First of all, I feel honest guilt for not experiencing this group before. The band's name was always a weird turn-off and I regrettably judged a book by its cover. But after giving these guys a solid chance with this new LP, oh my, I'm an instant fan. When going back to listen to their debut, Silent Machine, I was surprised that this unique sound and style of theirs has been consistent. So with that knowledge, I am happy to claim that Outlier is more of the same brilliance.
Four years since their last full-length, one can wonder and hope that the distinct musical identity still remains. The first impression of this latest LP was revealed last year via the "One Hand Killing" single which bounces around from Soulfly percussion-driven gungho to djent as fuck and finally arrives at Mike Patton dreamland. There are a few catchy moments where I think to myself, "this sounds a tad too conventional for my likening," yet at the same time the vocals and instrumentation is debatably overly quirky to be heard on radio. "Invincible," the album's second single, also possesses mainstream sounding verses, nonetheless they still bring the energy back to progressive heaviness.
The vocals are really pushed positively on this record with "Post Mortem" showing Kin's reaching range and fluid melody. As the bass grooves also become quite prominent in these compositions, the music tips its toe into Korn waters, especially on "Sick." While this may be a bit of a turn-off for some, I can ensure there still is plenty of diversity to take in. For example, my first listen of "Collateral" was a bit of a holy fuck moment. What I believe is to be either a zither, mandolin, or guqin instrument (if you know, comment please) is smoothly infused with huge guitar riffs.
As for my minor complaints towards this release, I think the direction sometimes appears to be weird for the sake of being weird. In an oxymoronic way, I would say that Twelve Foot Ninja's lack of a formula almost becomes formulaic. About halfway through this record, you wonder if the style switches are for shock value or serve a purpose. Although the musical shifts do provide strong build-ups and dynamics, in a few cases I felt the ukulele or piano transitions felt just too silly.
Regarding comparisons, there are parts that feel like blatant Mr. Bungle worship. And I'll admit that this style of music wouldn't exist without the wackiness and innovative songwriting shown on "The Air Conditioned Nightmare," but a few of the guitar tones within Outlier sound very alike to Trey Spruance's. For the sake of analogy, I present the questioning of if all djent groups rip off Meshuggah? Well to an extent, yes, however there are unique flavors presented. In the same motion, Twelve Foot Ninja presents many similarities to Mr. Bungle but fortunately continue to represent their own identity. And also considering it has been over 15 years since the California record, perhaps those throwback excessively eccentric vibes ain't so bad.
Overall, this album is easily one of the weirdest concoctions I've heard this year and that's exactly why I kinda love it. I can't recall the last time I went from moshing to hula dancing in the span of one song. I could argue that with less of the radio-friendly pizzazz sprinkled throughout the material, the overall vibe may have been more enjoyable, but at the same time I do feel that it is over zealous to nitpick the stylistic choices of avant-garde-esque bands like Twelve Foot Ninja. Comparatively, this record kicks the asses of a lot of recent alternative rock/metal releases and I'd certainly recommend it to the open-minded.