fucking metal. For that, not only can I not praise them enough, but I cannot thank them enough for re-igniting the fire that is my love of music.

That, dear readers, earns them a perfect 10.

Thank you, Omnislash, for creating such a thoroughly enjoyable, passion-fueled, spirit-driven and skillful masterpiece. "Call To Arms" is indeed all of those things and more, and you can bet I'll be singing their praises for a long, long time. Truly, they have achieved what I think more locally-based and well-known bands alike should strive for, and I applaud you sirs for setting the bar that much higher. Well done! I'm honored to have heard what I've just heard, and hope to see much more from you gents in future.

If you're not familiar with Omnislash, check them out in the videos below or via any of these links and let them know your thoughts:

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