I knew Seattle’s Gabe Tachell was something special when I discovered Duality, the 2011 debut album of his then-solo project Rhine (briefly reviewed here). When I heard it, I became intrigued about what he might do next. But as head-spinning as Duality was, it still couldn’t have adequately prepared anyone for the almost boundless extravagance of the band’s new album An Outsider.
Since Duality, Tachell has surrounded himself with a talented group of other musicians for the band’s live performances (which are strikingly impressive) — guitarist Alex Smolin, bassist James Porter, and drummer Carlos Delgado. But for An Outsider, if I have my facts right, Tachell did everything again other than perform the drums, which were handled by Sean Lang — and that makes the results even more astonishing.
The new album is a monumental edifice of music, and not simply because it includes 10 tracks and exceeds 50 minutes in length. It is bursting at the seams with ideas, a constantly shifting amalgam of progressive metal and rock, thrash and melodic death metal, folk and power metal, a bit of jazz, and even tinges of classical music and black metal. Even apart from the wide-ranging and imaginative genre-splicing that goes on here, the music also weaves a rich tapestry of moods — light and dark, ominous and playful, despairing and exultant, raging and resigned. It veers from the incinerating to the languid, from the majestic to the hallucinatory.
If the album were a book, it would be too heavy to carry around. Like some illuminated medieval manuscript crafted by monks, you would want to keep it on its own pedestal in your home, to be explored reverently and without distractions. And speaking of monks, the mind really does boggle in thinking about how much time, effort, and meticulous care went into the creation of this work.
Tachell has crafted the album in a way that’s abundantly textured, employing a broad array of guitar tones and performance styles, from reverberating, arena-ready soloing to acoustic strumming, from jagged skin-flaying riffs to booming grooves. It’s a virtuosic display of talent, but unlike other similarly gifted young guitarists, he finds a way to lay out all he’s capable of doing in ways that are in service of grander concepts. A lot of evident thought went into these compositions, and it has made them far more than showcases for a top-shelf talent to strut his stuff.
The layering of textures goes beyond Tachell’s guitar magic. For one thing, he has a truly chameleon-like voice. His clean-singing voice is beautiful, with a naturally high range that he pushes into theatrical falsettos in a few places but also drops into tones of somber reflectiveness as well. And when he morphs into harsh vocals, he emits both acidic blackened shrieks and roaring growls. Beyond the widely varying vocals, the music is also accented from song to song by such things as dreamy synths, shimmering organ tones, and orchestral programming.
There are in fact so many musical (and lyrical) ideas in play that the album risks losing musical coherence — or at least convincingly defeats any attempt to cabin Rhine’s “sound” within any well-marked musical territory. While one might risk labelling most of the songs “extreme progressive metal”, there’s a trio of songs in a row in the album’s back half that go even further off the reservation. “P.R.E.Y.” begins with a classical orchestral overture and then erupts into a bombastic, theatrical piece of galloping melodic death metal (albeit with progressive touches and perhaps the most eye-popping guitar solo on the album). “Into the Unknown” starts with a slow, mystical, Middle Eastern-styled guitar melody, and then veers between something that sounds like Ensiferum or Wintersun and a kind of carnival-like bouncing dance.
And those tracks are followed by “Shipwrecked In Stasis”, a disorienting interlude composed of huge distorted droning tones, high eerie melody, and eventually a torrent of riffs accompanied by a shriek that seems to go on forever.
Tachell obviously delights in creating contrasts within songs, juxtaposing soft and loud, savage and sublime, and dozens of other pairings that turn out to be more fascinating than jarring — though I’ll warn you that there’s a place in the title track where the music explodes in a hurricane of sound and fury right after a soulful little guitar motif and nearly gives me heart failure every time it happens, even though I now know it’s coming.
Gabe Tachell is forthright in admitting that the album is more like a musical kaleidoscope than something with a more easily classifiable set of characteristics:
“The name An Outsider is about the struggle that comes with being different, it’s a love/hate situation. You want to shine but you’re afraid of it at the same time. You want to create trends, not follow them, but it’s scary to be the first one. It also has to do with social struggles and always feeling like a stranger.
“The album isn’t entirely cohesive though, no song is alike, we experiment a lot with mixing genres. It’s really all over the map emotionally too, not just angry and dark, but sometimes totally ironic or sometimes very deep and inspiring. It mixes in emotions you wouldn’t typically hear on a metal record like joy and nostalgia. The listening experience is a journey that won’t get you worn out on a single emotion, instead it is dynamic like we are as humans.”
Albums like this one which are so widely varying in their sound and mood can risk rubbing some people the wrong way — people who seem to be critical of bands they claim haven’t “settled” on their own sound. I didn’t feel that way about An Outsider, in large part because the music is so creative and so beautifully executed, both in performance and in its production.
In fact, I’ll go further than that: An Outsider is so extravagantly ambitious and so masterfully accomplished that by all rights it should greatly elevate Rhine’s profile among adventurous listeners.
The album will be self-released through Bandcamp on February 5. And below you can explore its depths through our premiere of a full album stream. For those in the Seattle area, the band will be performing at an album release show on February 20 at The Kraken, along with Odyssan, Ghostblood, and Hexengeist (show starts at 9:00)