Outlander - Sundowning/Unconditional

08 Jul 2021 - Pat O'

Doomgaze/Shoegaze/Post-Rock | Church Road Records | Release date: 25 Jun 2021

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Birmingham’s Outlander are back and have made a bold statement with this latest EP. It’s rich in hypnotic shoegaze melodies but it has a darker side which gives these doomgazers something slightly unique but ultimately very special

Outlander came to my attention way back in 2016 when they released a two track EP Take Turns/I’ll Get Mine Too. They were both slow, heavy tracks, with an undercurrent of indie melodies and shoegaze drones. There were a few ripples within the scene, but in the greater scheme of things it went a little under the radar. The following year, they worked their magic again with the release of Downtime, which made a lot of people sit up and pay attention, as they further developed their sound, leaning more towards a “doomgaze” feel that seemed to suit them. Then in 2019 The Valium Machine landed, and the accolades poured over the Birmingham lads cementing their status as a top end “doomgaze/post-rock” band.

Right from the off their brooding “doomgaze” style gave us a hint of who they were. It gave them an identity and a presence, as did the aesthetics of the album covers. They took a completely different approach with the artwork, homing in on everyday life scenes from a working-class perspective. The photographs were an unpolished reality, and a stark reflection to life as it was. They depicted verity and substance and gave character to the streets and buildings that populated the urban landscape they were portraying. Red brick facades looming in the background of each cover wasn’t by chance.

So fast forward to 2021 and Outlander have graced us once more with another EP in the shape of Sundowning/Unconditional. The learning curve these guys have circumnavigated has brought a maturity and a confidence in them and their music. Their sound has been polished without losing its identity or its dark and sunless persona. It has been slightly refined and tweaked and along with a change in the direction of the artwork, has me sensing it’s a new chapter in their musical journey. So, let’s see what this EP is offering.

The first track, “Sundowning” begins with breezy, groovy riffs and hypnotic drums that lead us into these beautifully dreamy and wistful vocals that carry and float through the slightly distorted guitars and unfiltered bass lines. As the music breaks down to a single guitar chord, the vocals hush and breathe acapella. The pace is slumberous and dreamy with each chord and drumbeat extending their stay, until it all crawls patiently to a seductive crescendo. It’s all very calming and composed, similar in style to the likes of Holy Fawn or Slow Crush.

Track number two, “Unconditional” begins at a snail’s pace with more dreamy and haunting vocals whispering in your ear. The riffs are heavy and leaden and at times seem to share the same heartbeat as their fellow Brummy metal godfathers. You can hear those Sabbathian origins and that kinship resonate deep in the underbelly of their sound. The heaving riffs continue to plough with intermittent breaks, allowing for moments of silence. Another shift in sound is lead by a solo bass line that opens a more euphonic and catchier melody while the guitar riff follows suit and leads its way into an atmospheric and airy finale.

But with all their dream-like qualities, these two tracks are rugged, heavy and hypnotic at the same time. They perfectly reflect the imagery of the cover which shows a dark and jagged headland stretching out into this bleak and inhospitable mass of ocean. This EP has done exactly what it needed to do. It has only whetted the appetite for what is to come. If Sundowning/Unconditional is anything to go by, there is a huge album just beyond the horizon.