Skyliner – Outsiders
Skyliner – Outsiders (2014)
Reviewed by Daniel Millard
Outsiders has been a long time coming. After reviewing the earlier efforts from Florida’s Skyliner (most inexpertly) since the self-titled demo in 2009, it’s a very good feeling to see Jake Becker, Ben Brenner, and company’s work fully realized (and on a good power metal label with Limb, no less). The advent of a full release means that songs seen on Skyliner and The Alchemist have been re-imagined and provided rather extensive facelifts, as well as new songs being added. Because of prior familiarity with half of these songs, I’m finding it difficult to write this review without a track-by-track approach affording comparison.
“Signals” opens the debut full-length with a somber atmosphere of synths and Becker’s plaintive calls of “Where would you go? Who would you be? What would you do? What would you see?” It’s a surprisingly memorable opener (that’s not really a song in its own right) for an album, and a refreshing change from the typical minute-long instrumental employed by many bands, while still setting mood in the dramatic fashion that most metal groups aim for. The proper opener, “Symphony In Black” (any fan of the band would have seen this coming) is just as frenzied and disjointed-sounding as ever with its start-stop riffing, but everything has improved: the guitar is clearer and crunchier, and Becker’s vocals have improved by several noticeable marks – to the point where they’ve become a real high point on Outsiders, rather than a cause for concern. Despite its somewhat unorthodox structure and sound, this song is always going to be an iconic and memorable one for Skyliner.
For those that haven’t heard the band, I would classify Skyliner’s sound as dwelling somewhere in a nebulous cloud between the realms of Dark At Dawn, Rage, and Rebellion (or, as our Chris Foley put it, “The album Rage would have made after being abducted by aliens”), but with more experimentation and complexity (read: proggy) than any of the above. Becker’s vocals also come across as a mixture of Peavy, Kohlrausch, and Seifert, and he’s not opposed to throwing in harsh vocals to support the songwriting as well. “Undying Wings”, a track that debuted on EP The Alchemist, helps illustrate the comparison to these bands well with a stomping, straightforward approach fronted by Becker’s roaring that promises to mop the floor with unsuspecting listeners. “Forever Young” follows as the first brand new, never-before-heard track for the album, and winds up into a headsplitting exhibition of a spiritual odyssey that leads very effectively into the album’s emotional pinnacle.
Prior to this point on the album, the lyricism has been more than suggestive of Christian themes, and this re-recording of “Aria Of The Waters” breaks those themes wide open in an outpouring of soul-searching, carried by touching vocal melody and supplemented with light but extremely engaging synth work. I don’t know if I’d qualify this song as a “ballad’, but I can say that it’s probably my favorite song on the album – rare enough, for such a tune. Both following numbers, “Human Residue” and “Dawn Of The Dead”, are more aggressive, original tracks composed for Outsiders, and while the former impresses me with its memorability and content, “Dawn Of The Dead” seems more basic and leaves me fairly nonplussed, though I think that many will find something to enjoy here (and perhaps even be relieved by something a little more straightforward).
To round out the album, Skyliner has polished and re-served “The Alchemist” (which sounds better and more potent than ever), as well as a 21 minute epic entitled “Worlds Of Conflict”, a composition that, according to Becker, is essentially a re-imagining of “Time”, from the band’s 2005 demo Light Comes Out Of Black. I’ve never heard the original tune, but “Worlds Of Conflict” is a sprawling, broiling composition that shows off songwriting talent like no other with many and varied musical sections – varying from progressive rock to extreme metal. It’s a daunting listen, but one that I would happily take on with more frequency than most power metal “epics”.
Not only have the production and instrumental tightness improved everywhere, Outsiders benefits incredibly from Jake’s vastly improved vocals (I should mention that there’s a section in “Worlds Of Conflict” where his blackened snarls sound a little like our beloved Lord Tim) and the addition of full-time bass player David Lee Reading (who is truly a monster on some of these tracks). Not only has the collective songwriting improved old songs and crafted very listenable new ones, this album is filled with desperate senses of questioning and need that impart an urgency and authenticity that I have never experienced in the genre. Outsiders simultaneously utilizes break-neck fury and poignant contemplation, blending them with intense, penetrating spiritual lyricism that is ultimately extremely uplifting (no matter your creed, I should think). It’s definitely a bit of an unhinged listen, stylistically, but one that I’d recommend without reservation to fans of heavier, progressively-tinged power metal with a philosophical/spiritual approach. Skyliner is on the rise, and I’m well game for a second helping.
4.0 // 5