Trying to piece together the background information on Finnish heavy metallers Outlaw requires the deductive abilities and attention to detail of a British super sleuth. Possessing neither, I’ve consulted Metal Archives to find the context within which their debut Marauders was created. Outlaw was formed in 2015 as the classic metal outlet for vocalist Lee Anvel. His numerous projects and associated aliases span thirteen years and range from black metal to doom. Along with co-founder and bassist John Kaiser, Anvel has assembled a band of newcomers for his foray into the most traditional of metals. They’ve donned their studded leather, bullet belts, and pseudonyms and seem intent on delivering the goods.
So what goods are delivered on Marauders? This package contains eight tracks of no-nonsense heavy/power metal and comes wrapped in artwork that qualifies the band for membership in the . Outlaw make no effort to hide their influences as the album’s opening seconds feature a guitar harmony that made me check to make sure I hadn’t pressed play on Screaming For Vengeance. A sense of familiarity is unavoidable as the basis of every song on Marauders is a heavy dose of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. “Reaper’s Tale,” “Heroes of Telemark” and “Thunderstone” are great examples of how Outlaw fuse the sound of those two legendary bands to great effect. They add a dash of Iced Earth riffing on the title track, and some vintage Jag Panzer rears its head on “Speed Calls” and the excellent “Tyrants of Ice.” The most impressive thing is the skill with which Anvel and Co. use these influences to forge a set of songs that stand on their own. They never once had me reaching to play one of the classics instead.
Guitar duo Simon Shatter and Johnny Slashburner are the most obvious stars on Marauders as their tone has that classic crunch and bite that would fit on any classic Priest album. Their riffs drive the album, and their soaring leads and duels leave a trail of memorable passages in every song. The rhythm section consisting of Kaiser and Johnny Gutter on drums provides a no-frills but well-executed backbone for the album. Anvel’s voice is one of the elements that keep Outlaw from sounding like just another Priest or Maiden clone. He uses a restrained delivery as his baseline, then throws in snarls and occasional high screams to create a vocal sound that really complements the songs. If this were all there was to be said about the vocals, we might have a very good album on our hands.
My concern began as what I thought was a mere annoyance at first but revealed itself to be a major distraction on repeat listens. The way that Anvel enunciates his lyrics makes it almost impossible to determine what he’s saying on the majority of the album. It almost feels as if some of the songs were recorded with placeholder vocal arrangements that were never re-recorded. Now, this may seem to be petty nitpicking since many genres of metal have indecipherable lyrics. If the songs are good, who cares about the lyrics, right? That’s the attitude I tried to assume as I continued to listen to the album. As I did, I realized that great heavy metal anthems like these simply demand that their listeners be able to sing or at least lip-sync along. Without this flaw, I see myself adding at least 0.5 to the score.
It wasn’t until I’d studied the album’s cover several times that I noticed the subject’s hand placement. The hands tell me that the masked brute isn’t preparing to bash my head, but is, in fact, a left-hander that has just swung for the fences and barely missed. In much the same way, this album was a potential skull crusher that would have gone yard had it connected. With a debut that came this close to greatness, I’ll be anxious to see what Outlaw does next.