Brooklyn trio, the Doug Berns Band, are quietly meshing together key elements of rock to create a sound that is both accessible and flashy. The group is fronted by bassist, singer and songwriter Doug Berns (EMEFE, The YeahTones), and features Sean Salant (AwakenTheShadow, Nova Lantern) on guitar and Coleman Bartels on drums. The group is releasing their debut album, Outlier, on October 18th, the same night as their release party at Rockwood Music Hall in NYC. In light of the upcoming release, NYS Music had the pleasure of checking the album out early. At the bottom of this review, the group is premiering their newest music video for their single, “Outlier”, the title track of the album. The nine track album is high octane from start to finish. It meshes the stylings of heavier groups like Metallica, lighter grunge like Alice in Chains, and an element of prog rock with soaring vocals and ripping guitar solos. The group demonstrates their technical ability in a slew of tight performances that highlight each member’s grasp on their intended sound.
While the Doug Berns Band describes themselves as impressionistic rockers, it is tough to label them in this way. The album doesn’t take too many risks in terms of mood and timbre, but rather leans on catchy instrumental hooks and sticky vocal lines laid over heavy, well-executed instrumentals. Berns’ vocals float over top of thick distorted guitars in a way similar to how LaBrie’s (Dream Theater) vocals are the cherry on top of his band’s instrumental as opposed to being the main focal point. In the second track, “It Gets To You”, Berns shows off his falsetto, and establishes his presence in the mix without standing out too much. The melody is written well, and does a good job of leaving room for the guitar to fill space between phrases. This is especially potent in the fifth song “Mainline”, where the lyrics drive the narrative a bit more and the guitar provides great support to the song as a whole instead of pushing to stand out.
The bass’ presence in the album deserves a big shout out, as Berns keeps a solid foundation when needed and doubles up with the guitar to add weight to certain lines. The guitar often runs off on its own to great success. The blazing and technically proficient solos are a big stand out. While Salant’s guitar is coated in dirt more often than not, there are a few points (namely in “Hell”) where the clean tones stand out just as much as the gritty lead tones- a nod to Salant’s ability to navigate modes within a key and color the solos so they stand out melodically from the rest of the backing instrumentals. The eighth song, “Ready Player One” features a specifically heavy solo, and covers a ton of harmonic ground. The drums remain pretty true to the genre and breathe an air of familiarity into each song. This might entail keeping the pulse while the guitar plays more complex rhythmic, palm muted riffs (like in the second track “It Gets To You”) or just holding the line on the odd-time parts of songs (like in “Meet Me”). This isn’t to take away the energy Bartels adds with his lightning fills. He shows flashes of his chops, but tends more frequently towards servicing the song as a whole which adds to the flow of the entire work.
This album offers a good look at a band who is taking pieces from their predecessors and melding them to create a unique amalgamation of elements. In a way, this is impressionistic in itself without having to reach too far into the avant-garde. While the instrumentations are more traditional, the compositions and well-crafted structures allow the band to show their experimental side and give the listener some music theory fodder. Outlier is an accessible and exciting listen, a nice treat to hear for fans of heavier rock.
Key Tracks: Outlier, Mainline, Ready Player One