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Second verse, same as the first - 63%

AnalogKid, September 12th, 2017

Your favorite crazed quadrupedal horned space-spider-thing is back, but this time he’s a bit more brain-damaged, rude, and sporting a firearm, with which it looks like he’s laid waste to some spaghetti western backdrop. Interesting cover artwork for what is a pretty standard speedy Finnish power metal band – memorable at least, I guess? Perhaps it’s very important that the band made its mascot even more goofy the second time around, because Outlaw differs very little from the debut.

“Deathphone (Final Destination)” is more than just a reference that I don’t get, it’s kind of an underwhelming opener. The chorus feels a little bit limp, the vocals are not really “jump up and sing along” material, and the rhythmic guitar work is pretty standard fare and redundant. Mercifully, the speedy, faux harpsichord-laden “Black Adder” arrives on the scene to clear things up with a predictable (but quality) dose of Finn-power that the band doled out in spades with its first effort. This classic 90’s/00’s approach to uncomplicated power metal proves that while Astralion may not take its image very seriously, its obligation to familiar, proven power metal tropes is another matter entirely.

While stretching out a bit long, I think that its memorable synth lines and guitar leads make “Sacrificed & Immortalized” one of the favorite picks here. However, the band then proceeds to tweak that melody only slightly and crank up the tempo for the very similar sounding opening to “The Outlaw”, although this song does boast a better chorus line. “Nightmares Never Give Up” is another favorite in terms of that cheerful, high-flying power metal melodicism, but it’s handicapped by a bizarre spoken/shouted part in the middle that really turns me off. Though the melody also sounds almost painfully recycled, “Ghosts Of Sahara” offers a fun and somewhat more sober round to vary the lyrical motif of the album. That’s a lot of short-sells, but in a curious twist, the ten minute closer (“From a band like this?”, I hear you gasp) is actually the most varied and thrilling song on the album, with its nautical theme and nods to Celtic tonality. Consequently, “The Great Palace Of The Sea” is probably the only song this album that I would consider quantifiably “great”.

I’ve come to realize I have a bit of a problem with this release. A lot of the choruses sound as if they are variations on a theme – and this tendency is reminiscent of Wisdom, but without the same polish and tempo variance that the Hungarians employ. This comes across as unfortunately lazy to me, since a lot of the melodies on Outlaw sound considerably more samey than on the self-titled debut (where “Mysterious & Victorious” seemed fresh, and “Mary (Bloody)” was like nothing else the band has done since). Nowadays, Astralion’s derivative approach may stand out somewhat simply because not too many bands are playing in this niche anymore, but fifteen or twenty years ago, songs this formulaic would have relegated Astralion to third-rate status without a doubt.

I feel strongly that Outlaw is just a rehash of the band’s debut (which in turn was aping older acts, although with a novel twist), without the same level of enthusiasm or desire to make a distinct impression. Play this back-to-back – no wait, actually – play this first, and then go back to the debut, and you’ll hear the difference in energy. It’s well-played and silly fun, which is all that most people will likely turn to this band for, but let’s compare it to other halfway similar recent releases, even sticking just to Finland: Arion, Jack The Frost, Kenziner, Thaurorod, etc. – they’re all doing something similar, but more striking and interesting in some way. Outlaw will still appeal to a lot of power metal fans looking for a noncommittal, carefree fling, but I’ll stick with something less repetitive, myself. Pity about that closer – a real gem.

Originally written for Black Wind Metal