On the title track of Outrage! Is Now, drummer and vocalist Sebastien Grainger of Death From Above (now sans the 1979) opens with “Outrage, outrage, I’m out of rage / Maybe it’s my age but I can see a clear light.” The rest of the album seems to disagree — it’s packed with the raw, bristling energy that brought the band to the fore.
Still, the punk-rock duo out of Toronto certainly have changed socially since they blew up, first figuratively via the release of You’re a Woman, I’m A Machine in 2004, and then literally, as the band broke apart completely. The two seemed at the time to capture something ephemeral about the early 2000s — an amalgamation of a noisy garage mentality and a just-hitting-mainstream punk ethos that let the band rage through vicious cuts such as“Pull Out” and “You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine.”
Surprisingly, for a band that’s in some ways famous for imploding — if not for the name dispute with DFA records that led to its pseudo-temporary name change — Grainger and bassist Jesse F. Keeler made peace and returned in 2014 with The Physical World — an album that managed quite successfully to pretend a decade hadn’t passed in the interim. The Physical World was cleaner than You’re A Woman — and tighter, too — but it was nevertheless resolute in its refusal to give up on the abrasive trash talking (be it vocal or instrumental) of its predecessor.
Outrage! is a lot more willing to parlay on the subject. The album’s lead single, “Freeze Me,” which dropped back in June, opens not with a 1-2-3-4 drumstick tap and crashing guitars, but with a simple — dare I say catchy — piano riff.
It’s an opening that points to Death From Above’s willingness to step out into different musical spaces — namely, the dance-punk space, whatever that is. Honestly, “Freeze Me” is fun, infectious, and while it offers no immediate guidance for how exactly one is to dance to it, somehow it engenders the impression that we are definitely supposed to. The guitars brashly insert themselves on occasion, stealing the piano riff for themselves, and taken together with an almost Chester Bennington-like vocal line, the track is a highlight of the album.
In fact, Outrage! Is Now has several real bangers on it. Album opener “Nomad” seems to take a cue or two from Metallica (in its grandeur) and a few from Muse as well (in its rollicking, rolling verses with a Bellamy-esque line) — and not in a derivative way.
That said, parts of Outrage! definitely feel slightly out of the band’s comfort range. The vibrato-tinged, deeper inflection Grainger adopts on “Moonlight” doesn’t feel quite natural coming from him — nor does the occasional double pedal kick the song employs.
As a whole as well, some of the latter half of the album can’t seem to find the groove set down by the early numbers. Everything past “Never Swim Alone,” which utilizes a short, repeated guitar riff in symmetry with “Freeze Me,” seems thematically out of alignment. The slower cut “Statues” carries a simple guitar line and drumline, which forces Grainger’s ability to maintain a song solely on his vocals to it’s edges — and goads him into layering on vocal effects and some spoken-word breakdowns to fill the void.
Meanwhile, “All I C Is U & Me” opens in a mishmash between Yellowcard — damn, what happened to Yellowcard? — Blink-182, (“Dammit,” specifically) and Simple Plan. None of which are bad, mind you, but they’re not particularly befitting of Death From Above’s skillset, and don’t feel in line with the rest of this album. It’s followed up by “NVR 4EVR” — another flip-phone-texting stylized track. Granted, odd song title stylizations are becoming a fad — perhaps we’re running out of unique song names — but seeing an album with all normally titled songs and two stylized as if by a 13 year old raises a question or two. It’s also not a great song — easily the weakest effort on the track.
In fact, what might be the saddest thing that emerges as you work your way through the second half of the album is a lack of dance-punk — a stepping back from the risk the band took in creating “Freeze Me.” Many of the elements of Outrage! Is Now are ones we’ve seen in previous Death From Above albums, albeit in ever-more-polished form. “Freeze Me,” and to a certain extent “Nomad,” were the signal callers of a truly new evolution or experimentation by the band. Relegating them to the first two tracks before dropping back into more familiar ground is an unfortunate move. But if anything, we can hope the band is willing to say “fuck you” to both its own past and those who might suggest that bringing loud, fuzzy guitars to the dance floor is a bad thing.
Perhaps the best suggestion for where the band is heading is summed up in how it came to drop the “1979” it was forced to add to its name. “I was making the art for our single ‘Freeze Me,’ ” Grainger said in an interview with NME. “I wanted to write the name out in ice, so I went on Amazon and ordered an ice cube tray in the alphabet. It came and there were no numbers. That was that.” And so it was.