Convinced you've heard everything the 80s had to offer in the way of traditional metal? Convinced bands such as Iron Maiden, Manowar, Metallica or [insert mainstream big band name] were the absolute cream of the crop? Music and metal in particular, has a way of surprising you, as this relatively unknown band from Los Angeles proves. The biggest surprise with Omen isn't that they destroy most, if not all, of the albums Manowar ever put out, and many of Iron Maiden's, it's with the elegance and ease with which they do so. Despite the somewhat juvenile theme of some of the songs, the extremely high caliber and class of this band is unmistakable and, quite frankly, a real fucking treat.
On first impression, Omen comes through as a slightly more up-tempo mix between the instrumental style of Iron Maiden (check ‘Last Rites’ for the most shining example!) and the lyrical theme and epic feel of (early) Manowar (check ‘Battle Cry’!). Not as obvious is the similarity to Manilla Road, especially apparent in the vocal melodies. The main difference between those two bands is the accessibility of the songwriting. Omen is much more straightforward and accessible band in that department. The flow to their songs is, to say the least, incredible, and their songwriting good enough to compete with the best.
That these are all very skilled and professional musicians doesn't hurt either. Most worthy of note are perhaps the guitars. They may be somewhat Iron Maiden (maybe some Warlord too?) inspired, but the melodies and riffs are simply outstanding, very tight and “creative”, and certainly never boring. The lead guitar isn’t allowed much room and the leads are for the most part short and concise, sometimes unremarkable, but the solo in ‘Death Rider’ for instance is not to be sneezed at. Something I’ve been paying more attention to lately is the fast and well-balanced drumming from Steve Wittig. The drumming in 'Death Rider' and ‘Into the Arena’ is undeniably top-class.
Of course, vocalist J.D. Kimball is not to be overlooked, as he's a perfect match for the band's sound, and a superb vocalist in his own right - certainly one of the best and most overlooked vocalists I’ve heard. Although he can't be said to possess an incredible range, his voice is just so pleasant to listen to, every line of his delivered with such genuine passion and feeling, it's no wonder that some of the melodies get stuck in my head for hours. One only has to listen to the first 30 seconds of 'Last Rites' for a demonstration (a warning for the chills that may be going down your spine is in order here...), or why not ‘Die by the Blade’ in full.
Battle Cry may not be a full-fledged masterpiece (90%+), mainly due to some consistency “problems”, but it's definitely a classic, in large part because of amazing, masterpiece-level songs such as ‘Death Rider’, ‘Dragon's Breath’, ‘Battle Cry’, ‘Die by the Blade’ and maybe ‘Last Rites’ and ‘Into the Arena’. If you're curious about the band, check out one of those – you’ll love it.
Considering how good this now 23 years old molten epic sounds today (it has aged very well), it must have been quite the revelation back in the 80s. The album gets minus points for some consistency problems, some of the lyrics, and bonus points for its incredible style and class and, of course, the intro to ‘Into the Arena’
If you haven’t heard Omen or their Battle Cry yet, you have a unique opportunity to revisit the 80s in all its glory – take it!
- fluffy_ferret, January 30th, 2008