• ''Intellectually challenging food for thought'' - A review of Heaven's Cry's ''Outcast''

    Heaven's Cry - Outcast (2016)

    Since Heaven's Cry's comeback five years ago, the band sound has progressively become more complex, heavy and intellectual. While the first two records included ten or eleven quite catchy, compact and melodic tracks with a total running time around fifty minutes, the third album still had shorter compositions but more sophisticated song structures that sometimes sounded too complicated for their own good. This new release goes one step further. While it still has a running time of over fifty minutes, the band's latest release only features seven tracks including one tune of more than fourteen minutes which was subdivided into four parts. Even though the songs are the most complex the band has ever written, the group managed to build these tracks around some catchy vocal lines, memorable guitar harmonies or powerful riffs which makes the album easier to digest than the previous output. 

    The opening tune ''The Human Factor'' represents rather well what Heaven's Cry stands for these days. The track opens with eerie sound effects and complex riffs before catchy dual vocal harmonies give the listener the occasion to grasp at something structured. Pierre St. Jean's raw, psychedelic and low vocals harmonize very well with Sylvain Auclair's uplifting, melodic and high vocal skills.The song constantly shifts and changes from psychedelic breaks with echoing sound effects to powerful parts with truly gripping riffs to sound samples of some excerpts from an intellectually challenging speech by American philosopher Noam Chomsky but the opening vocal harmonies hold this complex opener together. The vocals make the listener revisit this song and with each spin, other stunning details stand out such as the space rock keyboard sounds or the extraordinary bass guitar play. Heaven's Cry put more creativity into this single song than a band like Dream Theater into its entire last double-album. It takes a few spins to realize the entire potential of this tune but it's worth to accept this lengthy challenge to fully discover and embrace one of the very best progressive metal tunes in recent memory.

    Some of the other songs are nearly equally outstanding. Title track ''Outcast'' is maybe the heaviest song the band has ever written. The tinny drum sound, fast guitar riffs and bumblebee bass guitar sounds in the closing instrumental section recall several progressive death metal bands. Despite its complex heaviness, this song is hold together by the guiding line of the memorable opening bass guitar riff that is incredibly well executed. ''Symmetry'' has a calmer approach with more fragile vocals, melodic acoustic guitar harmonies, a few electronic influences and a dominating bass guitar play that convinces with its diversity despite a certain lack of distinctively reoccurring sonic elements. This tune is somewhat the hidden gem of this great album. The almost relaxing ''A Shift in Scenery'' with its hypnotizing guitar and vocal melodies leading to a powerful chorus in five compact minutes feels like a relief in between all these complex tunes and is probably the most accessible song on this release.

    Even though some tracks open up to the listener after multiple spins, this record's epic entitled ''The Day the System Failed'' is a really tricky challenge with its unusual rhythms, diversified phases without any coherent transitions and vocals that rather focus on telling an important message than on providing some harmonies. There are some parts of the song that are really atmospheric and include brilliant ideas while other passages feel incompatible or overloaded. This complicated song truly evokes mixed feelings and is ultimately slightly disappointing.

    In the end, the band has sacrificed the melodic lightness of its earliest releases for a grittier tone and a focus on more philosophic topics. Even though I preferred the band's initial style and sound a little bit more, ''Outcast'' is an incredibly creative, diversified and meaningful record that any progressive metal fan should have in his collection. The new songs are a little bit hard to digest in concert if the sound isn't perfect because each track is very complex and detailed but it's a pleasure to dive headfirst into this intellectual record with your headphones on.

    Final verdict: 83%

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