Although the notorious comeback album and its tendency to disappoint fans with an underwhelming return to the recording studio from its artist are common points of discussion in the world of music journalism and criticism, less spoken about is the album after the comeback album. Of course, a successful comeback album is vital for rekindling the original hype surrounding an artist, but this is also true to the point that subsequent releases from the act may end up falling by the wayside of music criticism if the album that marked the artist’s initial return to the limelight turned out to be a slight let-down. Needless to say, there are going to be exceptions, and this is especially true given that the comeback album is a sensitive topic, with some fans being quicker to admit their disapproval of one of their favourite bands reforming than others, but even still, by and large, nothing kills the excitement of a legendary group getting back together than a mediocre record to mark their return. One such act who seems to have been experiencing the aftermath of an underwhelming comeback album is iconic Canadian dance-punk duo Death From Above. Despite the band dropping one of the most throttling and danceable rock records of the 2000s with their debut from 2004, You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, the latest full-length studio release from Death From Above (formerly known as Death From Above 1979), Outrage! Is Now, seems to have been overlooked amongst music journalism circles to a degree, at least compared to their previous material. Given the somewhat lukewarm response to their long-awaited comeback album from 2014, The Physical World, however, this was perhaps to be expected to an extent. Personally, although I found that Death From Above’s sophomore release didn’t quite live up to the fire-starting frenzy of blood-pumping dance-punk brandished on You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, I nevertheless felt that some very strong songs landed on The Physical World, even if there were enough considerably less intense tracks and iffy experiments to tip the scales back towards the release being a more middling one overall. Even still, for their first release in a decade, and with the weight of following up one of the most celebrated rock records of the Noughties on their shoulders, The Physical World could have at least been said to have set the band back on track for dropping some yet more raucous and infectious dance-punk jams. The rest of the music world may have been less forgiving, however, with reviews their latest album being even more mixed and certainly scarcer than that of their previous studio effort, and it seems that the initial disappointment of The Physical World for many critics may have been partially responsible for this because, as far as I can tell, Outrage! Is Now marks improvements across the board for Death From Above. Whilst the formula that was established long ago on You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine remains largely untouched on the group’s newest endeavour, Death From Above prove themselves still capable of penning some of their stickiest and most striking songs to date, with Outrage! Is Now quite simply capitalising on what made the band such a stunning revelation when they first entered the scene, only to inconspicuously fade away shortly after. Ultimately, on Outrage! Is Now, Death From Above demonstrate that, even if the world isn’t listening like it used to, they still have the energy to burn through an entirely new selection of turbo-charged dance-punk bangers.
All things considered, the blueprint for a successful Death From Above song is a simple, but no less effective one. With the duo consisting solely of drums and vocals from Sebastien Grainger and bass and occasional synthesizers or keyboards from Jesse F. Keeler, there’s not a whole lot that can go wrong, but this also means that a lot is required from the band’s only two members in order to give the listener a thorough walloping. What makes a record like You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine so compelling is a sum of both Grainger and Keeler at the top of their game. Grainger’s work behind the kit strikes a potent balance between the foot-to-the-floor fury of punk’s rapid-fire rhythms and the propulsion of a rigid dance groove, whilst his contributions on the mic, similarly, bear the wild contortions of a punk vocalist, whilst nevertheless coming through with ample amounts of catchy, hook-heavy melodies. Meanwhile, Keeler’s bass boasts the blaring bombast of a bluesy, garage rock guitarist, despite never losing sight of the need for his playing to interlock with the drumming as to hammer home the song’s body-moving groove, whilst his synth embellishments swoop in when necessary to supplement the pure muscle of his bass work with the respite of some brighter and lighter licks. Indeed, across Outrage! Is Now, for the most part, this formula is in full effect, and it seems as if Death From Above were chomping at the bit to prove that this was the case, with the duo flying out of the gate with the album’s opening track, Nomad. From the skittish, rattling hi-hats and lingering keyboard drone to the bellowing walls of bass accents and solid thud of the kick drum, Nomad is introduced in classic Death From Above fashion, with the track almost feeling like a slightly more fleshed-out version of Cheap Talk, which opened The Physical World. Although familiar, however, this introduction is no less riveting as a result, with the group soon kicking into the primary, galloping groove of the track. With Keeler’s bass being as heavy on the grooves as it is on the distortion, whilst meshing with the hammering drive of the drums for maximum intensity, Grainger’s vocal melodies slip and slide over the top of this demanding beat with a much more expressive sense of legato than is typical for the singer, providing a well-worked semblance of counterpoint to the solid stomp of the bass and drum pattern. Add in the fierce accents of fuzzy bass that frame Grainger’s soaring vocal melodies and pounding drum fills during the refrain, and Nomad equates to an exceptionally catchy track, even by Death From Above’s standards, and the rest of Outrage! Is Now doesn’t let up in this regard. The very next cut, Freeze Me, for instance, is carried by a syncopated, disco-infused piano chord pattern, whilst Grainger’s vocals weave between many of his most melodically potent performances on the entire record, acting as a fitting testament to the band’s ability to integrate strong songwriting fundamentals into the infectious grooves of dance and funk music. Meanwhile, during the track’s main riff, Keeler manages to make his bass squeal like no bass has squealed before, in contrast to the ferocious grumbles of cascading, earth-shaking fuzz dashed throughout the verses. Similarly ear-splitting is the searing, sawtooth synth bass and ascending, Eastern-sounding melodies of the title track, which bolster yet another sticky and oddly-phrased vocal melody from Grainger, whilst his pun on the word ‘outrage’, in his proclamation of being fed up with society to the point of being “out of rage”, reaches the same height of wordplay as that which is used on the word ‘nomad’ during the refrain of the opening song. Likewise, many of the singer’s most biting quips land on the closing cut, Holy Books, whose status as a sort of atheist anthem is apt, given the extent to which thrash metal seems to have acted as a stylistic touchstone for the unabated rampage of the battering drum work and meaty bass riffage that opens the track. Indeed, whether it be the punctuated riffs and theatrical vocal performance of NVR 4EVR or the charming garage rock of All I C Is U & Me that sounds fresh out of the mid-2000s, Outrage! Is Now is packed with all that made Death From Above so appealing on their debut, with the duo’s knack for entwining kinetic grooves into a rigid, blues punk compositional format arguably being on the same level here as it was on You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, just as the fury, funk and fun of their performances has not died down either.
Undoubtedly, Death From Above don’t falter as they hark back to the irresistible dance-punk of their debut on Outrage! Is Now, but there is most definitely a conscious effort made to add some new ingredients into their stylings throughout the tracklisting too. Of course, this was the case across much of The Physical World as well, but the band didn’t seem entirely sure as to where they were taking this new direction on their last record, and this showed in their songwriting and the overall fluidity with which these new ideas were incorporated into their usual songwriting blueprint. On Outrage! Is Now, however, these novel stylistic sensibilities are smoothly and much more subtly fused into Death From Above’s typical compositional template, which proves to be just enough to tide over the listener for the record’s 36 minutes’ worth of material without ever getting the impression that the group are exploiting or rehashing a somewhat one-dimensional prototype. Primarily, it seems as if Death From Above have turned their attention back to the classic, arena-orientated hard rock of the late-1960s and 1970s, in both sound and style. Indeed, production-wise, Outrage! Is Now seems to have curtailed the slightly rougher and rawer edge to the duo’s sonic palette on their previous output, in favour of a fuller, richer, deeper and generally more resonant sound. Although many may prefer a more gritty quality to enhance the punk and noise rock elements of the band’s stylings, this more full-bodied approach to their sound has made for a refreshing and fitting change of pace for Death From Above, with the cues taken from classic rock being especially receptive to this production choice. Never Swim Alone, for example, flaunts a We Will Rock You-esque drum beat and the rather dramatic, womanly wails of a Robert Plant or an Axl Rose in Grainger’s vocal tone at points, whilst Keeler’s bass runs through some devilish, diminished riffs. Similarly, the bluesy hue and uber-melodic tones of Jim Morrison can be heard in Grainger’s crooning on Statues, whilst the ruthless muscle and sheer power behind his drumming style seems to be pulling from John Bonham, with Keeler’s beefy bass interlocking with the drums as one would expect from the riff-craft of Jimmy Page. Moonlight is strung together with a similarly strong driving force, as Grainger’s double-bass drumming and Keeler’s tremolo-picking gradually uncover the cut’s vicious, clenched teeth, as the song plods towards its riotous climax with a linear sense of tension that makes for a track that not once loses the listener’s undivided attention. Unequivocally, following The Physical World, whose new sources of artistic inspiration were thrown into the melting pot somewhat haphazardly, Outrage! Is Now is much cleaner and more natural in its integration of influences from outside of Death From Above’s usual pool of stylistic sensibilities, making for a release that is both more diverse and more dynamic.
Even with the new additions to Death From Above’s stylings, the formula that makes Outrage! Is Now such a success is still a simple one, but with the duo’s stylistic underpinnings being so firmly rooted in the bare-bones charisma of punk and blues rock, that’s by no means a knock on their abilities as musicians, songwriters and performers across the album. Although it’s often the looseness of their grooves and performances that makes the band’s brand of balls-to-the-wall dance-punk so energising, Outrage! Is Now is nevertheless rather rigid in the components that comprise its infectious nature, with Death From Above’s fiery riffs, contagious, chorus-centred vocal melodies, and beats that are both danceable and pummelling all aligning perfectly to revamp the jerky punk rock and throttling dance music that defined the duo on You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine. Even if the record only pushes the boat out for the band in rather understated ways, Outrage! Is Now is an intense and compelling reaffirmation of the commanding statement made by Death From Above when they first broke onto the scene.
The Vinyl Verdict: 8/10