Ambition in music can be great if utilized well, and it often requires caution and attention to detail. You have to give The Devil Wears Prada and Bring Me The Horizon props for progressing into completely new identities during their careers. Such changes weren’t made overnight, either. They involved lots of consideration over the course of several years, and they paid off when Zombie EP and Sempiternal displayed refreshing departures from the metalcore mold and vast expansions of sound. It makes sense, then, that letlive. would make ambitious strides. After all, they’re one of the more aesthetically invigorating post-hardcore bands around today. Their newest effort is the result of immense ambition and sonic tweaks, and while they don’t execute as well as the two aforementioned acts, they still provide a decently compelling full-length in If I’m The Devil.
The Bad: the band’s forward movement is handled with some care, but not enough care. What makes letlive. so fulfilling from a listening standpoint is their energy, and this time around, they simply lack it. It’s one thing to incorporate slower sections or even songs, but the group spends a large course of the record at a calmer, more contemplative tempo. Sure, it’s great when the choruses work and the guitar work stands out (“Nu Romantics” and “A Weak Ago”), but too many tracks lack standout ability. Opener “I’ve Learned to Love Myself” spends nearly half of its runtime setting up for a huge finale with strings and drum taps, only to simmer down when that time comes. On the other hand, “Good Mourning, America” has a similar structure, yet builds up for a memorable second half complete with juicy riffs and screams from frontman Jason Butler. When the band does play to their hardcore roots, the results are mixed: “Elephant” and “Another Offensive Song” show some keen aggression, but are sure to leave listeners wishing for more.
The Good: some of the overambition and failed execution can be overlooked thanks to emotional vulnerability and Butler’s powerful vocals. The biggest problem with If I’m The Devil is the way it leaves behind a lot of the qualities that made letlive. albums so great in the first place. Their energy — in the form of a post-hardcore/jazz combo — could not be matched in intensity or style in the past, but they lose a lot of it here in the aim of making a grandiose, triumphant work. The biggest triumph, then, comes in what the band has always done well: unleashing emotions. “Who You Are Not” and “Foreign Cab Rides” thrive off the quartet’s ambition with twinkling guitar chords and well-executed rises and falls. The vocals are the centerpiece, as Butler pushes his way to the front more here than on any previous letlive. album. His screams are sparse, but he showcases his Michael Jackson-esque flamboyance and sharp croons with assurance that listeners will feel everything he’s feeling.
From a thematic standpoint, letlive. deserves to be compared to Kendrick Lamar. On this effort, they discuss police brutality, political division, and the basic importance of loving and respecting others, all major problems in the U.S. right now that relay major human shortfalls. For some, it will instantly connect and hold them close for its entire runtime, while others may miss this record’s appeal entirely — and for good reason. If I’m The Devil strives to bring people together lyrically, but ends up alienating a fair amount of fans in the process. It marks an arrival to an anthemic, larger-than-life identity and a departure from much of what the band does so well musically, being relentless in many ways but restrained in many others. Though I doubt it’ll do anything to change their incredible live performance, letlive.’s fourth full-length exposes both the pros and cons of ambition.
Rock/Post-Hardcore | Epitaph Records