Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 13/3
If I'm The Devil
Written by: TL on 30/06/2016 21:52:05
Los Angeles-based post-hardcore crew Letlive blast onto the international scene when 2010's "Fake History" literally made them from nobodies into the hottest name in the scene, bringing to the genre a sense of gritty rage and furious energy that completely outshone the industry standard for auto-tuned white boys singing in high-pitched clean/scream patterns about garden-variety relationship- and coming of age problems. Letlive brought a more urgent sense of danger and a social commentary which seized the listener at the throat, and for months after the album release, you couldn't open a music magazine without reading about how much the band also killed live.
Awesome, but while the 2013 follow-up "The Blackest Beautiful" was an earful in its own right, it didn't leave the same deep imprint on the memory, and since after its tour, Letlive went quiet for a while, taking some time where the first news we heard of them was when frontman Jason Butler lent his vocal prowess to the awesome "Stained Glass Ceiling" on last year's Wonder Years record "No Closer To Heaven". And then this year in April the rumbling started again. Albeit a guitarist poorer after the departure of Jean Nascimento, the band was coming back with a new album called "If I'm The Devil".
Imagine if you will, the wildness of a Refused concert, the bitter political indignation of a Desaparecidos lyric and the sense of edge and drama of a Michael Jackson song, and you have pretty much what Letlive have presumably been going for on the new album. Butler has professed his MJ inspiration already, and pretty much no other bands than Refused have managed to cook up a similarly hypermodern 'punk' expression.
Butler clearly steals the show, however, especially in the verses, where his engaging flow takes you from soft whisper to spitting fury in a heartbeat. He is in top form both vocally and lyrically, as he greets you already on opener "I've Learned To Love Myself" with lines such as "My mouth keeps running but it's running in place, and the mask I used to wear is now becoming my face" etching themselves into your memory instantly. The signature gospel melody he spits vitriol on in "Good Mourning, America" is also great: "We ain't so different now are we, said the cop to the killer inside of me, I heard your story boy, that shit gets old, I have the right to take your life, so do just what you're told".
As great as Butler is, however, the Nascimento-less band behind him can't always keep things equally charismatic. Symptomatically for the record, they build extremely tasteful atmospheres around their frontman in the first halves of the songs, yet often things eventually plateau in chorus parts that are, well, a bit conventional for a band like Letlive, from whom you really expect a strong kick in the ass. "Who You Are Not", for instance, is a pretty cool track, but if it wasn't for Butler, it wouldn't be far from a Linkin Park production, which is weird because if the buzz in the business is to be believed, then Letlive is a force of rebellion, while Linkin Park is a money-making machine, so how can they sound alike? Food for thought. Really, though, the band's attempts to get punk in anything resembling a traditional sense, are also the most unnecessary tracks on the album: See "A Weak Ago" and "Another Offensive Song" which frankly don't really have much to offer. Here the heart really yearns for those ear-splintering riffs of "Renegade 86'" or "The Sick, Sick 6.8 Billion" from "Fake History".
The balladry Letlive surrounds Butler with on a tune like "Foreign Cab Rides" is a lot more interesting then, while the album's title track also comes in late on the tracklist with an eerie, ambient chiming in the second verse, and a great, heavily effect-drenched riff under the chorus. It sounds like something the band has borrowed from one of the better The Sleeping songs, and in general, the track is an example of the band exploring new, quieter territory and proving that they can still sound just as incendiary even without the tempo.
All things considered, the moments where Butler and band come together on here are so striking that they make the whole thing stand apart well enough, as an album outside of its scene and one worth sitting through more than once or twice. The mentioned plateauing in crucial moments; when you as a listener are ready to lose your shit and then have to settle for a fairly normal chorus; they take their toll from the top drawer of grades and hold the experience down here in the world of the living. But make no mistake: Letlive still have fire and unmistakeable musical sparks will fly from them yet.
Download: Reluctantly Dead, If I'm The Devil, Good Mourning America
For The Fans Of: Refused, Michael Jackon, Desaparecidos
Release date 10.06.2016