Outline In Color

Masks

Written by: TL on 20/08/2014 18:50:22

I'm not sure which got noticed first, singer K.C. Simonsen's youtube covers of various well known clean vocalists from the post-hardcore genre, or his own band of the same ilk, the sextet Outline In Color from Tulsa, Oklahoma. The band caught my ear when debuting their full length "Jury Of Wolves" in 2012, by offering a take on the popular poppy/heavy combination that was considerably more theatrical and intricate than your average chug/squeal band. With this summer's sophomore "Masks" however, one soon hears that the heavy component has grown considerably in presence, and unfortunately very often appears in a stale, cyclical arrangement, chasing the tail of conversely melodious refrains in ways that sorely miss the feeling of there being any coherency between the two sides.

I start with this critical observation, because it's hard not to make it én route through the first half of the album, but if you're still paying attention as it moves on, things do actually turn out decently down around the middle. While much of the time it sounds like the band has relied on the simple dynamic between their light and dark sides without committing to any interesting developments in either, "Con Artist Culture Vs. Pax Americana" takes exception at track six and shows that things can work quite well when parts are better integrated and sequenced. Both Simonsen and screamer Trevor Tatro do their parts to thrown the pitch around enough to contrast the abrupt rhythms, making the track feel like a rager when it wants to, and providing a good texture for Simonsen to soar over when the sampled orchestration comes in and lifts him up to his standout bridge section. Staying in the positive department, "The Souvenir Scheme" is also quite good at track nine, with the first heavy part having a bleak atmosphere that is contrasted with a sinister electronic backdrop when it comes around the second time, and dead in the middle Simonsen's quick syllables "And we built an arc that can save us - And we took a risk that can break us" makes their bid for catchiest part of the record, before things disintegrate into a properly rowdy break and then rise back up to a prolonged and fine cinematic ending.

Apart from these two songs, "Beautiful Secrets" isn't too bad either, and "Water In The Desert" is so stupidly badass the way it opens by referencing Watchmen; "None of you seem to understand. I'm not locked in here with you, you're locked in here with me". Cue pummeling breakdown. Sadly the latter track doesn't stay engaging throughout, and it is symptomatic of the perplexing nature of "Masks" that Outline In Color show occasionally that they have some awesome ideas, yet have ended up with an album where those are dispersed by lengthy moshersize sections that - despite admittedly having more vivid strumming patterns than the open-string idiocy some bands mail in - are just too bland and moodless to inspire the desired energy in the listener. By now I think we've all thrown down in a mosh pit or two, but that doesn't mean the same recycled pummeling sound is going to work as the mainstay in songwriting... Okay perhaps at Warped Tour these days, but not in someone's headphones across the majority of a twelve track album, and if you go back and listen to the former album's opening couplet of "The Kindling" and "Another Nightmare", one must scratch one's head wondering why the band hasn't attempted to bottle and manufacture that kind of magic instead.

Skipping back and forth between "Masks" and "Jury Of Wolves", it seems to me though, that the issue might be partly with the production. - Partly. - On "Jury Of Wolves" I felt the guitar lines of Forrest Mankins and See Jay Cochran where much better juxtaposed, with one doing the pummeling alongside bassist Michael Skaggs and the other weaving in sparkling, ambiant leads that made for a superb contrast. On here, the lead is much more subdued by the darker side of the music, either taking prolonged breaks or adding harrowing stuff in support of the break-down style rhythms, which leaves the programmed samples outgunned and overlooked in terms of supplying a melodic layer, to the point where those occasionally feel a bit like a gimmicky backdrop, despite them often showing a strong sense of character. Those choices are on the band. When the samples are there though, or when the lead occasionally opts to provide some melody, I feel like they lack presence in the mix compared to the thick, heavy parts. If I were a cynic, I would suspect that someone has noticed that kids these days go nuts for that sort of stuff and foolishly taken this as a sign that this is also what people want to hear on record, but while I'll leave such conjecture for the readers to extend, I will opine strongly once more: Sandwiching heavy parts and clean choruses without sense of progression is not songwriting, nor should it be at the forefront of a production. And with that established, I think my verdict on "Masks" should be regretable, yet predictable. It's par for the course in the established scene for metalcore and post-hardcore, but quickly forgotten despite the few promising bits on offer.

6

Download: The Souvenir Scheme, Con Artist Culture Vs. Pax Americana,
For The Fans Of: Elenora, Chiodos, In Fear And Faith, Issues
Listen: facebook.com/outlineincolor

Release date 24.06.2014
Standby Records / Garimpeiro Records / GO WITH ME Records

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