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I can remember '97 like it was yesterday; I was out of college, working, and wondering what the fuck had happened to heavy metal. Anthrax had taken a "wrong turn" after Persistence of Time, and Metallica had started to sound suspect with the release of Master of Puppets a decade early. Oh yeah, Testament sucked in '97, and Exodus had, well, exited/disbanded. That left Slayer, Megadeth, and maybe Overkill, with some respectability, although both Slayer and Megadeth would soon follow, delivering poor albums over the next two years. So, what about our German cousins then; it was a poor part of the decade for them as well, however, this album was one of the highlights from a terrible year in metal.
The decade was a pretty solid one for Kreator, with preceding albums such as Coma of Souls and Renewel having some bright moments. This album was different in that it was a little darker and also more restrained. There's still some solid riffs and vocals, however, the mental thrashing had been put on hold, which wasn't a complete disaster by any means. For me, this album has always started slowly, and doesn't get going until "Phobia" kicks in with it's heaviness and catchy chorus line. It's also immediately noticeable that the songs have more melody, and the atmosphere is created by little nuances behind the guitars, and that makes the songs more interesting than they might otherwise be.
Kreator began this transition from thrash to mid-tempo on Renewal, which was followed up by more of the same on Cause For Conflict, both of which were solid, but unremarkable releases, and Outcast pretty much delivers the same quality. The slow down in tempo was perhaps an attempt at capturing a commercial sound, however, it still has enough dark edginess to keep it from becoming completely dull. That said, this '90s slow down proved to be an unremarkable part of their career, although, as I've said, I'm more positive about this album because the late '90s was a bad time for metal output.
Drummer, Jurgen Reil, had a brief time away from the band before rejoining them for this album, and with his return, if any fan of Kreator was thinking that there'd also be a return to their '80s thrash style, they would have been disappointed. Also, there's really little creativity, because most of the song tempos are the same, and the riffing, although solid, doesn't particularly stand out. Protagonist, Millie Petrozza, does however, experiment a little with his vocal deliveries, which also makes this album more interesting than it might otherwise be. For instants, he sings his way through "Black Sunrise", which also has some neat bass lines during the verses. Many songs, however, sound less inspiring and more rushed together, and that's why I think Kreator never play these songs live, with the exception of maybe "Phobia".
As for the song writing, from their debut album, all the way through to Coma of Souls, Kreator always had interesting lyrics, however, the song writing definitely declined in the '90s, and the lyrics on this album are no exception. There's a lot more simple repetition, where the song title is exclaimed at every opportunity; something Metallica started doing a decade early with "Master! Master!" and "Back to the Front!". And, in the second half of the album there are songs which have a far more positive message than the more traditional, negative type of Kreator themes, although, these more positive lyrics don't really convey very well because the music is always at a mid-tempo and atmospherically darker.
Musically, Jurgan Reil's drumming is competent, and is accompanied by Christian Giesler's very audible bass lines, which display no intricacies, though it appears to be a more important aspect, unlike on previous albums, where the bass can be inconsequential. It was actually good to hear more of the bass in the middle parts of a song or just riding along with the other rhythm sections, and perhaps it was more appropriate given the nature of the slower song tempos. These positive aspects still can't disguise the fact that even though this is a solid album, and released during a bad time in metal, it wasn't Kreator at their best. It's not as good, nor thrash driven, like Extreme Aggression or Coma of Soul, though, as a slice of mid-tempo Kreator, Outcast was and still is a decent addition to their discography.
Please ignore the ugly nudist on the cover, "Outcast" does not deserve to be overlooked only because of its shitty artwork. Kreator's album from 1997 cannot be compared with the formation's famous works such as the first two full-lengths, yet it exudes its own, more or less seductive aroma. The band relies on a simple recipe, but it has enabled them to pen an interesting album. All songs are reduced to the essentials, all are based on almost primitive, conventional patterns and the band cannot be blamed for neglecting catchy elements. This compositional approach means that everything depends on the quality of the riffs. No need for concern, they are mostly brilliant.
With nearly primitive yet intelligently used means, Kreator deliver hit after hit. Yes, there are two downers that lack of heaviness, belligerence and wickedness. The slack "Black Sunrise" with its painfully gothic verses and the aimlessly meandering, a little bit lacklustre title track form the cancer in the body of "Outcast". Fortunately, it is a good-natured ulcer that does not seriously endanger the healthy appearance of the album. Too many great tracks hit the nail on the head. Their riffs are highly efficient, the omnipresent mid-tempo rhythms are no challenge for Ventor, but they give the guitars room to develop their full force and a certain negativity builds the fundament of the songs. This is another kind of demarcation from the lukewarm mainstream, not comparable with that nearly absurd stubbornness which formed the main pillar of "Endless Pain" or "Pleasure to Kill". Yet it is a demarcation. Commercially motivated albums sound different.
"Leave this World Behind" constitutes an almost programmatic opener, because the album is truly able to offer the audience another universe. Its cold atmosphere, the consistent renunciation of any kind of bombastic, light and needless elements as well as the nearly unvarying level of harshness create a closed unit. "Leave this World Behind" introduces the listener to this new surrounding in a very convincing manner. Nonetheless, be aware of the fact that the best tunes of "Outcast" bear other names. Edgy riffs shape highlights such as "Forever" and "Nonconformist". The latter excels itself additionally by its fantastic drive. Still better, "Stronger than Before" is cut from the same cloth, "Enemy Unseen" combines stomping verses with an eerie chorus and "Ruin of Life" underlines the pretty fatalistic aura of the entire album. The final smasher is "Whatever it May Take", inter alia due to its dynamic transition between verse and chorus. Only its robot sounds after the second part are a little bit strange.
"Phobia", the most aggressive song, and the last three numbers do not fall by the wayside. Kreator stay loyal to their uncomplicated method and it comes therefore as no surprise that the whole work is based on an homogeneous overall impression. Ignorant fools call the here performed approach uninspired, but this group of blockheads just sucks. Instead of taking care of the guys, it makes more sense to have a look at the technical framework. Production-wise, "Outcast" delivers a transparent and distanced, but not soulless sound which was created with a good ear for what's essential. Mille's voice fits well with the bone-dry guitars. To express it differently, the dominating elements harmonize with each other. So now it is probably time to use the term which is used so often in these cases: "Outcast" is an underrated album. But forgive me to say it less sententiously, I just like this album.
In the eyes of some die-hard fans, the band's 8th album, 'Outcast', caused Kreator to become outcasts. The legendary, violent thrash metallers had experimented earlier with their 1992 album 'Renewal', the album that many old fans banished to the deepest abyss. However, with 'Outcast' the band wanted to experiment again, and unquestionably brave they were.
'Renewal's successful, in my ears at least, thrash metal flirting with industrial elements happened again here, although in significantly different soundscapes. 'Outcast' is Kreator stripped to the bone, with atmosphere of nowadays' oppression and agitation. Metal this is, but thrash metal? No, except for a pinch maybe. It's Kreator style dark metal, I presume. I think that 'Coma of Souls' (1990) song 'People of the Lie' was a step towards to this kind of material. Anyways, let's dive deeper into 'Outcast'. Because the cover is a bad one, and not telling all about the album!
'Leave This World behind' immediately introduces the melody, and familiar pedantic guitar riffage and rhythm work make this one a roller. And what, no guitar solo?! No, they're for rock stars anyway. Mille Petrozza sounds, well, Mille, in all his ugliness (his raspy throat screams and trademark end of sentence stertor are all here). 'Phobia' is the album's 'People of the Lie', fast rolling headbanger. It is already evident, that Kreator sound bare here. The sound is heavy, no doubt about it. The bass is fantastically huge in the mix, bringing it to the front with guitars. Actually every instrument and vocals are consistent in volume, but because of the job well done, it doesn't sound clogged at all. Rather, the method gives required potency for the sound. On with the album again now...
'Forever' is one of the slowest Kreator songs ever. The experimenting with sound effects (not keyboards) is the key word here, they are brought in to give atmosphere and fluctuation. 'Black Sun' "raises" on speed level gambling; the song is even slower than the previous one! This goes almost into doom territories, let me tell you. Mille does some clean vocals, and pretty effective they are. Now you can feel other emotions than familiar violence and destructiveness from him. Whoa, the album's first guitar solo happens now! Over a slide guitar... Well, the band were experimenting, as mentioned earlier. 'Nonconformist' is more punky bullet train, at least the song feels fast among the slow songs. You can forget about guitar solos again. 'Enemy Unseen' contains very militaristic beats, but is a very uneventful and probably the simplest ever song from the band. The title song harks back to 'Renewal's atmosphere, being a fantastic piece with oppressive feel yet the chorus is totally anthemic. 'Stronger than Hate' is the most thrashing song on offer. Then it is time for songs that fall into the category of uneventful songs. 'Against the Rest' is one of the rockiest songs from Kreator, kind of predicting the future: 1999 and 'Endorama' album. 'A Better Tomorrow' saves the album from a big fall into mediocrity, but it's clear that 13 songs are a few songs too many with the amount of substance the band built them from. Maybe the melodiousness is the reason why there's not much solos. Even though the lyrics are mostly very negative and about real life, there's a few glimpses of light in them. Mille surely writes good words; he must know what he is saying. Also some of Mille's vocals are effected, but work nicely. The performances do not lack of nuances, as one might gues when looking at the line-up: "Ventor" behind the drumkit, Tommy Vetterli of Coroner fame on other guitar and Christian Giesler on bass.
I take this album as Kreator's so called "The Black Album" (in fact it is Metallica's self-titled one from 1992, as you might have guessed). In reality 'Outcast' is much, much deeper album. Some ditch it for not being thrash metal, but if you like Kreator and understand the band's soul, you might like this one too. Eleven years ago I would have given this quite a much lower score, but I've started to enjoy about this for a big part. However, I still find the album lacking in songwriting.
(Originally written for ArchaicMetallurgy.com in 2008)
Beginning with Renewal in 1992, Kreator started a phase in their career of mild experimentation, which would last five albums until returning to 'normal' on 2005's Enemy of God. Like so many other bands of the 90s, the pressures of metal's decline and the rise of other, alternative musics seemed to shake itself off on the Germans, thus provoking an evolution of sound. To their credit, Kreator still felt and sounded like Kreator throughout all of these works, even the much maligned, Kreator-lite album Endorama. As far as this perior, I feel Renewal was the brightest and the best, an album that has truly grown upon me with its brand of grim, industrial thrash metal, but Outcast was no slouch.
The outside influence on this particular album is a rowdy punk/hardcore aesthetic, in addition to some hints of industrial noise, and the result is a pretty even smorgasboard of fist pumping Kreator-core anthems that range from fun to just there. Do not be misled by my description: the album is in no way silly or anarchistic. It retains the social political consciousness that Kreator has been scripting since Terrible Certainty. It's simply got a punk aesthetic fueling it, which is little surprise, as Mille and crew have always been fans of decent punk. This manifests in tracks like "Phobia", "Nonconformist", "Against the Rest" and "Whatever It May Take". But they're not alone here, the band has written some simple (by their standards) thrashings like "Alive Again" and the groovy "Forever", which is one of the best songs on this album. There are also a few tracks like "Enemy Unseen" which make use of the industrial waste backdrop and provide a foreshadowing of the band's dreaded Endorama to come.
As far as atmosphere, the record is mixed extremely well, and despite the various tempos the tracks will move at, it all comes together to create a consistent experience, though unlikely to be memorable unless you're a diehard Kreator fan who followed the band through the peaks and valleys of their 90s output. I can draw some slight parallels here to other industrial/metal bands of that decade, a little Pitch Shifter, a little Thought Industry, but mostly to sewer thrashers Prong. Outcast is not heavy on electronics, they are used for sheer atmosphere. Also of note is that Kreator had recruited Tommy Vetterli (aka Tommy T. Baron of Coroner, another band to experiment with a cold industrial edge in the 90s), but I would consider him wasted here. His playing is fine, but being condemned to such simple song structures must have felt like Hell to one so talented. Or maybe not... The drums thunder, and Mille sounds quite good using these simpler patterns of lyrics and repetition.
Outcast is not a failure, far from it. It's an interesting change for the band which brings forward a few of the ideas initiated with Renewal. I like this album far more than its predecessor Cause for Conflict, or the following Endorama; just don't approach it with the thought you're going to hear Extreme Aggression or Coma of Souls' wall of manic, incredible riffing thrash.
Highlights: Phobia, Forever, Enemy Unseen, Whatever It May Take
The 90s will forever be remembered as the worst years for metal and especially for thrash metal. Kreator fell into a sort of limbo for two/three albums and this Outcast is the lowest point in their career. The following Endorama will be more gothic oriented while this album is darker and features modern elements in Kreator’s sound, grabbing directly from the modern influences that were invading the metal in that period. If you really want to listen to this album, there are few things I must say to you: forget about the violent death/thrash of the previous works, forget about the riffs, forget about the fast tempo parts and forget about the brutal vocals by Mille.
Now, are you ready? Let’s enter the new conception of music by Kreator in those days. The first song already shows how the album will be. The riffs are almost embarrassing and dull. There’s a will to make the melodies stand out and also the will to erase most of the metal elements. If the following Endorama at least will feature catchy lines, this song is incredibly weak. The modern elements can be found in some synth parts in order to create weird sounds behind the instruments, like programming and artificial noises. Yeah, the atmosphere is quite dark but the song is incredibly boring. The following “Phobia” is the song that I like the most here because it’s a bit heavier and it’s catchy. Still nowadays it’s played live and achieves the goal of bringing up the tempo parts and my general attention.
“Forever” is obscene because is supremely flawed and boring in the songwriting. The riffs are repetitive and tedious. The modern effects are still present and also some vocals parts are filtrated. The whispered vocals and the obscure moments are in contraposition with the loud restarts where the vocals are utter crap. The groove tempo and the guitars parts are even worst in the following “Nonconformist”. The stop and go parts are unbelievably shitty and the following “Enemy Unseen” follows the same style with all the flaws and the mallcore addictions. Kreator are now experts in crappy groove/modern sounds. The title track is mid-paced (yes, we need that after a BRUTAL song like “Enemy Unseen”!!). I’d rather cut my balls and eat my intestines instead of going on with this utter piece of steaming horse shit. But I must go ahead in describing more aborted pieces of music…
Actually, when we listen to songs like “Stronger Than Before” and “Ruin of Life” there’s nothing else to say. They are nu-metal and really addicted to modernism. The vocals are simply ridiculous and they’ve lost everything in nastiness and brutality. The riffs are inaudible (no, sorry…there are no riffs!) and there are various duets by the guitars with hyper tasteless and inoffensive melodies. “Whatever it May Take”, “Alive Again”, “Against The Rest” and the final “A Better Tomorrow” are very similar to the rest of the album. Thus, expect massive dosages of mallcore, weak parts, two riffs per song, dark parts and mid-paced tempo. The drums are on the same patterns from the beginning ‘till the end.
The boredom reigns supreme among these unbelievable compositions by a band that lost completely the way in this period. To me “Phobia” still remains the best here, while the other compositions could fit extremely well for “The Crow” film soundtrack. Thrash metal addicted, you have the chance, don’t enter in 1997 Kreator’s world.