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As a progressive metal fan that prefers the earlier incarnation of the style that was brought to life by Fates Warning, it’s hard to find newer progressive metal bands that work for me. Some sounds too sappy, others too unimaginative and others just feature too much instrumental excess. So where do Outworld fit in? Well, if you were to describe this band’s sound to a group of progressive metal fans, I bet plenty would have your attention. Just think about their ingredients: explosive vocals, seven string guitars and compositions that don’t even come close to the ballad territory. Let me describe the vocals in more detail: picture a combination of Metal Church’s Mike Howe with Rob Halford circa Painkiller and you’ve got Kelly Carpenter and this guy explosively howls loud and proud that I have no problem ranging him up with the usual vocal giants who have showed their worth decades earlier. There’s no other way to put it: snarly, yet with an enormous amount of vocal range Kelly Carpenter seriously dominates this album. Surely Outworld seems like the ideal progressive metal product, right?
But how would Outworld sound like if it weren’t for the impressive powerhouse of a vocalist? Unfortunately, the answer is simple: pretty damn forgettable. See, just list Painkiller, Outworld sounds flashy, has little substance and is more ideal on paper than practically enjoyable. Rusty Cooley is a man of many words and restraint definitely isn’t one of them. He has a thing for overblown leads and solos that often take longer than they should and while you’d expect his riffs to sound sophisticated and puzzling (progressive metal bands sometimes get criticized for instrumental excess, after all), they instead often end up like groove-laden chugs. Some might consider to be heavy, but they never manage to turn the compositions into serious action mode – hearing “War Cry” for the first time might knock you over because of Kelly Carpenter’s abilities, but except for the vocals actually has little value to offer, unless you enjoy your generic riffs to plod along without creating any tension whatsoever (That riff played during the keyboard solo of “The Never” is actually a good example of accomplishing that). It seems that Rusty Cooley prefers being a lead guitarist and while I won’t deny his talent, he hardly knows how to restrain himself, let alone contribute something memorable. You’ve got him practicing some scales halfway through during “The Grey Tide”, extending a track’s ideal length by messing around in “City of the Dead” and showing off overly loud sweep picking in “Riders” (which might be a tactic to mask those mediocre riffs – who knows?).
Even when Rusty Cooley does get things right, a lack of clear song structure becomes too much of a barrier. The aforementioned rousing “The Grey Tide” does highlight how flexible his style can be while this is clearly an advantage, it all goes downhill in a matter of minutes as apparently Outworld had no idea on how to write a proper nine minute track. You have this goofy keyboard motif appearing out of nowhere, followed by that god damn scale practice and even Kelly Carpenter forgets to write a decent vocal hook at this point so not knowing what to do anymore he just starts screaming random nonsense for no apparent reason.
Despite the more-over-the-top-than-over-the-top approach that doesn’t do them much favors, they’re doing well once they manage to create moody compositions that feature some depth and although this takes some time before Outworld reveal what they’re actually good at, I won’t hold this against them. “City of the Dead” has an interesting exotic flavor; but most importantly some pleasant, albeit melodic riffs that serve some memorability at least. Ending the album with another near-nine minute track is a risky move, but “I. Thanatos” surprisingly enough sees Outworld at their most united. Guitars grind onward as if I’m trapped in some forbidden factory-driven landscape, only to match with the eeriness and tension that even the guitar solos and keys manage to conjure. I’m also fond of the unexpected dreamlike-state segment that allows the bass lines to come through properly and Kelly Carpenter is at his most imaginative here with all the fantastic results to boot of course.
Whereas I’d have liked to see Outworld put more emphasis on atmosphere than anything else, the band would actually simplify things while retaining an attitude not long after this album came out. I suggest that you trace down the promo release of this band instead, as it shows a far superior version of Outworld and it only makes me wonder what could have been. While that would actually be a decent effort of this band, this, however, isn’t really good at all and in fact, it’s hardly out of this world.
Release date: November 13th, 2006
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