A Review of 'Omnimantia EP' by ForNaught of Encyclopaedia Metallum

Aarni has always been a bastion of eccentric music and behaviour, right from the first demo. The man behind the music, Markus Marjomaa, embraces the bizarre and the experimental to make Aarni one of the more unusual and distinctive bands active today. This has led to some absolutely stunning music over the years, particularly in the case of the debut full-length, Bathos, which is a stellar release as well as a fully-fledged celebration of the strange. Unfortunately this was much less effective on the sophomore album, Tohcoth, which was just too damn strange for its own good. However, the latest release, a 55-minute "EP" called Omnimantia (because everyone knows that a full-length lasts at least an hour) corrects many of the flaws that prevented Tohcoth from being great.

Omnimantia is self-released. This unfortunately means that the buyer is denied the beautifully-illustrated quirky liner notes of the previous two full-lengths, and that the disc itself is only a CD-r. The advantage is that every copy comes with an insert of personalised liner notes, written and drawn by Marjomaa, who takes requests as to their contents. This makes the release feel a lot more "finished" than the standard marker-scribbled CD-r in a plastic sleeve. It contains four original new songs which are unique to this release; another new song called Lovecraft Knew which is apparently scheduled for inclusion on an upcoming Lovecraft-themed release, and two covers of the Finnish gods of doom - 'Untitled' by Skepticism, and 'Crying Blood / Crimson Snow' (retitled Verivaikerrus/Hurmehanki) by Thergothon.

There are a number of ways in which this release is an improvement over Tohcoth. Firstly, the songwriting is far more cohesive. Most the songs do not feature jarring, random-sounding transitions like that album does, and even those that do - mainly 'This is Not a Mask' and 'Untitled' - are composed in a much more rational, comprehensible manner. Itís actually possible to understand and appreciate the transitions on this release, and itís far stronger for it. Indeed, the fact that the remaining tracks follow much more understandable and predictable structures is far more acceptable when it is remembered that some of Bathosí better tracks were also presented in this way - for example, 'V.I.T.R.I.O.L.', and 'Quinotaurus'.
This advantage is further consolidated by the higher quality of the performance. Aarni has always made a virtue out of the Burzumesque method playing everything once and once only, not fixing errors. This has clearly been maintained on this release, but the audible errors are much fewer, much farther between, and far less damaging to the sound. The instrumental parts on this release are generally a little simpler than on Tohcoth, and more in line with Bathos, which likely made a strong performance easier to pull off. Furthermore, I cannot help but suspect that Marjomaa spent some extra time practicing prior to recording. Whatever the reason, the improvement is vast, and has had a huge positive impact on how enjoyable the album is.

Another dramatic improvement is in the vocals. Where Tohcoth featured a predominant use of frankly awful clean vocals, this release avoids them in favour of a death metal-style growl, heavily-treated pitch-shifted cleans (I suspect a vocoder), whispering, and spoken word. Although his growl isnít wonderful, it works perfectly well in context, and I really like the remainder of the styles employed - he has a very interesting voice, and it really enhances quite a few of the songs. Multi-layered vocals are used in several places also, and the lyrics are generally quite good (albeit strange and esoteric, and slightly tongue-in-cheek). The result is an intriguing performance, and indeed, a very strong one.

Although every song on the release is very different from every other (nothing new there, then), there are a number of other comments that can be made about all of them. First, the death metal influence sporadically showcased on his earlier releases is slightly more involved here. This is particularly the case in opener 'Rat King', which is little more than a death/doom piece, and a rather up-tempo one at that. This influence also creeps into 'This is Not a Mask', some of the "sections" in 'Hypnagogia', and also occasionally, and more subtly, on 'Lovecraft Knew' and 'Untitled'.

Another notable feature is the production. Again, as this is a home release, itís a little rawer than the previous releases which were generally somewhat more polished. The most notable element, however, is the consequence of Marjomaaís vendetta against the so-called "loudness war". He is apparently revolted by modern production trends of high compression and thus high volume, but a flattening out of the dynamic range. As such, the tracks have not been compressed at all (with the exception of 'Verivaikerrus/Hurmehanki'). This has resulted in two things - first, the natural dynamics are far more evident, which is rather welcome. Itís given everything an additional layer of nuance that I rarely even notice is missing on new releases these days. Secondly, it gives everything a rougher feel- almost like hearing it live. Itís a pretty interesting effect, and helps to provide the release as a whole with a unique character.

The final aspect that all of the songs have in common is that they are strange. I mean really, really strange. Itís difficult to explain why without descending into track-by-track analysis, so instead I will just pick out two of the more interesting examples to discuss in detail, and leave the reader to infer the rest from the various hints scattered throughout this review.

Probably the strangest piece of all is 'Hypnagogia'. The title refers to the half-heard hallucination/dreams experienced as one falls asleep or wakes up. Itís comprised entirely of guitar and piano, with some sound effects thrown in for good measure. The strange thing is that although both instruments play for the entirety of the piece, which is not far off a quarter of an hour in length, they apparently have nothing to do with one another! Indeed, both parts sound as though they are entirely improvised, and borrow elements from a number of styles across a series of amorphous and possible accidental movements. But sometimes, they almost seem to be synching up. They never quite get there, but they threaten to resolve. Itís the strangest effect. It feels like sitting in a hallway with the sounds of a piano coming in from a lounge next door, while the distant sound of a sound check for a metal gig echoes down to you. Itís going to be a very divisive track, but I like it. Bearing in mind the title, it really does seem like a successful attempt at musically recreating the malformed, shapeless imagery the mind comes up with as it falls asleep. A fairly hypnotic track, and laden with a bizarre atmosphere, of a sort. It is slightly too long for its own good, all the same.

Another particularly notable track is 'Untitled', the Skepticism cover. This opens very impressively, with very extended, massively heavy sweeping guitar chords and rolling toms which are very characteristic of Skepticism themselves. However, this turns into a reasonably upbeat march, far more in line with Aarniís slightly jocular songs. Itís faintly reminiscent of the original piece, just about. The lyrics are taken from the German version of the Principia Discordia. This combined with the march tempo reminds me of 'The Battle Hymn of the Eristocracy' in some ways. This is further reinforced by the pieceís climax/outro, which features a return of the very low clean vocals combined with high falsetto, again reminiscent of that piece. They sing, over and over: "Heute die Welt, morgen das Sonnensystem" (today the world, tomorrow the solar system). This all sounds very bizarre, and - well, it is! Yet it works incredibly well - this piece is actually the highlight of the album, for me.

Overall this is a really great release. The only piece that I found disappointing was the Thergothon cover, which is performed using mainly clean electric guitar and flutes. It just sounds - wrong. 'Hypnagogia' is also going to put off many listeners, as noted above. However the remainder is all pretty great - from the death metal-inspired antics of 'Rat King' to the acoustic beauty of 'Dimwa Depenga', and the creepy free-form menace of 'Lovecraft Knew', Marjomaa has barely set a foot wrong. Itís not quite a return to form, given how fantastic Bathos is, but itís a dramatic improvement, and a number of strides in the right direction. Highly recommended to fans of his earlier stuff, and the weird side of music in general.


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