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Outland Sessions - EP Review: Duskfall

24 Jul 2018 // A review by Steve Shyu

The Outland Sessions is the end product of a large collaborative project between 20 Kiwi musicians who gathered in Pahiatua over February 2018 to jam, write and record songs. The end products are twenty entirely different-sounding songs, mixed and mastered by Mordecai Records and released as three separate EP's.

Duskfall is the title of these three acts, and as Paul T Gheist ventured further into the Outlands, he finds himself in dark, yet strangely familiar territory, filled with the fantastic and the odd...

1 – Alice Behind The 8 Ball

The first movement begins with jangly but doom-laden guitar chords, with a stoner-type trudge provided by the drums. Though slow, the song wastes no time in showing off main features: Lead singing that’s practically a replica of Joshua Homme’s early vocals, and the mournful dual-harmonies of Jerry Cantrell in the chorus.

As the song rolls along in the slow, lumbering rhythms, more and more influences from Alice in Chains and Queens of the Stone Age peer through the smoke, and one gradually realises the aptness of the title to this THC-laced number.

The track’s stonerdom is perhaps best exemplified in the echoing lyric “This body is just... This body is just a vessel”. The juxtaposition of par-conscious lyrics combined with an out-of-body musical drone makes for a nice, gloomy start to the EP.

2 – Takes So Much

Just before one decides that daylight had completely disappeared behind hills, the second track of this EP kicks in. Awakened by a swirl of major-key piano, drums and guitar at mid-tempo, this one is a bright contract against the doom of the opener.

Bearing a proud mark of Brit-rock, the song also ventures back to a half-time rhythm in the middle, the mood then hoisted by high-register backing vocals, and leading to a warm, reconciliatory finish.

The piano chords and the backing vocals invokes the bombast of early Elton John, except folded with post-punk singing at the front of the mix.

The song quickly ends on a trailing piano note, as though to quickly hide from the oncoming dusk.

3 – Until The Sun's Death Kills Time

The song immediately captures attention with a soaring male voice. Accompanied by drums and bass guitar, the shimmering keyboard arpeggios takes the main focus of this piece.

Mid-way through, the song breaks into a rock waltz, creating a passage of unusual tension, which is gently tightened further with the addition of light violin tremolo strokes.  

The lead singing never loosens its hold on one’s attention, with a great style hybridised between the crisp falsettos of the late Chris Cornell, added to the range and register of Serj Tankian.

But just as one considers the track concluded, it suddenly launches into an epic, “November Rain”-like orchestral arrangement of the song. The theatrical ending is a definite highlight of this EP, however, unlike the Guns n’ Roses classic, this conclusion is woefully short. A finishing move so dramatic deserves more than a swift thirty seconds!

4 – 8-Bit Nightmare

Without a doubt the most unusual and unexpected entry to the sessions so far, this one is an instrumental homage to 8- and 16-bit videogames of a bygone era, albeit with an art-rock vibe.

The deep layers of over-filtered sound make for a very tense listen, and goes beyond just another imitation of Super Mario Bros. In minor key, attacks come from high, middle and low-end of the sound spectrum, and in the raspy nostalgic goodness only the most ancient of synths can produce.

Featuring a series of abrasively distorted riffs in the middle, samples of evil laughter and even a bleep-bleep rhythm resembling Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”, the adventurous and cinematic quality would make a great match to a short film about someone trapped in a vintage arcade game.

Though weird, this is definitely one to stop by and check out; this may even become a favourite out of the EP's for those appreciative of generally-orthodox compositions.

5 – Ashes

If one is craving a good, honest heavy metal tune, be sure to stop by this fifth track. The first metal song on the EP's so far, and very little time is taken before scream vocals tear through by surprise. And female scream vocals too!

A nice, powerful blend of palm-muted guitars and grooved drumbeats, all in support of the lead singing voice, interchanging between clean and harsh vocal styles.

Everything about this song screams (pun intended) of Kiwi metal favourites, Devilskin, from the backing refrain vocals to the guitar solo, and the headbang-worthy grooves.

The only puzzling feature of this track is the slight echo heard in the clean singing during verses, as though it was recorded in a hallway... Which would be perfect if it’s to intentionally summon vibes of an abandoned building!

6 – It's A Good Day To Rot

In a continuation of harsher singing styles, this one is also a pounding, in-your-face number. Given the song title and a short play-length of two minutes fifty, one could immediately sense the oncoming punk assault.

This one is a breed of equal parts grunge and punk (were the two genres in their infancy really so different?). The verses ring with the nasally snarls of Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, with angry, staccato guitar riffs, plus sharp punk lyrics and choruses that howl and shriek in the way Nirvana became renowned for.

This one is also an easy song to headbang to at a dive bar, as the piercing attitude edges one on to take another swig of beer and loosen up one’s neck muscles.

At its conclusion, the piece mentally unravels and cuts its own leash, the mood and tone then completely descends to a youthfully discordant ending.

7 – Face To Face

Much like the first episode, this EP also closes with an instrumental. Composed entirely of a keyboard, synths and drums, building upon a creepy piano riff that bears potential as soundtrack to a movie montage.

The track starts off slow but steady, eerie with a mildly meditative air to the repeated keyboard strokes.

Not long after the drums enter, the doom-inspired tones gradually become more prominent, but evolves into machine-like march. At this point, one begins to notice the experimental approach that’s been taken, and within moments, the tempo and time signature have shifted again.

To lift things out of perspective, the keyboard synthesiser suddenly kicks in, and the track goes interdimensional, creating a cosmic, Pink Floyd-like atmosphere.

Whilst backed with technically-detailed drumming, after a while, one starts to crave the sound of distorted guitars to carry the Opeth-like feel, and to counteract the repetitive keyboard notes.

Clocking in over seven minutes long, this track is excellent if one is looking for a detailed study in experimental rock duelled between drums and a keyboard; with even a couple more instruments added to the mix, this piece would make for a great musical soundscape.

Tuning Down, Rounding Up

Equally as eclectic as the first EP, but more grungy and muddy. In the metaphor of journeying through the wilderness, we’re straying into swamps and dense scrubland, and night time is falling.

Tension is ratcheted up several notches compared to the first act; every track bears a different kind of intensity to it, be it in emotional, instrumental, digital forms, or in an atmospheric sense.

There are clear influences from Smashing Pumpkins, Queens of the Stone Age, several nods to early grunge bands, plus a noticeably Devilksin-esque number. Oh, and a quirky but creative video-game soundtrack set right in the middle, as though 16-bit alien invaders had crash-landed in the Outlands?!

For the review of Outland Sessions EP 1: Daylight, click here.

Review written by Paul T Gheist


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