The Blackest Beautiful

Written by: TL on 30/07/2013 18:33:12

There are bands that have massive breakthroughs and then there are bands that straight up explode. As you must know if you've paid attention where you should for the past three years, LA quintet Letlive exploded cataclysmically following the complete retooling of the line-up behind founding vocalist Jason Butler and the subsequent release of the world-beating "Fake History" - A record of pure teeth and claws, so uncannily incendiary that when it was done ripping and tearing at the boundaries of the post-hardcore genre of the time, nothing but smoking, bloody, pitiful ruin remained of a landscape formerly populated by heart-broken suburban white boys.

With "Fake History", Letlive brought social indignation and stories of devastated childhood into the genre with an urgency that was unparallelled, and so to this day it still inspires me to describe it in terms that are equally volatile. Here though, all of this merely serves as the terrifyingly looming backdrop for the almost impossible follow-up attempt that has resulted in "The Blackest Beautiful"; an album whose title, cover art and song names all seek to establish that "Fake History" was just the beginning, and that Letlive remain every bit as furious despite clinging to the trail of a metaphorical dragon in terms of touring intensely to support their first magnum opus.

In terms of pure observations, Letlive seem to have gotten lighter, faster and even more erratic here, with the increasingly exotic percussion patterns commanding that the riffs and vocal twist and contort even more abrasively than previously, making the path through the songs a breath-stealing back-and-forth between swaying and lunging, crouching and leaping, swooning and shaking maniacally. On top of it all, Butler reigns with a vocal performance that recalls the hysterical madness of Daryl Palumbo or early Bert McCracken, while referencing the fanatical conviction of a Zack de la Rocha (and prompting one to reflect upon whether Letlive could be called this decade's RATM?).

Sadly, after countless attempts at approaching "The Blackest Beautiful", this particular hydra of an album is one that, however fierce, hardly lets itself be explained without mention of its clear inferiority to its older sibling. The production has justly been discussed elsewhere as a point of disappointment, and indeed, while the drums have phenomenal punch and presence, and while Butler's vocals come at you with a plethora of effects both organic and digital, the guitars are weakened and the bass is too often an afterthought in the mix.

The weakening of the guitars lends itself to me as a particularly likely reason for "The Blackest Beautiful"'s being a much less consistenly engaging, much less overwhelming listen than "Fake History", and sadly one that for many stretches leaves me disinterested in whatever it might be that Butler is screaming and screeching and muttering so passionately about. Where "Fake History" was an album full of tracks you wouldn't consider pausing for a second, "The Blackest Beautiful"'s would-be heavy riffs suffer immensely in the mix, taking a clear backseat to the vocals and rarely providing these with the contrast that should've re-created the dynamism that fueled the prior album's blaze.

The record thus strikes me as so handicapped that it gets to a point, where I even have a hard time holding onto any highlights, despite the fact that the amazing rhythmicity has me at least relatively engaged on my listen-throughs. Early eruptions like "Banshee - Ghost Fame" and "Empty Elvis" clearly have riffs to be appreciated, while "That Fear Fever" comes at you with a frantic-as-fuck tempo and "Virgin Dirt" then mellows things down with some devilishly catchy phrases jumping off the word "precipice". Along with the relatively potent "The Dope Beat" however, even these tracks that I stretch to call highlights feel mostly like diluted versions of the volcanic power exhibited by the songs on "Fake History" - To the point where it becomes poignant to wonder if Letlive should have even stylised the new album so similarly to the old one, or if it wouldn't have been wiser for them explore a more striking nuance to their expression.

While I'd hear such an argument though, my diagnosis is simpler: "The Blackest Beautiful" lacks dynamically and mainly melodically, simply because the guitarwork for some unfathomable reason has not been afforded the necessary prominence in the production of an album that, sadly but understandably seems carried away with its percussion and vocals. The band should praise themselves on the excellent pick-up that is new drummer Loniel Robinson, yet swiftly start to figure out how they plan to let their future riffs regain power, and their future songs feel less like leftovers from their first album. Because as much as I've tried to find an alternative angle, and as tasty as Letlive leftovers are, I can't but declare that I remain disappointingly un-smitten with "The Blackest Beautiful", and that I doubt it'll even register with me when time comes to objectively recount the top releases of 2013.

Download: Banshee - Ghost Fame, Empty Elvis, That Fear Fever, Virgin Dirt
For The Fans Of: Glassjaw, Rage Against The Machine, Jacobi Wichita, Refused, Thursday
Listen: facebook.com/theletlive

Release Date 09.07.2013

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