Outcast: Awaken the Reason

It’s hard to listen to yet another semi-underground progressive metal band with an open mind. With so many that fit that description lately, expectations aren’t very high, and creativity isn’t common. That’s why this French progressive metal band surprised me so much.

What I heard wasn’t stale chugging and palm muted riffs; it was refreshing. Perhaps not completely original – their sound is most akin to Gojira for its heavy groove style and also similar to The Dillinger Escape Plan with its spastic technicality and slightly jazzy approach. Regardless, Outcast’s influences blend well and the band maintains its identity in the process.

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Outcast isn’t new to the game, they’ve been around since 1998, starting out as Overlander before changing their name in 2002. “Awaken the Reason” is their third full-length album, and their most fluid and unique. While staying true to their previous effort, “Self-Injected Reality,” this album flows together more seamlessly.

Their jazzy elements used to stand out like a sore thumb; now they’re integrated alongside melodic, shredding leads and moments of crushing heaviness, never more than a minute or two apart.

Outcast’s song writing ­always impresses. Their ­remarkable technicality never feels like it’s just for the sake of being fast. There’s real structure and emotion, best heard in “Abysmal” or “Last Man’s Failure.” The breakdowns here are sparingly used but always executed at just the right spot to sky-rocket the energy. If there’s one thing that “Awaken the Reason” does perfectly, it’s keep the energy high. With the monumental build-ups and occasional soft interludes that shoot straight into another heavy section, these songs were made for a live setting.

At just under an hour, “Awaken the Reason” rarely gets boring. It’s consistently fresh and exciting, with standout moments in almost every song, making them easy to tell apart. The attention-grabbing solo in “Spin Angular Momentia,” the breakdown at the end of “Fallen Year,” and the entirety of “Awaken the Reason Part IV” (an orchestral instrumental track) are examples of moments that keep this album’s replay value so high.

I don’t hum along to extreme metal often, but parts of this album are so catchy, it leaves me no choice. The vocals are especially memorable, and remind me of a more melodious Jens Kidman, vocalist of Meshuggah. As for the rhythm section, the bass is quite shy but the drumming more than makes up for it. There’s no double bass abuse or reliance on pure speed. Instead they use intricate patterns to keep things interesting, not to mention the production is perfectly crisp, clean, and absolutely sublime, like the instrumentation itself.

Occasionally, the band takes its amazing energy and replaces it with a more atmospheric setting, which isn’t very effective, such as on “Isolation,” where the music gets messy and disjointed.

They have not quite perfected their craft, but provided they have enough ideas to keep sounding as fresh as they do here, Outcast could grow to be just as heralded as fellow death metal countrymen Gojira. They certainly deserve to be.

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