Although you may think that Outcasts is Freak of Nature's third album, it is important to note that vocalist Mike Tramp released this compilation CD after his debut solo CD. Outcasts, which would be wise to title "Outtakes", came out when Mike Tramp made an effort to have it released Stateside after his first two FON albums never seeing the light of day. Too bad cause those two albums (Freak of Nature and Gathering of Freaks) were the highpoints of his career. Unfortunately they did not get the support they deserved and FON broke up in 1996. Mike released his solo album Capricorn and then this Outcasts CD in 1998. But because the songs on it weren't composed as an album, there is no real sense of unity between them. It was still cool to read Mike's liner notes about the history of FON, which he called "the best band of his life", and the intrepretations of his songs.
Some of the songs on this CD are the rough demo versions recorded with original guitarist Oliver Steffensen, who would later co-write some songs with Mike on his first and third solo albums. Three of these songs would also make it to the debut FON album because they were too strong leave out Mike himself would admit years later. "Possessed" is perhaps one of the heaviest songs Mike ever wrote, especially lyrically. "Are You Ready" features different vocals from Mike compared to the bonus track on the s/t with guitarists Kenny Korade and Dennis Chick (ex-House of Lords). It is cool to have different versions of these tracks as they are among the most metal and powerful songs in Mike Tramp's career.
"Blame it on the Fool" kicks off the CD, which was one of the songs that didn't make it on the first CD. Lyrically it's quite self-explanatory but musically it might have needed some more work. "Where You Belong" and "Wartime" are both heavy songs where Mike Tramp explores with new lyrical ideas. Mike definitely wrote his best and most cerebral lyrics in his short-lived band FON. The second album Gathering of Freaks, in my opinion, features his best vocal performance plus most thought provoking lyric work to date, and is still by far my favourite Mike Tramp related album along with White Lion's Pride. "Dead and Gone" is one of the better songs on the album and I think it's a shame it didn't make it on the studio albums. It would have been a great fit. The unplugged versions of "What Am I" and especially "Turn the Other Way", while good in their own right, make you want to hear the studio versions on the debut CD. I think "Turn the Other Way" is an excellent song and a great album opener. Very fast and energetic compared to everything else Tramp has written before and after FON.
The two semi-ballads "I Regret" and "Can't Find My Way" are both killer works. I can't believe they were left out and I am thankful to Mike for making the effort to get them released in one form or another. Because they're too good to be left gathering dust in some vault. Tramp wrote "I Regret" about his (then) new-born son and explains he understood his dad's feelings with a son of his own. Also it's a pity FON never did this song live. Tramp would finally cover it years later as a solo artist. "Can't Find My Way" is, as Tramp puts it, "the song he enjoyed singing the most" but again it's a shame it didn't make it on the albums. This song is a true METAL song from structure to attitude to the lyrics to the music to the vocals. It is also one of the best, most emotional, and most devastasting songs of Mike ever. Lyrically it destroys me. The part where he goes "I've tried before to unlock the door..." gives me chills every time! The song slowly builds up and gains tempo and heaviness as it reaches a height where you might want to freeze forever. It's a song Mike wrote about his brother. The guitar work towards the end to this day boggles my mind. Why didn't Korade and Chick play stuff like this on the studio albums? Easily my favourite song on this CD.
Songs like "If" and "Disturbing the Peace" keep you going, especially the latter with its never-ending riffing and clocking it at over 12 minutes! It was just Oliver and his drum machine but you can feel that him and Mike were really into whatever they were doing. It's a shame this band didn't last cause there was something magical about them and they had all the potential there was to have. The reason I am rating it 4 stars is the lack of unity and somewhat raw production even though it serves the purpose of the CD quite well at times. I highly recommend you to check out the two FON albums. They are both tragically underrated and might surprise you a lot if you've never heard Mike's "darker" and "metal" sides before.
- Blame It on the Fool
- One Love
- Where You Belong
- Dead and Gone
- What Am I?
- I Regret
- Can't Find My Way
- Turn the Other Way
- Are You Ready?
- Disturbing the Peace
* Review originally written in 2004.