Well it’s taken them long enough! Releasing their debut self-titled EP at the back end of 2012, Hacktivist’s reputation began with their timely update of the rap-metal formula, coupling tech-metal polyrhythms with grime-influenced rapping. Since then, the Milton Keynes mob have been steadily building up their following, doing so through the means of an ever-growing live reputation and sporadically released singles. Debut full-length Outside The Box, then, is the culmination of their years of work, and marks the result of whether the hype that has surrounded them has been lived up to. Fortunately, it has, and in a completely stellar fashion too.
Everything on Outside The Box sees Hacktivist upping their game since their EP – the riffs are sharper, the intricate trade-offs between vocalists J Hurley and Ben Marvin erupt with even more venom and vitriol, and there’s a greater breadth of musical exploration packed in. Despite all of this though, Outside The Box never feels bloated or unstable under its own weight. Hacktivist have crafted a sleek, almost dangerously sharp album that offers the naturally tight follow-up to their EP – basically, it lives up to all preconceptions of what a grime / tech-metal hybrid should be.
What’s more, the band’s songwriting chops have also been honed to a fine point here. Lyrically, it’s an album that consists of a combination of forked-tongued polemics and humble-bragging gratitude, two topics that really couldn’t be more different, but are treated with the same level of care and reverence as each other. First track proper Hate encapsulates the latter with an impeccable flow and a maintained confrontational air, while the straight-up grime of Rotten (featuring cameos from Astroid Boys and Jot Maxi) brings the rapping nouse of the coterie of vocalists to the fore for an oppressively dark but captivating example of the new life that Hacktivist are breathing into heavy music with their brand of genre cross-pollination.
It doesn’t end there though, as Outside The Box sees Hacktivist already moving forward and incorporating outside influences into a sound that is already unique. No Way Back‘s central riff has more than a shade of Slipknot to it, and Taken adopts a far more melodic, anthemic guise, thanks to Enter Shikari’s Rou Reynolds on the chorus. By far the biggest curveballs come in The Storm and the title track, the former being a chilled, spacey interlude with brittle electronic beats, while the latter goes down a much more expansive, cinematic road than the glitchy harshness of Hacktivist’s ‘standard’ sound. And while the sound that has become their calling card is at its most potent here – the likes of Buszy and Deceive And Defy already look to launch this band into true greatness – to see them experimenting even at this relatively early stage is a greatly deft touch.
If there’s a complaint to be had about Outside The Box, it’s that in a couple of instances, the combination of tumbling, iron-tipped riffs and somersaulting rapping still don’t click seamlessly. Still, it’s much less of a problem here than it was on their EP, and even with that in mind, Outside The Box sees Hacktivist improving across the board. This is the sort of album they had to come out with to truly live up to the weighty expectations on their shoulders, and they’ve hit it out of the park. There’s a line in Hate where they claim “the whole scene’s in the palm of our hand” – if they carry on in this vein, that’ll become the truth much sooner than later.
For fans of: TRC, Stray From The Path, The One Hundred
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Outside The Box’ by Hacktivist is released on 4th March on UNFD.