Heralding Phase Out as Cara Neir’s most adventurous work requires understanding that their momentum this past decade was like an unstoppable force without an immovable object. Prior to now, the Dallas duo were as volatile as they were wretched, at one point being described as "bone-dry black metal." They extracted all traces of misery from black metal, grindcore, post-hardcore, and screamo into a kaleidoscope with differing quantities of each across varying projects. On their newest LP Phase Out, Cara Neir chart their most left field venture yet: a concept album chronicling their abduction and insertion into a JPRG by The One From Trimjrtle, a villain only previously mentioned on their debut released over a decade ago. Each song is a separate level that diversifies the tracklist while remaining narratively consistent. It’s endearing conceptually, phenomenal sonically, and it’s the group’s most aspirational work thus far.

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Cara Neir were always sharp, but now there’s a grittier finish to their lacerating breakneck concoctions. The group authentically emulates Super Nintendo reverb for the majority of Phase Out's distortion and the crumbled texture enhances their crustiness. Their style translates so well to chiptune it’s as if this has been their latent passion project, long brewing in the works. It surpasses gimmickry — Cara Neir improve upon nearly every aspect of their blackened fury by processing and saturating it. Even their nihilism rings more subtle while wrapped in their boldest package: (the horror of their inescapable situation is starkly at odds with the bright colours, jagged synths, and the multiple viewpoints of colorfully-named characters like Valkyrie and Maestro Infernus).

Phase Out overflows with creativity as Cara Neir pivot to the brimming palette of JRPGs. The chiptune distortion revitalizes the urgency of their hellaciousness. "Maestros Infernus" transmutes screamo into a cyber seance gone awry tail-ended by an 8-bit breakdown meant to signify progressing to the next level in a game. Narratively it’s solid, functionally it’s hilarious, and on all levels sensory it’s a trip.

The band ventures beyond their usual boundaries with a cohesion granted by the high concept. Their flirtations with electronics from their previous LP’s "Choke" rang damp with melodrama but the similar exercise on Phase Out, "Phasers Set to Relax," is a hybrid trap and HEALTH offshoot that circumvents the haughtiness of "Choke" with humour and aplomb. The booming bass crackles with SNES distortion, caking the track with a sonic texture as disturbing as it is intoxicating. Effects reminiscent of video game benchmarks like loading screens score the jam-driven laid-back intro of "Hypogelum" and the lo-fi instrumental "Four Seasons in a Day," bottling the relaxation of a save point. "Hypogelum" bounds from frosted calm to ravenous savagery before bouncing into a bitcrushed breakdown that could only exist on this record. Hell, even the track’s spoken-word outro carries the weight of screamo’s poetic waxings… except it’s a sample from a fucking Star Ocean game.

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Phase Out is less morbid than anything else Cara Neir have released primarily because the two show off their ideas like a child sticking their crayon drawings to the kitchen fridge. Excitement shines through the crunchy riffs and vocals so hoarsely shouted they distort into graininess. It’s a testament to the necessity of escapism and how creativity flourishes. The duo has always been as harsh as they have been unwieldy to define, but now they’re ambidextrous. They are rightfully pissed at the gravitas of their situation; they could literally die in this game. But there’s equal levity: "Shady Blues" is a pop-punk track about fighting monsters, and hilariously Chris is exhausted because fighting monsters is actually a grind. When hobbies become obsessions and obsessions become identity, escapes stop being escapes. It’s reflective of the coping strategies employed when tedium has progressed beyond boredom and into dread, something the tangible world is confronting right now. All the hallmarks that used to provide comfort have been distorted: loading screens, save points, and even leveling up.

In this virtual world as well as our own, Cara Neir adapt to the perversion of their pastimes by improving. Through their distractions turned doldrum, the two converted turmoil into a wholly unique, wretched work of art. Phase Out stresses malleability, presenting situations as banal as a castle moat blocking your progress to the soaring Lovecraftian weight of powerlessness in the wake of true rational action. And with all the time in the world, flexibility is a slowly honed skill worth developing.

—Colin Dempsey

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Phase Out released on February 2nd, 2021. Available via Bandcamp.