|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By: Thomas Mata & Joel Hekkala|
|Record Label: Rivel||Country Of Origin: Finland|
|Year Released: 2007||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 11||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 47:45|
Oratorio, meaning epic musical piece in Finnish, got its start back in the late nineties when it was put together by vocalist Joel Hekkala, guitarist Jarmo Happonen, bassist Lauri Joutsiniemi and drummer Janne Hietakangas. The new four piece unit proceeded to record its first demo, “Vahan”, in 1999 before acquiring a permanent lead guitarist in Thomas Mata later the same year. A second demo, “Huuto”, soon followed before Oratorio placed the track “Shine The Light” on the Metal Rose compilation in 2000. The band went on to gig throughout its native Finland the next several years until the time came to records its full length debut, The Reality Of Existence. Released on Rivel Records in 2003, The Reality Of Existence showcased the bands potential on quality power metal tracks “Chain Of Pain” and “Ages Before” in addition to the driving sounds of “Lonely Prayer” and “Believer’s Destiny”. The all out speed metal of the previously referenced “Shine The Light” made an appearance as well.
Soon after the release of The Reality Of Existence, however, bassist Lauri Joutsiniemi departed the group only to be replaced by newcomer Ilpo Istolainen. With its line up set, Oratorio continued to play live – including shows in Sweden, Norway and Germany – before recording the follow up sophomore effort Redemption. Initially released in Finland on Mata Records in late 2006 but later picked up by Rivel Records in mid-2007, Redemption reflects the maturity gained by Oratorio in all aspects of its performance since the time of The Reality Of Existence. Whether it is in the areas of songwriting, production, lead vocals, lead guitar or even packaging, the album, for a lack of better words, represents a major step up for the band.
Musically, Redemption finds Oratorio delivering a work predominantly made up of mid-tempo numbers but featuring enough up-tempo tracks to keep it from becoming a trite listen. The best way to describe things might be heavy BUT catchy metal, best reflected in the notable hooks characteristic to melodic based pieces “Burning”, “Raw” and “Inner Weakness”. A more technical – but equally gripping – power metal based sound, at the same time, can be found on “Cold State”, “Whispers In The Night”, “Brothers” and “Wicked” (these four even hint at a slight progressiveness in places). Nevertheless, it is on the seven previously referenced compositions in which Oratorio exhibits that “maturity gained” and “major step up” in question. Out of the albums four remaining songs, the band gives us a customary ballad (“Come Into My Heart”) along with two mid-tempo tracks (“Passing By” and “Faceless”) and one more that moves in an up-tempo direction (“Secrets”).
Joel Hekkala remains a solid talent on lead vocals with his versatile mid-octave ranged vocal style. Similar to The Reality Of Existence, he stays mostly in smooth sounding territory but whenever needed can reach down low to add some good old fashioned back bone to his delivery. In my review of The Reality Of Existence, I described the lead guitar work of Thomas Mata as a “bit hit and miss”. Well, the good news to report is that Redemption finds Thomas reaching his potential with a much more well rounded and consistent effort. Tracks such as “Cold State”, “Burning”, "Raw” and others stand out as a result of the maturity and aptitude of his playing (more time in the studio certainly helped out here as well). Rhythm guitarist Jarmo Happonen also performs solidly (check out his playing on “Secrets” and “Whispers In The Night”) and rounds out the bands line up with the rhythm section of Ilpo Istolainen (bass) and Janne Hietakangas.
From a production standpoint, Oratorio has nailed a near perfect rhythm guitar sound- crisp, edgy and right up front in the mix. But, at the same time, room is made for others aspects of the bands sound – particularly lead guitar and drums – to shine as well.
Oratorio’s biography (at its website) states: “The band's lyrics don't want to hit you on the head with the Bible, but talk about life as a Christian. As people, we all are weak and we have many struggles in our lives. Life as a Christian is not always easy, but we believe that God is able to carry us when we are weak.” I cannot help but think that sums things up best as the bands lyrics address issues ranging from dealing with lust, making the most of life and fighting the good fight.
Opening track “Cold State” represent an epitomization of all that works well on Redemption. A complex piece that borders on the progressive, “Cold State” combines a catchy hook and forward wall of rhythm guitar with just the right amount of time changes to maintain your full attention. Mata adds a run of fluid lead guitar to a song that yearns for a higher hope:
These walls are higher
Than structures of shelter
That I have built around me
My deepest desire
Just one more time to feel
A hope beyond this belief
“Burning” opens with the rhythm guitar playing a commanding role in the mix. The song, however, tapers off in tranquil fashion upon reaching its first verse only to regain the lost momentum for a gripping chorus standing out as a result of the anthem-like feel to its delivery. Mata adds to the driving scene with an aggressive display of soloing. Catchy but heavy, “Burning” can best be described as a song of faith:
Know this: your world comes
Faith is our power!
Your eyes are on fire
Lust now gone away
Faith! Burning inside
The aptly title “Raw” quickly fades in before taking off to a hard hitting rhythm guitar. Storming ahead to an excess of up-tempo initiative, the song makes an even transition to a sweeping chorus that talks about making the most in life:
Don’t waste your life by living
In a dream world
Wake up now!
Be real – by lying I gain nothing
Looking for joy and sorrow
In your within your life
Is drowning away
Endless search for love
Facing raw death
Another stretch of adeptly played lead guitar brings out the best in one of the better tracks here.
Introduced to a drum solo, “Inner Weakness” moves ahead to a charging guitar riff only to settle down at the start of its first verse. The song proceeds to pummel its way forward as a commanding rhythm guitar takes over, not evening out until prior to a stately chorus guaranteed to draw you in with its infectious ardor. “Inner Weakness” focuses on the need for God literally in our time of weakness:
Your fire burns me, mine fades away
So do think that I will obey You!
My inner weakness, my selfishness
Won’t ever take His love away from me!
I enjoy how the song closes out its final minute to an acoustic based instrumental entitled “Cleanses”.
“Secrets” begins at once at an upbeat tempo, the forward resolve sustained as the way is quickly paved for an authoritative chorus underscored by a crunchy swell of rhythm guitar. Mata adorns a lengthy but raucous instrumental section with a touch of melodically played lead guitar. Dealing with lust is the topic here:
In love with lust
I wish I fall out of love
Every time I say
I’ll never go through it again
My mind makes it more tempting
To feel the non-lasting pleasure
A straightforward and no frills hard rocker, “Passing By” maintains a plethora of driving mid-tempo impetus its full distance. A chorus of the stalwart variety, at the same time, finds the band making a statement of faith:
We’re just passing by
I wont’ stay here forever
And now I will fight
Until I see the Light
Mata’s bristling lead guitar rises above the mix in a crystal clear sounding manner.
The technical - almost progressive – metal of “Whispers In The Night” ranks with the albums finest. The song powers through its verse portions as the rhythm guitar hammers in and out of the mix, not culminating until acquiring a catchy chorus that repeats its title in heavy duty fashion at the end:
Deep inside I want to have
My soul on fire
No one can take this wish from me
It’s mine, WHISPERS IN THE NIGHT!
Mata and Happonen put their mega-tight skills on guitar on full display throughout the sweeping instrumental section that ensues.
“Brothers” commences quietly to orchestration before suddenly taking off to an amalgamation of rhythm guitar and pounding drums. The song gradually gains momentum upon approaching its first verse, the fixed backdrop upheld as things are carried to a moving chorus highlighted by the poignant feel to Hekkala’s vocal delivery. You have to commend Oratorio for its message revolving around not losing faith in the midst of the fight:
No more shelter and comfort
It broke you down
The power of God made you stronger
And ready to fight
Never give it in!
Every metal album requires a customary ballad and such is what we have in “Come Into My Heart”. The song slowly advances its full distance interlaced with an acoustic guitar, only picking up in pace when the rhythm guitar steps forward to shore up its melodic based chorus. No, not the best ballad I have heard but far from bad at the same time. “Come Into My Heart” talks about finding the Way:
On a Northern sky is shining star
It shows the way into my heart
Here’s so dark Jesus I need your light
I know that you will find
…will find the Way
The album returns to a hard rocking direction on “Faceless”. A mid-tempo piece I might rate as medium to good at best, this is one of the few compositions on Redemption that falls a little bit flat. Similar to “Come Into My Heart”, however, it is by no means substandard – certainly not falling under the heading of “filler” – but I cannot help but think the band puts its best foot forward elsewhere. Lyrically, “Faceless” maintains the bands high standards:
Once beautiful, now spoiled by hate
Rising awareness hurts so deep
The new morning is rising
From the ashes
The driving power metal of “Wicked” takes in a swiftly moving manner, a chopping rhythm guitar holding sway over the aggressive scene until a fleeting chorus reflecting a hook filled but prevailing ambience is obtained. Tapering off to a passage carried by a quietly played guitar, “Wicked” moves on to an instrumental section in which more tight sounding rhythm guitar plays a prominent role.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Cold State” (3:58), “Burning” (4:28), “Raw” (4:03), “Inner Weakness” (6:12), “Secrets” (4:58), “Passing By” (3:58), “Whispers In The Night” (3:54), “Brothers” (4:03), “Come Into My Heart” (3:57), “Faceless” (4:10), “Wicked” (4:04)
Joel Hekkala – Lead Vocals
Thomas Mata – Guitars
Jarmo Happonen – Guitars
Ilpo Istolainen – Bass
Janne Hietakangas – Drums
Also Reviewed: Oratorio – The Reality Of Existence