Review: Twelve Foot Ninja – Outlier
The Ninja comes forth from the shadows to strike once more.
When some 4 odd years ago I stumbled upon a band described as “a mix of nu-metal, djent and reggae” I figured that there was no possible way they could be good, yet 2012’s Silent Machine remains one of my most-played albums. Why? Because, for reasons I can’t quite comprehend, Twelve Foot Ninja decided to take practically all of their musical influences and put them together to make something equally as puzzling as it is wholeheartedly enjoyable (which their funny, well-done music videos only add to).
Try to picture a less-crazy, decidedly more metal Mr. Bungle whose members grew up listening to Korn, and that’s as close as I can describe the band without saying “just listen to them”. Long story short, I fell in love with them and contributed to the crowdfunding campaign for their second album as soon as it went live. I listened to the album for the very first time and wrote down my unedited thoughts here for you to enjoy. [Editor’s Note: Good lord]
Twelve Foot Ninja waste no time by starting off the album with Guac Jim‘s 2015 banger of choice, “One Hand Killing”. This song got an advanced release almost one year ago (damn, life), and it was enough to make my mash that donate button like a madman. I think it might be a bit too hard-hitting for a first track, but at the same time it’s a good indication of what to expect if it’s your first time listening to TFN: massive amounts of groove (accentuated by Damon‘s massive bass tone), killer vocals and off-kilter latin funk sections. If that sounds bad to you, you should probably stop reading now. As the song fades out with a piano solo we go into “Sick”: “Are you sick of being tired/Are you tired of being sick?”. Here we hear the band at their most nu-metal, with Kin channeling all of his inner Patton-isms. Listening to this I’m wishing the drums sounded a bit more natural. I don’t know if they recorded real drums this time around, but they’re far from typewriter quantized. Second single “Invincible” follows up with its instantly memorable chorus and heavy main riff for contrast. This track didn’t really click with me when I first heard it; it’s a lot more straightforward in a radio-ready –traditional way, but it’s very well-written and has grown on me since.
“Oxygen” starts off with a slower tempo, clean guitars and good ol’ reggae-ninja feel, with keys, airy-reverbed vocals and a nice well-fitting guitar solo. It’s a great non-traditional track to break things up a bit. A KoRn-ish riff with distinctly eastern instruments opens “Collateral”, which also boasts a more spaced-out, ambient melodic chorus. “Post Mortem”: More funkyness! And Spanish-y guitars!! The virtuosic-but-not-flashy duo of Stevic and Ro give this album most of its characteristic texture. With the exception of “Invincible”, this album is a lot less traditional in terms of composition than Silent Machine was. I don’t know how I feel about that in a more general way, but “Post Mortem” is a really cool cut regardless.
And probably the coolest riff I’ve heard so far is on “Point of You”. Very upbeat, neat syncopation here, and a good chorus with trumpets filling the space. I’m also getting the impression that this album is a lot more varied than the previous one, which is definitely a good thing. And now a Bazouki or something of the sort opening “Monsoon”. Russ ripped it up on the drums here, with great groove going on under the chorus. “Dig for Bones,” the outlier on Outlier, is perhaps the most “metal” song here. It’s somehow also the most oddly structured, with quite a few weird noises thrown in. It’s fantastic.
On first listen, Outlier didn’t grab me as hard as Silent Machine did. Most of what makes TFN stand out from their peers is here in spades: melodic vocals that aren’t cheesy, heavy riffs alongside non-typical instrumentation and metric tons of groove. But when I was finished with my first playthrough I couldn’t help but think it was lacking some of the more memorable and much stronger melodies that tracks like “Shuriken”, “Deluge”, “Liberation”, “Ain’t That a Bitch” or “Luna” have. I’d say that, as a whole, Outlier is more out-of-the-box in a lot of ways, which could be good or bad depending on your personal preferences and past experiences with Twelve Foot Ninja. After listening to the album a few more times I can say for sure that a lot of these songs seem like growers and that I look forward to spending ample time with each and every one of them. Ask me again in a year or two or four. Until then, Mosh out.
3 1/2 out of 5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell