Review Summary: Once more, with feeling...
"There are maybe 40 people in this room, and you're all part of something special. Enjoy this night, because this won't happen again; we're selling out."
Spoken before launching into Fake History's "Over and Under" during an intimate show in the summer of 2011, letlive. frontman Jason Butler was obviously being a bit facetious with his promise to tank his band's artistic integrity. Upon first listen of what is, for all intents and purposes, the band's sophomore release, The Blackest Beautiful, you'd be forgiven for thinking that there was a bit of honesty hidden inside the sarcasm, though. The heavy, aggressive tone of their major-label debut has been largely pushed aside in favor of expanding and refining the group's already pretty-prevalent pop sensibilities. The vast majority of the songs here are structured around gigantic, Warped Tour-sized choruses designed expressly to lodge themselves in the part of your brain that's responsible for making you sing Seal's "Kiss From a Rose" at seemingly random times.
That's not to say that The Jason Butler Five have completely abandoned their heavier tendencies; on the contrary, some of the guys' most aggressive moments can be found in the loud, messy breakdowns scattered throughout, and the ending of the fantastic closer "27 Club" is absolutely crushing. These moments are rarely allowed to develop into something bigger, however; instead, they're mostly constrained to short, violent outbursts hidden among the abundance of sickeningly sweet pop hooks. In this way, The Blackest Beautiful is a bit more formulaic than its predecessor, largely lacking the unpredictable nature that made Fake History so fascinating. If prior years saw letlive. paying homage to the post-hardcore bands of days past, this latest batch of songs sees them applying their influences to a more safe, modern version of the genre.
Luckily for us, letlive. do modern post-hardcore better than pretty much any band on the planet. While a big chunk of the experimentation and aggression of Fake History has been tossed to the wayside, the passion and character that was seeping through every note, every scream is fully intact. Vocally, Jason Butler throws down the gauntlet, absolutely packing the record to the brim with personality and character until it's practically exploding from the disc in a violent eruption that's not entirely unlike the one experienced by his cult-like devotees when the album stream went live. Every line, whether delivered through his fantastic screams or the needlessly overprocessed cleans, is spoken with a desperate honesty that is downright infectious. Lines that would otherwise come across as more than a little silly, lines like "If home is where the heart is, then what do I do with this empty chest"", are uttered with such passion and sincerity that they turn into inescapable "*** yes!" moments.
Elsewhere, guitarists Jeff Sahyoun and Jean Nascimento bring both the ruckus and the funk with some very fun, Glassjaw meets Rage Against the Machine riffing, while That Guy That Kinda Looks Like Chad Kroeger provides an extremely solid rhythm section alongside Whoever Recorded Drums On This Album. The avoidance of open-chord chugfests continues to be commendable, and the sheer, passionate intensity with which everyone plays once again makes up for the fact that, really, you've heard all of this before. One could easily comment that letlive. are riding the coattails of the genre's giants, but it's difficult to care when every chord is played with the intent to level buildings.
While it may not be the genre-saving masterpiece many had hoped for and, perhaps unfairly, expected, The Blackest Beautiful is nevertheless an extremely solid set of energetic, passionate post-hardcore songs. While it's not likely to change the world, there are some great tracks here that will be an absolute blast in a live setting. And really, that's all a letlive. fan could ask for.