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Oratorio - The Reality of Existence

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Trying to outdue 2003, Rivel Records has a huge task ahead of them.  Albums from Crimson Moonlight and Pantokrator lead a great group of releases on this up and coming label last year.  Now with 2004 in full swing, Rivel introduces us to the Finnish power metal band Oratorio.  Oratorio is working on 6 years as a band.  Some of you may remember them from the Metal Rose Collection album a few years ago.  The band signed to Little Rose Productions, but the label folded before the band had a chance to go into the studio.  I'll save you the rest of the story and fast forward to the present though.  Oratorio landed on Rivel Records recently and have just released their debut full length, The Reality of Existence, and the world is better place because of it.
 
This album falls in the melodic power metal category somewhat, but it really doesn't seem to fit the mold perfectly.  This is a good thing though as you don't seem to be listening to a band that is intent on just fitting in the cookie-cutter mold that every other band seems to try and imitate.  Now, this is not some super original sounding band.  They have their influences, but they just sound somewhat fresh and different to these ears.  Maybe it's just because I've been immersed in black and death metal the last few weeks and anything sounds fresh after all that.  Anyways...musically the band has a very nice crunch and mixes it up between mid-tempo and faster, aggressive songs.  Take a mix of Stratovarius, very recent Immortal Souls, and maybe Iron Maiden and you get an idea of their musical direction.  The band is very tight and can really suck you into their musical world on any of these 10 songs.  Vocally, Joel Hekkala has a deeper voice than most power metal vocalists.  I'd say his vocals are closer to the style of Ville Laihiala of Sentenced than anybody else.  Seeing as how I'm a big Sentenced fan, this is a good thing.
 
Oratorio really succeeds on all counts in my opinion.  The music seems to get better on multiple listens.  The band uses melody and aggression to their advantage at all the right times.  The vocals might be tough for some to get into, but I really think that Hekkala has a very powerful voice that fits the music perfectly.  His vocals are also very emotional and mixed with the Christ-centered lyrics, it really leads to an almost worshipful experience at times.  They even do a Finnish-sung balled called "Taivaallinen Jerusalem" that incorporates violin by Nina Kuittinen.  Heck, even production and packaging are well done on this release.  
 
The best songs on this disc are hard to narrow down, but I'd have to say "No Return from Hell", "Ages Before", "Wounded Moon", and "Shine the Light".  The latter ends the album in great fashion leaving a wonderful taste in the listeners ears.  Rivel Records seems to have scored very well in finding this band.  I'm very excited about what the future holds for Oratorio.  (Review by Matt)     

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