December 7, 2016 in Reviews
Skyliner – Condition Black (2016)
Reviewed by Daniel Millard
Intellectually dense, spiritually questing, texturally austere, and stylistically migrant: Skyliner’s sound began this way and has continued to venture further and further on a trajectory fully understood only by its creator, Jake Becker (and perhaps not even entirely by him). 2014’s Outsiders was long in the making, and while Condition Black took a while to be presented for public consumption, I’d be fairly surprised if round three weren’t already being armed and plotted for delivery. Skyliner’s agenda is supplemented by some growth on Condition Black, and as those of us following the band have come to expect, it expertly delivers neck-snapping metal side-by-side with remarkably genuine tenderness.
Though I’m not sure how accurate my assessment here is, the first couple of tracks on Condition Black feel more purposeful (as opposed to the chaotic feeling of Outsiders opener “Symphony In Black”) – or perhaps its just enhanced recording experience. Both “Condition Black” and “Too Many Voices” feel more straightforward and categorically “riffy” than the one-two punch that began the debut. I think that this will convince a number of people who felt that Outsiders was, perhaps, just a bit too messy, but I actually find these two songs a little less hooky, if more lyrically interesting. Actually, the blueprint of Condition Black follows that which was laid down by Outsiders VERY closely for the first half. Both begin with mostly ambient intros, followed by two easily followed, memorable, and hard-hitting tracks. On track four with both albums, we find an elongated, developmental song with extended intro/outro and solo sections, and on to track five, an even longer (now reaching eight and a half minutes or so) composition with a very gentle beginning which gradually ramps up – though I will grant that its extreme metal leanings make the tail end of “Cages We Create” on Condition Black a more sonically punishing experience.
It is the second portion of the album where Condition Black hurls itself out of the familiar pattern and up into the ether. “Starseeker (The Mystery Of God)” may be my favorite track on the album, despite its plain, repetitious chorus (which has ultimately grown on me). The searing verses make up for a lot, and similar violent tendencies return on the highly charged “As Above, So Below”. Unfortunately, in my mind, the interludes between which that song is sandwiched are about as purposeful as the notoriously empty spacey tracks which populate Lost Horizon’s A Flame To The Ground Beneath. Maybe if you’re in a particularly pensive mood, or run through albums purely on emotion, these are an interesting inclusion – but I don’t see either of these applying to me, and so they’ve been deleted outright from my iTunes library.
I always want to describe Skyliner as “proggy”, but that’s really not accurate. Closer to the mark, I think, would be to cite the old Queensryche adage and address it as “thinking man’s metal”. Most of the songs (and especially vocal melodies) are recognizably easy to follow for heavy/power metal fans, and yet the guitar work and singing is possessed of the rawness and riffing more commonly associated with speed metal. At the same time, Skyliner blends in the sort of abstract lyricism that’s usually reserved for to prog, and also frequently includes musical allusions to extreme metal (specifically, Becker’s harsh vocals and some of Brenner’s drum techniques).
There are a few tracks here – “The Morbid Architect” comes to mind immediately, in addition to the interludes – that are a little beyond my appreciation, and the more that I hear Condition Black, the more I find myself preferring the debut. However, those interested in the band’s somewhat esoteric thematic/lyrical approach or appreciate a sharper extreme metal edge will likely prefer this, and fans of Outsiders won’t find themselves disappointed much, if at all. Interestingly, there is a “bonus track” called “Vendetta” that is fairly in line with the band’s other more straightforward, memorable songs, and which seems to be available…almost everywhere (Amazon, Spotify). Actually, the only version of the album that DOESN’T have this bonus track seems to be the Limb-issued CD. Because…you know, that will help sales? I cannot be the only one who bought the CD and now listens to the album online more because it has this song.
I digress. Condition Black is a very enjoyable, mature album that’s once again outstanding in its field. The energy that Skyliner exudes is inimitable and promises not to let up anytime soon.
3.75 // 5