Formed as a solo project in 2011, Seattle based progressive metal band Rhine return on February 5 2016 with their sophomore release, An Outsider. Apart from drum tracking and mastering, founder Gabe Tachell was the record’s driving force; he designed the cover artwork, wrote and performed all of the music and vocals, produced the record and even mixed it too. He certainly wears his influences on his sleeve, drawing from a smorgasbord of progressive and metal artists to craft a diverse album with near Between the Buried and Me levels of genre-hopping.

Vocally, opening track ‘Dreaming of Death’ introduces clean vocals, harsh vocals and, robotic, effect-laden vocals which would occasionally reappear on later tracks. Notably, the harsh vocals are distinctly Chuck Schuldiner-esque which, given the song title, perhaps serves as a homage to one of metal’s fallen heroes. Furthering this play on words, the screams performed on this song differ from those found on the rest of the record. Here, they appear as more of a raspy shriek, as if the vocalist is actually dying as he performs the song. The death metal comes to a close following the second chorus, replaced by the tapping you will have heard from Gojira, accompanied by particularly percussive drumming. Yet, the darkness Gojira often bring to such passages soon makes way for guitar work which is much more upbeat and happy, the reintroduction of clean vocals solidifying that Rhine are willing and able to change the atmosphere of a song on a whim. Finally, the song transitions to a much calmer place, the guitars mellowing before giving way to an assortment of strings and acoustics. Even then, Rhine aren’t content to let the song finish without a final little twist, the appearance of dynamic and bombastic electric guitars supported by quicker drumming and a healthy dose of double kick.

The following track, ‘Spell of Dark Water’, features some excellent guitar work reminiscent of Pink Floyd, and such a classic rock vibe characterises most of the album’s first half. Harsh vocals and a 70s era organ enter simultaneously, the latter a clear throwback to classic prog bands such as King Crimson and, to some extent, even Deep Purple. Like its predecessor, the song ends quite differently to how it started, in this case nimble drumming working with the interplay between guitars and organs to create an excellent passage of jazz-rock fusion. Thus the opening two tracks lay bare the central tenets of the record. There is a host of variety on display and the primary song structure revolves around the interaction of clean and harsh vocals, and shifts within the music to accommodate such interaction. There are a host of bands which have followed such templates in the past (Opeth, Enslaved etc.); however, there is one aspect which sets Rhine apart. Even when the harsh vocals are in full force, and they are in one of their heavier moments, they never venture into full-on death metal territory. For the most part, the screams are placed atop the aforementioned classic rock instrumentation, and even when the guitars are following a more traditional death metal approach, the chord progressions are still somewhat catchy, or there is a trace of melody to be found in the background through the use of an organ or synthesisers. How this can be construed will vary between individuals. For some, it will be a welcome change from a standard formula, whilst others will feel on edge, waiting in vain for the band to fully unleash the primal beast which lurks within their sound, a beast which will only be glimpsed from afar.

One of Rhine’s greatest achievements is that, despite their transitions between heavy, soft, jazzy, or even post-rock and noise, it all somehow comes together. On first listen it can seem like quite a scattergun approach, but as you go back for more you find yourself acclimatising, increasingly adept at piecing it all together. This particularly applies to the record’s second half where, despite what has come before it, Rhine manages to throw another curveball and genuinely surprise the listener. It is on this second half that Devin Townsend’s influence becomes obvious, and the band show that you shouldn’t take them too seriously. Listeners can expect noise, folky, gang-vocal choruses, progressive power metal guitar work, and even classical elements; with harpsichord, wind and brass instrumentation briefly transporting the listener to the royal courts of 17th century Europe. Yet, arguably nothing is as surprising as the final track. Preceded by an interlude featuring a ridiculously long scream, one might expect that this was it, this was the moment where they would finally explode into crushingly heavy death metal. Epic closing tracks such BTBAM’s ‘White Walls’ or Alkaloid’s ‘Funeral for a Continent’ spring to mind, yet Rhine decide to go for eight minutes of near-instrumental ambience. It’s a strange choice and, whilst it deprives them of an opportunity to mark this as a truly stand-out record, it’s also somewhat fitting given the twists and turns which had come before it.

In terms of production, there can be no complaints. The tone of each instrument suits the passage in which it appears and, crucially for any progressive album, each instrument is clearly audible in the mix. In saying that, whilst the bass is audible, the record would have benefited from giving it a more prominent role throughout. Given the nature of the album, it seems a shame to have the bass lines following the guitars’ lead most of the way, when it could have contributed more in its own right. Furthermore, the album’s heavier moments lack punch in comparison with their peers, and many will find the sheer breadth of territory covered off-putting. Ultimately though, this album really is quite fun. It may not always make sense, and it’s far from perfect, but it’s weird, wacky and wonderful; sure to put a smile on your face as you come across one 90-degree turn after another. We can’t wait to see where they go next.

 

Rhine – An Outsider gets…

3.5/5

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