Broken Hope: Omen of Disease

hopeBroken Hope was one of the earlier death metal acts, hailing from Chicago, and really creating an entire scene in their wake, a critical step towards today's toss-around term of 'brutal'.  They've been around a lot longer than most acts, and they have the scars to prove it, and loss.  Imagine everyone's surprise, after the tragic death of original vocalist Joe Ptacek, that the band reformed with some new members, headed out on a comeback tour, and then released an entirely new album, Omen of Disease.  this reviewer happened to catch them live and they tore it to pieces as much as Deicide bored the hell out of the members of the crowd actually paying attention.  Talk about realizing one's age in about two seconds...  It was a lucky chance too, because recently a conflict involving sliced throats (seriously) and equipment caused Deicide to drop Broken Hope from the tour.  Either way, this was a difficult review because it's not simply an album.  Broken Hope put together a new set of songs, with some live tracks thrown in at the end, and, for a real kick, they even included an almost two-hour long documentary covering their earliest roots to the present day, which includes, believe it or not, actual footage from their personal collection.  You get old VHS handycam shots, rare flyers, old zine entries, shots from shows, you name it.  Thus, we have to consider the CD version presented here as a full package with two parts.  So let's cover them separately, but lump it all under a single score at the end.

 

Omen of Disease, yeah, a touch of plague needled us awake when we heard the first sample track via Youtube, and well, the Wes Benscoter artwork, yeah, awesome.  Of course, the main question was, after almost 14 years what would they sound like?  Perhaps a combination of The Bowels of Repugnance with Loathing?  Could they make a new place for themselves or, better yet, push aside all the trash?  Considering some recent comebacks, such as Carcass's near-perfect Surgical Steel, it would be something to assume, and you'd generally be correct.  Opening with a sampling of technological atmosphere, Broken Hope lays out what they're about in a few seconds into the first track proper, "Womb of Horrors", which has easily the most memorable riffs on the album.  Already it's obvious.  You have a combination of catchy hooks and technicality, sweeping back and forth between these two concepts.  Most of the 'technical' side is accomplished through solos, and, naturally, some songs are stronger than others.  As a whole, the music captures the essence of "brutal" so many bands beat into a pulp until it goes from ground corpses into unrecognizable puddles of nothing.  Hint, there's a limit folks.  Broken Hope is, arguably, one of the primary forefathers of 'brutal death metal', and their command of riffage and technicality definitely shows.  There is only one real complaint, the vocals need some fine-tuning.  Now, don't get us wrong, we weren't expecting someone to emulate Joe Ptacek, or anyone for that matter.  However, the delivery here tends to be routine. It could use two things: more intonation of syllables, something that Ptacek had problems with himself, and more variety in tone.  For a comeback effort, it's definitely announced their second-coming, but working on some of the vocal kinks will get Broken Hope to the new position it deserves.  Overall the singing fits, in fact he's able to capture some pretty low roars for the most part, but when he starts to run out of steam, literally, it becomes obvious.  Musically speaking, this package is an easy 4 / 5 .

 

But Omen of Disease isn't simply about the music.  Also included in this version is a DVD that covers Broken Hope's formation up to its current status.  Typically, you'd expect a simple cut-and-paste of images with minor commentary.  But here, this is easily one of the most important documentaries concerning death metal ever created.  Narrated primarily by Broken Hope guitarist, and general head, Jeremy Wagner, it takes the viewer from early work before the band was formed throughout different eras.  Running close to two hours, the amount of footage here is impressive, not to mention stuff that qualifies as archival.  The fact that Wagner kept all of these tapes is incredible, but seeing them is another thing entirely, meaning it's best to categorize it as "needs some sort of freaking award".  You get to see Broken Hope at its earliest, it's first show, its first tour, different fans, some guest appearances by members of bands like Immolation, basically everything you'd want to get out of something like this but usually never do.  More importantly, other than the commentary, which is very enlightening by the way, 25 Years of Sickness: The Broken Hope Story is one of the most human and honest documentaries about death metal you'll ever see.  You get a sense of the real-life struggles and hardships of musicians who work so hard in the industry.  Frequently all we see is an album and a show, and we forget the people who are behind it all.  Here, however, you get to see it for all its worth, and its worth quite a bit.  The amount of time in piecing together this section of the release is worth it for the entire package.  By itself, the DVD nabs an easy 5 / 5 , no questions asked.  As a whole, Omen of Disease is definitely recommended.  Let's hope for much more in the future.

 

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Broken Hope: Omen of Disease
Century Media
Score: 4.5 / 5
Written by Stanley Stepanic