(Today we bring you the premiere of a full stream of the new third album by Orpheus Omega, scheduled for release later this month by Kolony Records — preceded by this typically detailed review from our man DGR.)
Orpheus Omega are a young melodeath band from Melbourne, Australia. They’ve been around for seven years now and have managed to produce two albums, an EP — and one new disc coming out very soon. That album is the one you’re about to hear in its entirety, Partum Vita Mortem.
Until 2013, they operated under just the name Orpheus, but wound up adding the Omega to their name that year. They hail from the school of melodeath that places a heavy emphasis on keyboard work and guitar melody, the school that became incredibly popular with the explosion of bands like Soilwork, In Flames, and Dark Tranquillity. However, the band really came into their own with 2013’s Resillusion and showed that they could modernize that sound. They also proved that they would be one of those bands who seemed to improve astronomically with every album.
Over the past couple of years we, here at NCS seem to have had good fortune in finding groups like this, bands who are clearly students of a genre yet play like masters, who recognize the boundaries of what they are playing with yet still put out fantastic material with the tools they have. Aether Realm, Words Of Farewell, and Crepuscle spring to mind as more recent discoveries who, alongside Orpheus Omega, are proving to be the new blood of this keyboard-heavy branch of the melodeath genre. In the case of Orpheus Omega, Partum Vita Mortem is their most mature and well-developed album to date.
Everybody loves a good underdog story. Nothing could be more Hollywood cliché than an underdog story — for a reason. Many bands don’t really come with a narrative attached to them, but when one does, it’s difficult not to share that part, too, and Orpheus Omega have a pretty good story attached to them.
Orpheus Omega’s new album is one that seems to have had the odds stacked against it in a variety of ways — odds that the band have overcome, such that the release of this album seems like an almost Herculean task — so before we dissect the album, let’s peer into some of the situations that have had an effect on it.
1) Melodeath: Melodeath is a tough genre to break into for a variety of reasons. It’s a genre that has been around for over two decades and it’s not getting any younger. There’s still something to it — the thrashy drumming, the almost-punk-quality guitar, the heavy emphasis on guitar and (later on) keyboards — that continually attracts people and often induces new listeners to take a crack at it. However, this has also given melodeath as a whole a reputation of being stagnant, and just as many people will often ignore it based simply on the genre sticker affixed to the box.
The explosion of metalcore in the early 2000’s didn’t help either — people were instantly able to recognize all the hallmarks of ye-olde-Gothenburg-two-step guitar playing, no matter how much it was masked with the “hXc” ethos and a shit-ton of mindless and lazily written breakdowns.
All of this means that being a melodeath band these days is a pretty brave move. Let’s face it, the card deck of public perception, especially in our constantly navel-gazing heavy metal world, are stacked against you. It’s increasingly hard to break out these days, when it feels like the instant response that you’re going to receive from half the listening audience before you even play another note is, “Ugh – another melodeath band”. I know I’ve done this a few times myself, although I am the most unabashed melodeath fan at this site, so it’s a reaction that I have to consistently fight against.
2) Location: This one is difficult to describe since it’s largely a matter of perception. But from where I sit in the U.S. it seems like groups from island nations have a harder time breaking out. It feels like labels tend to get a little touchy when there isn’t a populous landmass directly connected to the band other than their own country, meaning that reach is limited and the logistics of getting the band anywhere outside their home must be terrifying to behold on paper.
It seems that Australia suffers less for this than other such locales (and yes, I do understand that Australia is a continent), and the music scene there is insanely vibrant — for example, we’ve dedicated quite a bit of space to the hardcore punk scene that seems to be bursting out of the country — but the perception up until recently seems to be that at any given point in time only a handful of bands are making an impact over here. Despite having no language barrier, it still feels like Australia tends to get a little unfairly walled off from the outside metal world at times, and it tends to burst out in waves — right now, there seem to be an abundance of groups with cavernous death metal on the mind — and anything that doesn’t fit within that wave seems to be an utter surprise.
3) Personal Tragedy: In 2013, Orpheus Omega’s long-running bassist Adam “Milky” Adams passed away; the band have made no qualms about stating that this had a huge effect on them. He had been with the band since 2008, and in their run-up to releasing the video for “Conception” (also the album’s opener), the band explained that this weighed on them during the writing sessions, and understandably so. That the band were able to keep to the two-year album cycle is pretty impressive in its own right, but Partum Vita Mortem had this extra weight on its shoulders, given all that has surrounded it.
With this narrative behind us, let’s turn to the new album. Partum Vita Mortem consists of thirteen tracks that cover a pretty healthy spectrum of the melodeath sound, functioning as part time-capsule and part modernization. The band, with its dual guitar attack and hefty keyboard component, absolutely tear through the twelve songs and intro that make up the album. Orpheus Omega sound like absolute veterans of their scene as each song reaches your speakers, with every touchstone of melodeath being hit — including some occasional clean singing that shows up for the extra-cheesy chorus moments.
“Conception” and its follower “I, Architect” are pretty much what ignite things out of the gate for the band. “Conception” is a fairly standard intro that segues into a heavy build — which of course then gives way to the high tempo of “I, Architect”, one of the most “built for the start of an album” songs that has ever existed. If your goal is to get the listener hyped off of some super-strong leads and a quick tempo, then “I, Architect” comes through in spades as the vocals rip through line after line of quickly-fretted guitar work.
That opening drum gallop in “I, Architect” is enough to make anyone start headbanging, before it drops into the thrashier verse movements. If you haven’t heard of Orpheus Omega before, “I, Architect” is one of those songs that spells out almost everything about the band in one go. They’re masters of the guitar-hook, have a glorious bit of keyboard work, are very polished, and love to keep a high tempo. “I, Architect” actually isn’t the fastest song on Partum Vita Mortem, but it is one of the standard-bearers for the disc, sharing a lot in common in both tempo and writing style with a few of its siblings — including the next song “Karma Favours The Weak”, which is one of the songs for which Orpheus Omega shot a music video.
“Karma Favours The Weak” marks the appearance of some of the clean singing, and Orpheus Omega know how to make it work for them, as the song’s main melody is one that tends to pry its way into your brain. While the video may not be as glorious as the one they did for Sans Memoria from Resillusion, the song itself is just as catchy. What the video for “Karma” does do is reflect just how much more polished the band are — coming across as pros this time around.
One of the things that makes Orpheus Omega all the more impressive is the fact that both guitarists are doing the vocal work for the band, meaning that a lot of these intricate guitar lines are being performed while being screamed at the same time. Bloodshot Dawn have a similar format, though less heavy on the keyboards (save for the title track of their latest release, Demons, which is one of the best-ever Soilwork songs not written by them), and it’s cool to see more bands embracing the guitar and vocal attack like Orpheus Omega do.
You do get the sense of just how important the opening lead is to Orpheus Omega when you consider that during the first four songs — “I, Architect”, “Karma Favours The Weak”, “Practice Makes Pathetic”, and “Our Reminder” — the main lead melody makes its appearance within the first twenty seconds of each song. “Practice Makes Pathetic” — for its joyous song title and all — is one that practically starts with it, the keys interweaving themselves into that song before a word is spoken.
“Practice Makes Pathetic” is also one of the first songs where the drumming begins to take a bit of the spotlight — though Orpheus Omega are the sort of band where the rhythm section are the unsung heroes. They provide a superstrong foundation, but operate on a stage where all the spotlight remains on the melody-providers, especially when the drums drop into the hammering, straightforward chorus sections. It’s a simple one-two-three, but the drums sound especially good on Partum Vita Mortem; any time they really get going is the signal to rock the hell out.
“Unravelling Today” is the song where the melodeath side of the band really comes out to shine most brightly, the opening guitar section and quick one-two tempo coming straight out of that school of songwriting. It’s probably no wonder, then, that I consider “Unravelling Today” to be one of the highlights of this disc (as people who’ve been reading this site for a while know, I love when bands keep their foot pressed down on the go-fast button). It even has a strong choral part that, much like “Karma Favours The Weak” before it, seems custom-made to bore into your skull.
It also features one of my favorite moments on this disc, when for a brief moment, it’s just drums and vocals. The quick bit of silence serves to highlight just how much of the band has been going throughout the song, yet when stripped away to just a drum line and a vocal bit for ten or so seconds, are still just as punchy. “Unravelling Today” comes at almost the perfect moment in Partum Vita Mortem, though. Just when the disc begins to slow down a bit, the band pick the perfect time to really shock-and-awe on the speed front.
“Beacons”, which was another lead-off single for Partum…, is another song I want to focus on, mostly because it features some hot blastbeat action about a quarter of the way into the track. “Beacons” is one of the more anthemic songs on Partum Vita Mortem, but it is also one of the quickest on the disc. Plus, the drumming on this song just hits so hard that it dominates everyone else for the brief moments when it is going at lightspeed. Of course, if we didn’t focus on just how glorious the guitar-and-key section is at about 2:30 into the song, we’d be fools. It’s about as cheesy as the band get, but man, it works — especially as it segues into another of my favorite blasting sections. When Orpheus Omega want to flatten the Earth around them, they certainly know how to do so.
The scary thing of Partum Vita Mortem is that almost the entire disc is composed of songs like the ones discussed above. With one hit song after another, the experience is almost overwhelming. Not that this is a bad thing, of course, as this means that the album works well as a disc to be mixed in with other music, but man, it sure has made it difficult to review this album when I’ve had huge stretches of time where I didn’t make it past song six without wanting to circle around and just do that opening run again.
I think in some ways, the group recognized this, and that is why the song “Echoes Through Infinity” pops up closer to the end of the album, with the band doing a hell of a Dark Tranquillity impression for a brief moment before softening up a bit. It’s the ballad of the album, the softer closing guitar notes bringing the band back around for one final emotive chorus.
Partum Vita Mortem is an excellent album. It is likely to be one of the biggest surprises of 2015 and one that I hope doesn’t fly under everyone’s radar, as this is a disc that has overcome a lot, representing a band who have managed to polish their sound to a sheen that you can see from space. They really seem to have come into their own on this album, and we’re the beneficiaries of it. Orpheus Omega tear through most of the songs on the disc and demonstrate that although they are operating in familiar territory, they can still create some great songs from it. It seems like each one is an exercise in melo-death hit-making, and while it is a little overwhelming having that much good music at your fingertips, it’s hard not to make run-after-run-after-run at this album. The hour of time that you spend with Partum… seems to fly by, and it’s almost guaranteed that across the swath of music Orpheus Omega provide, you’re going to have five or six of your own highlights. Mine seem to be shifting daily, though “Unravelling Today” and “Beacons” are remaining insanely high on that list right now.
Partum Vita Mortem, through all it has overcome, is an album that I hope will launch Orpheus Omega onto a lot of people’s radars, because judging by the music on this disc, they’re ready for it.