Outre - Ghost Chants (2015)

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Defying classification is a skill many musicians wish they had. Once you get a dreaded genre tag, you may find your career packed into a tiny corner, and any departure from that space is deemed as selling out or giving in. Outre did damn near everything right on their 2013 EP, Tranquility. They burned the walls between black, death, and progressive metal down, and found a home nestled in the ashes. Ambient soundscapes only made for more menacing riffs, with both sides of the coin strengthening and lifting the other. With the lineup blooming from two to five, there are bound to be subtle changes in the original vision laid out by guitarist Damian Igielski. But on Ghost Chants, the first full length, they sacrifice individuality for a more full speed ahead songwriting process. And the results are mixed.

Broken up into seven "chants," the album begins with the Departure. It reminds you of what Outre does exceedingly well, which is to create ambient textures to otherwise harsh instrumentals. But this isn't a one trick pony. By the time the clock has rolled over to Shadow, you find yourself buried in a flash of lightning kick snare combos. But unlike the more traditional black metal style, there are breaks in the ferocity without sacrificing intensity. As the track moves to the second half, the tempo slows, with more downbeats. It is in this section that the stark contrast between music and vocal is so glaring. The former is tight and layered, while the latter seems separated and slightly off the rails when used in the clean fashion; they simply don't match one another in the flow of the track. The Fall, however, sees no such split. Within this five minute apocalypse of sound and noise, you'll find some of the most bloodcurdling screams contained on the album. Not coincidentally, it may also be the strongest track overall.

It's worth noting that while the twists and turns of the album may not be a surprise to those who have digested and Outre release before, they are slightly more disjointed on this full length. Lament, for one, uses those changes in tempo and tone wisely, rising and falling around a central sound. It feels cohesive from start to finish, rolling directly into the most restrained effort on the disc, Equilibrium. Haunting in every possible way, with the clean vocal finally finding a suitable home, it brings the hairs on your arms to attention multiple times inside the confines of a two minute and forty second piece. Most striking is how the aforementioned change of mood is instantly dashed at the feet of the aptly titled Vengeance. Here, the guitar sounds diverge, with one howling and squealing a melody on top of the always boisterous base of drums. If the overall arc of the album hadn't been drilled into your head by now, Arrival is the eight minute closer you need, but maybe not the one you deserve. What it lacks in variety and depth, it makes up for with sheer rage. But in an album that seemed so eclectic at the start, it does little to bring things full circle.

After the 2013 release of Tranquility, Outre seemed to be on a strong path towards something all their own. They used those brilliant piece of melody and ambient noise to offset some of the raw grit that their black metal roots left behind. And while Ghost Chants has moments of brilliance, they are too often buried in a more straight forward approach. No, that isn't bad by any stretch of the imaginations. Aside from a few vocal missteps, the album is packed to the brim with aggression and an unsettling amount of darkness. But where it falters is the inability to use the latitude the band has at their disposal to go off the beaten path into something more daring. For as heavy and menacing as the album is, it is a safe place for a band that has the ability to do more. Bleak as it may be, there is more to this band than you'll hear here.

7/10

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