If intense, bombastic releases are the name of the game, Ateez are surely winning. Six months after their last release and the first part of their The World album series, the eight-piece group is back with The World Ep. 2: Outlaw. A follow-up to The World Ep. 1: Movement, Outlaw is a continuation of the first EP’s storyline, in which the group endure and eventually leave an unnamed dystopian world for a new — and hopefully better — one. 

Taken altogether, Outlaw is an immersive invitation into said new world which Ateez initially descend upon at the end of Movement. As suggested by its title, the group must navigate this EP, and the world within it, as outlaws — fugitives from their last realm but outlaws in their current one. But, even as they strive to muster through unfamiliar, mysterious, and even dark territory in this latest release, the group are musically more themselves than ever. Outlaw especially hones in on Ateez’s characteristically hefty, electrifying sound, hardly letting up throughout its six tracks to make for an even more intense and cohesive listening experience.

Outlaw first sets the scene of said new world in aptly named opener “This World.” The track is a telling characterization of the rest of the EP, kicking things off with whirring synths that speed up and then drastically slow down in tempo, signaling the arrival to an undiscovered and futuristic realm. With its intense, rock beat-driven chorus and eerie, tension-building refrain, “This World” continues to draw listeners into the group’s new environment and the challenges it brings (“Blurred lines and demons/Actually, I don’t know, hell or heaven”). In typical fashion, Jongho lends the highest end of his vocal register to the most heightened moments of the chorus, emphasizing uncertainty and apprehensiveness about this new, dark world the group have no choice but to enter. 

Next track “Dune” sees their worries come to fruition, as the group sing of their hopelessness in the face of strife and resistance (“I’m suffocating, I can’t even count the sacrifices/I’m falling endlessly”). Although the lyrics are somber, “Dune” has an even more powerful ambience than the last track, with racing trap beats and electric guitar riffs accompanied by fierce, choral harmonies to create a feeling of suffocating that mimes the feeling the members sing of throughout the track. But the tides begin to turn on title track “Bouncy (K-Hot Chilli Peppers),” perhaps the most unique track on the EP. 

Now, Ateez refuse to “sit back and relax, man,” putting some pep in their step to make a change and succeed at their mission with the help of the heat and momentum of their “cheongyang chilli pepper vibe”:

Slow it down, make it bouncy, starting now, fly

A different kind of spicy, cheongyang chilli pepper vibe

If you wanna know how, I can show you right now

We’re making it bouncy, set it on fire, fly

If you consider the chorus alone, “Bouncy” reads like an NCT title track, with its cheeky, chipmunk-effect-sung post-chorus and at-first unsettlingly addictive hook. However, when taken altogether, especially the explosive, autotune-heavy opening and clashing synths throughout the verses, “Bouncy” is uniquely Ateez: equal parts vibrant, volatile, and brawny (components that especially come to life in the track’s MV). 

The final three tracks, “Django,” “Wake Up,” and “Outlaw” see the fruits of Ateez labor in “Bouncy” through to the end, eventually bringing the group to success in their mission to come out of this new world stronger than ever, regardless of the obstacles they continue to face. On “Django,” Outlaw’s most ‘relaxed’ section by a hair, the lyrics conjure up callouts to the classic Western character Django, whose likeness has been referenced and reinvented across film and other forms of media throughout the years. This aspect, paired with the track’s trap beat, nonchalant verses, and onomatopoeic lyrics and sound effects (“Put everything on the line and shoot right now”) add to the track’s — and the EP’s — captivating listening experience.  

“Wake Up” and “Outlaw” takes the sound of Outlaw back to its futuristic, synth-heavy origins, as featured in “This World.” However, rather than both encompassing an aura of uncertainty shrouded in darkness, as with the beginning of the album, they instead have an air of blatant confidence. This is especially the case on hip hop track “Wake Up,” where Hongjoong and Mingi’s rap verses take center stage. Despite their fast-paced flow, both rappers add an air of nonchalant-ness to their verses, making their victory in the new world even more apparent. This continues through the very end of the album on “Outlaw,” where Mingi again shines in the opening rap to cool down the heat of the tension from the first half of the album, bringing the group back down to the earth by its end. 

In all, The World Ep. 2: Outlaw is easily one of Ateez’s most cohesive, riveting projects to date. Throughout the EP’s six tracks, they manage to stick to their truest form even as they navigate the darkness of a world completely new to them. With each release, their style and vision becomes clearer and more unique to their story as a group, which promises to be even more the case with whatever they create next. 

(YouTube. Lyrics via Genius [1][2][3][4]. Images via KQ Entertainment.)