As regular readers of this webzine know, the term “progressive metal” encompasses a huge range of sounds from orchestral progressive rock with some heavy guitars all the way to screaming technical death metal. One of the oldest forms of this music comes in the form of power metal which combines aspects of traditional metal with speed/thrash metal and often a strong dose of fantasy-laden lyrical themes. Being a fan of more technical and intricate forms of progressive music, I haven’t had as much interest in power metal over the years (although the classic Holy Land album from Brazilian stalwarts Angra still remains one of my all-time favorite albums) but I’m always willing to check out new bands and the debut full-length album Outsiders by Floridians Skyliner has really made me completely re-evaluate my attitude towards power metal. I know that Florida is traditionally a hotbed of death metal (hell, the legendary band Death comes from that sunny state!) but I’ve heard they also have a strong traditional metal scene as well and Skyliner, a three-piece band led by guitarist/vocalist Jake Becker, drummer Ben Brenner and bassist Nathaniel Curtis (plus a guest keyboardist) is a band that’s been around for about 15 years and after honing their sound live and putting out a couple of demos and an EP have recently released their first full-length album on Limb Records. And let me tell you, it’s a total beast of very well-crafted and powerful music with a strong focus on melody, amazing riffs, high-energy thrash grooves and some great expansive progressive passages. The lyrics here eschew the usual fantasy tropes and instead focus on themes of tragedy, victory and spiritual quests. What I really like about this band’s music is that it strikes a great balance between well-crafted sophistication while still being a great headbanging band that never forgets to rock out (okay – that’s my one cheezy rock cliché for the day!)
Outsiders is a long album filled with nine songs, mostly in the six-seven minute range ending with the album opus, the 20 minute Worlds Of Conflict. After a short, ambient intro, the band kicks it in immediately with the full-on power metal blast of Symphony In Black before changing gears slightly with Undying Wings, a song that has a more industrial bent to it (with an aggressive electronic intro) and a great contrast between the band’s melodic power metal approach and simple, highly effective grooves. Becker’s voice really shines here with his dramatic vocal approach that never ventures into “screamo” territory and even includes some subtle choral effects that really fit the music well. Forever Young, a song about lost youth is next and it features some ridiculous high-energy drumming, more killer riffs and all to underscore a great, self assured vocal melody that just kills. The mid-section has an almost tribal feel to it in order to really create a great sense of drama that really puts the song over the top and shows that this band has a lot more going on than might have been readily apparent from the first few songs. On Aria Of The Waters we get our first ballad which is actually much more of a progressive opus than just a simple ballad – it begins with a wonderfully dramatic vocal over some simple guitar chords and a driving mallet-rhythm, then moves into a softly contemplative instrumental section (featuring a great, soaring guitar solo from Becker) before closing out the song dramatically. It’s a great song that any straight-up progressive metal band would be glad to have on their latest album.
The album’s been great so far for me but starts to wear a bit thin on the next few songs especially knowing that there’s a long closing epic coming soon (although the riffage on The Alchemist is pretty darn good.) At 75 minutes Outsiders could probably have used some editing IMHO but that doesn’t detract from the great finale, Worlds Of Conflict which is just a fantastic song that, over the course of five sections, runs the gamut from high-energy thrash, killer grooves, all-out intense rocking and even some death metal intensity for good measure! Best of all, at 20 minutes, the band can really stretch out here with some great inventive instrumental passages (I’ve gotta mention Becker’s chord work here which is really subtle and powerful) and ends with a long, slow, almost psychedelic jam that is such a cool way to close out an album like this one that is so much more than I thought it would be when I first checked it out.
Skyliner has been a real revelation for me – a band that has an obvious love for straightforward power metal but are striving really hard to take that style and add some real depth and passion to it. And honestly, who really cares how we classify the music (prog, power, thrash, death, etc.), I just want to hear stuff that moves me and this excellent album most certainly does that. I just hope that Limb Music will promote the heck out it and help keep this band around to expand on what they’ve been able to produce on this great album. If you like, you can hear all of Outsiders via the Spotify playlist below and you can also purchase a copy of the album via the Amazon.com link, also below.
Review by Jeff Stevens
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Skyliner On Spotify