Here’s something that’s pretty unbelievable – some people will probably be left disappointed by letlive.’s new album. Mad, isn’t it? Since properly breaking out with Fake History in 2011, letlive. have been in the top bracket of all bands, a perennially vibrant Molotov cocktail of Glassjaw, Refused, Rage Against The Machine and such other seminal acts in their field. And of course, with Jason Butler, they’ve got a frontman who gushes soul, charisma and erudition every time he opens his mouth. It’s been a foolproof combination for them, executed to an even greater degree on their 2013 magnum opus The Blackest Beautiful, an album that still feels vital and bleeding-edge relevant three years later.
By comparison, If I’m The Devil… is the mother of all left turns. While there are still flashes of the same wide-eyed desperation, most of this album is a far more restrained, even melodic affair, finding its impact in brooding and slowly unraveling itself. But this is far from letlive. going soft; an opening gambit of “There’s no way my mother can still love me / The way my father, my father said she did” would suggest anything but. Rather, this is letlive. exploring new avenues at bleeding themselves dry. In the case of If I’m The Devil…, it’s art imitating life – it’s bleak, occasionally violent, but supremely interesting, if only to see what happens next.
With this more restrained sound, the source of impact shifts towards the vocals, and Jason is in his element here. And while his manic bloodletting is all but gone (except on the fantastic throwback Another Offensive Song), there’s such a rawness and an unmistakeable soul that sees even the most considered of tracks pack one almighty punch. There’s a vulnerability to his vocals this time around, frequently sounding pained or even scared at points, but it only makes If I’m The Devil… more engrossing, with the likes of the fragile Foreign Cab Rides and I’ve Learned To Love Myself‘s cinematic embellishments displaying immense emotional power. Even in the album’s more ‘standard’ punk moments, there’s still a greater onus on depth and inner power rather than full-on heft; A Weak Ago has shades of Nirvana embedded into its punky, staccato chorus, and Elephant‘s deft bassline and general rowdiness are very reminiscent of ’90s alt-rock.
But there’s much more to glean from If I’m The Devil… when viewing it as a whole entity rather than its separate components, allowing its running theme to fully reveal itself. It’s an album exploring the ingrained racism of the US, most prominently the recent police violence towards ethnic minorities. The album itself mirrors this, one of desperation and anger, but that’s also vulnerable at the same time. Lead single Good Mourning America can therefore be seen as a microcosm of the album as a whole, dark and brooding with its sparse guitar work, finally erupting into a flurry of hardcore intensity and fire. It’s powerful in the way such force unfurls itself over the album, and though musically it does take some time to really connect – probably the first instance of that throughout letlive.’s career – such intensity is palpable all the same.
That’s why If I’m The Devil… is the newest milestone for letlive.. It marks the beginning of the next phase of the band, the evolution in which their flame may not burn as violently, but refuses to dull. And that’s If I’m The Devil… in summary, an album that finds slower-burning but longer-lasting methods of getting its message across, and doing so with conviction and power. As has already been stated, this new-look letlive. may not sit right with everyone at first, but give it time. If I’m The Devil… does take a while to really make itself heard, but when it does, the end results truly are astonishing.
For fans of: Alexisonfire, Thrice, Refused
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘If I’m The Devil…’ by letlive. is released on 10th June on Epitaph Records.