SKYLINER — Condition Black (review)

SKYLINER — Condition Black album cover Album · 2016 · US Power Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Some artists really put the pressure on themselves when it comes to delivering a second album, having made a really good one the first time around. This is exactly the situation that US power metal act Skyliner find themselves in with their second full-length, Condition Black (2016). Their debut Outsiders (2014) was an absolutely stunning release, the then four-piece band blowing me away by producing not only a work of high quality but also one that offered up a sound of its own, a major accomplishment for a power metal band. Since it's release Skyliner has had some line-up changes in its ranks starting with a bassist swap from David Lee Redding to Nathaniel Curtis. More notably though they've cut their line-up down to a trio due to the exit of keyboardist Ashley Flynn who hasn't been replaced.

You know that saying about not missing something until after its gone? Well that's exactly the feeling I have about the keyboards in Skyliner's music. They were such an unassuming presence on Outsiders so it's surprising just how much their absence has affected the tone of their music. Other elements of the band's sound are familiar such as frontman Jake Becker's guitar and voice (though he does turn to growls a little more often on this one), but the lack of keyboards makes the whole thing come across as grittier and stripped back, though it still stands out even within the USPM scene. I expect some listeners may like that but for my part I do miss the extra layer the keyboards added. They weren't used in a typical way going by the usual power metal standards and my impression is that Condition Black is just that bit less unique due to their loss.

That may go some way to explain why Condition Black has felt so underwhelming during my early listens to it, due to already being familiar with Outsiders. It actually feels as if out of their two albums Condition Black ought to be the debut and Outsiders the follow-up, not the other way around. If they had come that way Outsiders would have seemed like a great expansion on what was started on Condition Black, but having come first it makes Condition Black seem much lesser than it actually is. Because it is a decent follow-up, though more of a grower than Outsiders, which even now I do think displayed a bit more energy than Skyliner are mustering up here. Some songs like the early title track Condition Black and No World Order prove themselves early highlights, but others such as Cages We Create and As Above, So Below (Those Who From Heaven to Earth Came) didn't click for several spins. In fact that latter has always stood out more due to how similar it's opening riff is to Foo Fighter's 2002 hit All My Life. It's not the same tone, but the rhythm is there, to the point that I expect Dave Grohl to start singing the opening line at any moment.

Jake Becker's guitar work is again pretty damn good, still with instances where it sounds like Skyliner wants to make technical power metal a thing, and his voice fits the tone of the material well. I know that some listeners of Outsiders singled out his voice as a weak link in the band but I never agreed with that opinion. Not on the debut or on Condition Black either. Stick a very melodic Euro style power metal vocalist on this album and it definitely wouldn't work and I'm not convinced a typical high register USPM singer would either. But Jake Becker's clean yet edgy vocals do. I'm less sold on his use of growling. He is a decent growler, deep and powerful in his delivery and in all fairness does sound as if he could carry a death metal record without problem, but well, this is a power metal record, so the growls do feel unnecessary. Fortunately he mostly uses them in quick bursts so they don't dominate the music too much, the exception being The Morbid Architect (That Prison of Veils) which is the most growl heavy track I've heard from Skyliner so far. It's pretty much a semi-technical death metal track rather than a power metal track.

When all is said and done once it's had the time to fully open up Condition Black is a solid second release from Skyliner. A step down from the debut perhaps and there are definitely some aspects that I wish Skyliner hadn't dropped, but overall I do find it satisfying. I'd even go so far as to call it a power metal highlight of 2016 as I haven't come across many standouts yet apart from Eternity's End. It's just not the gem I was hoping for.
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666sharon666 wrote:
1 year ago
I actually really liked this one straight away. I do agree with how you described their sound changes though and I do still prefer Outsiders by a small margin.
666sharon666 wrote:
1 year ago
Just about to listen to this for the first time. I'll let you know what I think later.

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