(In the following review DGR catches up with the latest release by the Australian band Orpheus Omega, an EP that surfaced last month.)
Even though we’ve often dwelled within the realms of the dark and heavy – our site background having been a giant pile of skulls for over a decade now – we’re not above and beyond traipsing into the ligher side of metal from time to time. We’ve featured a-plenty of clean singing over the years, usually when used effectively and not just as ‘product’ to provide a radio-worth chorus, and yes, there are a few of us in this burnt-out shell of a building that like them some good ol’ fashioned melodeath keyboard cheese.
When a band buys wholly into that sort of bullshit, it’s difficult to not cheer along, and Australia’s Orpheus Omega have proudly flown that flag for some years now, fully ensconced in the ‘no, this is what we make’ mentality with full admiration for the era of early-aughts melodeath when the synth work became especially prominent and was a constant traveling companion of whomever decided to kick out the next guitar solo.
Orpheus Omega are just that sort of band, and while their 2019 album Wear Your Sins didn’t quite gel with us as well as we would’ve liked, 2015’s Partum Vita Mortem was a near-perfectly constructed one of those sorts of albums, with plenty of glory-flag waving and power-choruses to turn any listener into a massive dork. Obviously, time doesn’t stand still for anyone and the group have evolved since then but thas one of a handful of things that made the April release of their new EP Portraits interesting.
The sales pitch is simple and recognizable: One song from each member of the band, reflecting their tastes and songwriting style, resulting in five different filters applied to the Orpheus Omega form for a solid twenty minutes of music. Portraits is still very much an Orpheus Omega release, with plenty of sailing keyboard and music to put the guitarists to work, but the five-headed-beast approach to music is always a fun one.
And it’s not like the band don’t know exactly what crowd they’re playing to here as they’ve also called in reinforcements from a handful of guests with two of the crew from Omnium Gatherum helping out on the EP’s fourth song “The Prophecy”, Caligula’s Horse vocalist Jim Grey swinging in for the assist on the EP’s longest song “Edge Of Forever”, Andy Gillion (formerly of Mors Principium Est, maintaining a very strong solo career) adding both guitars and vocals to the opening number, and Soilwork‘s Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid adding even more bodies to the pile of his personal guest appearance resume to close things out on “Exist To Observe”. A release couldn’t be any more melodeath if it tried.
Having a parade of guests is a bit of a gamble of course, as it can seem like the band themselves are taking on a chameleon role and camoflauging into the background scenery of whomever is fronting the group at that moment. That actually doesn’t happen much throughout Portraits – though it is very clear the moment someone shows up to pick up the baton from guitarist/vocalist Chris Themelco – and mostly, Portraits does sound like an Orpheus Omega fully ensconced within the melodeath waters.
In fact. the one time they seem to completely change form is during closer “Exist To Observe”, which it turns out is one hell of a classic style Soilwork song. Part of that may be a larger reflection of how Bjorn – much like Aborted‘s Sven – tends to transform songs into sounding like his projects whether they want to or not. You hear one of them and your mind immediately drifts into “I am listening to Soilwork/Aborted” territory. Or, someone in Orpheus Omega had a ‘holy shit I think I just wrote a Soilwork song” moment and ran to the phone so quick their shadow may still be stuck on the ground where they were initially. Either way, as part of a larger pack of distinctly enjoyable songs, it’s not a knock, more of a massive amusement the moment that song kicks into gear.
The five seperate takes on the same formula of course results in an EP that does feel like five distinct singles. The core of the band keeps the blueprint within the Orpheus Omega wheelhouse and the constant parade of guests keeps things interesting throughout, but much like a genre can provide plenty of red meat for a listener to dine upon, so too can it provide a meal that is the equivalent of slamming a bag of sugar into your face. Portraits is a combo of the two, as every song has a rigid-melodeath core that long since has become part of the Orpheus Omega trademark, but all of the construction on the outside might as well be a Hansel and Gretel-esque gingerbread house because you know you’re going to walk away with diabetes just shortly after the intro of “The Prophecy” spills away into the full song.
Does that mean it rules any less? Not at all. But this is music that isn’t trying to brutalize you into a pulp. Portraits is the sort of release that is full of hooks and melodies that will bore their way into your skull for days. It is purpose-built for that, and Orpheus Omega have long been masters of that specific style. They became experts early on in the core keyboard and synth fueled fireworks of a particular era of the melodeath scene and have built upon it ever since.