Towards the back end of the last decade, alternative music became under siege. A barrage of bold, creative, fresh artists had rock, punk, metal, and hardcore in their crosshairs. And to the benefit of (quite literally) everyone involved - the trigger was pulled. Black Peaks, Employed To Serve, Creeper, Knocked Loose, Power Trip, Turnstile, and Code Orange as well as many others all seemed to ignite a youthful blaze in the house of metal and its sub genre's at the same time. There's rarely been a more ideal time to be a part of the alternative landscape.
As a result, there's become a welcome thirst within the community. Bands sitting at the top of the pyramid that seem more focused on phoning it in (we're looking at you Green Day) than making ample attempts at writing their best possible material stand out in florescent paint, especially when the likes of Conjurer are penning records like Mire. Even with that said though, we're still waiting for an artist to grab the brass ring.
That new band with universal appeal across alternative culture is yet to arrive, maybe they never will, maybe we never need them to. The sustainability of metal certainly doesn't depend on how many bands we can squeeze into a Radio 1 set list, but it's a useful barometer to determine where we are. In a minimalistic sense - we're chasing a band that ticks all the above boxes, with a distinct personality, thick enough skin to write what they believe in, and spell it across the masses. Funnily enough, we already had one.
It sounds trivial in hindsight, but letlive. really did have all the above, and then some. With front man Jason Aalon Butler at the helm for the bands entire run (the only member to do this) they were an outfit that gave voices to the silenced. Birthed in the equally vibrant and torn state of Los Angeles in the early 2000's - letlive. experienced humble beginnings. Their first offerings, 2003's Exhaustion, Salt Water, And Everything In Between and 2005's full LP debut Speak Like You Talk had flickers of brilliance, but lacked a sustained punch. You knew they had... something, but the final picture seemed blurry.
And then it happened: the bands true birth. Unleashed in 2010 to be re-released in 2011 on Epitaph Records, Fake History was a bullet in a briefcase delivered first class to alternative music HQ. Looking back a decade later, we know now that it was years ahead of its time. Channelling Refused, At The Drive In, and Glassjaw through a crushing 50 minute worldview, you couldn't help but be taken aback.
Post hardcore/punk had rarely been packaged with such intimacy. Butler showed bubbling vitriol on the enigmatic 'The Sick, Sick, 6.8 Billion', he shared sorrow on 'Muther's depiction of adultery, and vulnerability on 'H. Ledger's gaping open wound. Jason's chameleon like performance was one to marvel at - the dexterity of his pitch still remains scarcely matched to this day. His supporting cast hardly took a back seat though. Drummer Anthony Rivera slammed his way through technique laden fills that managed to stand out in amongst the chaos, while Jean Nascimento's riffs were the ideal accent to Butler's sharp poetry.
letlive. spoke of political systems that fail us, of social issues that plague us, and of human emotion that we struggle to maintain. They were real, talented, and a little bit insane to boot. The bands live show garnered almost more attention than their records. Butler's presence was hard to match, and at times imitated a stunt man rather than a front man. Stage dives, broken equipment, he even admitted to purposefully punching a fan who had made an offensive remark to him in the face - it would have been criminal for the media to not put letlive. at the forefront, and in fairness to them - they did.
Mainstream alternative media were quick to surround letlive. why wouldn't they? Fake History landed second in Kerrang!'s album of the year vote for 2011, losing only to Mastodon's The Hunter. Metal Hammer were less generous, charting the record at 23 in their 2010 list. Regardless, they were being noticed. Unfortunately for the Californians, they caught attention at the same time as a movement below them was starting to gain speed.
A new version of modern metalcore had started to near full traction come the turn of the decade. 2011 also saw releases from Of Mice & Men, Memphis May Fire, Like Moths To Flames, The Devil Wears Prada and then juggernauts of the scene - Asking Alexandria. Swathes of youth were flocking to the concept, Tumblr was rife with pages dedicated to neon (quite terrible) band t-shirts. It pulled in the kind of attention that publications, booking agents, and PR agencies couldn't possibly ignore.
It meant that while undeniably being the critics choice - letlive. had to stand closer to the back of the line. Pierce The Veil, A Day To Remember, All Time Low, Sleeping With Sirens, and You Me At Six had all begun to hit a stride, too. Magazine covers became awash with bands on the lips of the 14-24 year old demographic, which, is usually where the money is most likely to be made in the industry. To remember that Jason and co were placed on the back burner to the bands previously mentioned leaves an undeniably bitter taste in the mouth, but the ruthless cogs of the music business tend to always turn most favourably for those that can make a quick buck - that may never change.
No matter though, right? Because 2013 saw letlive. (arguably) conquer their previous effort. The Blackest Beautiful seemed like it was almost from another planet. Funk, punk, hip hop, rock, hardcore, were all cocooned in a web of potent social commentary. Its delivery was more organic, thread bare from over production and needless technicality. The album artwork was almost as striking as the audible fury in the records bones. Black and white flags American flags draped over an unknown with a noose around their neck: they weren't searching for hyperbole - they wanted you to know the constitution had failed you.
'Banshee' and 'Younger' possessed the enigmatic choral flow that you couldn't help but be captured by. But it was the likes of 'Empty Elvis', 'The Dope Beat', and 'The Priest And Used Cars' waiting in the wings which would take your breath away. The ache of Jason's social breakdown, the bare bones production, the raw lyrical content - The Blackest Beautiful is as close a record from the last decade can get to perfect.
Poor timing would strike again, though. Bring Me The Horizon's Sempiternal, a record that would be talk of the town regardless of which year it came out, would grasp 2013 in a tight grip. Fall Out Boy made their return, as did Paramore, Asking Alexandria reached their peak with From Death To Destiny, and Tonight Alive began their brief spell in the limelight: the machine was overlooking letlive.
It didn't help that during the year of 2013-2014, modern, melodic metalcore hit its commercial peak. Considering how quickly the genre, and subsequently the bands in it, fell off the boil it seems incredible to remember just how much success it had. Feel from Sleeping With Sirens landed third (THIRD!) on the US billboard 200 in 2013, Of Mice & Men's Restoring Force (2014) hit fourth, as did Memphis May Fire's Unconditional. For all the critical panning we can give the scene in hindsight, commercially, it was one of the most successful periods of alternative music in recent memory. A sobering thought it might be, but the peak of the new wave of American heavy metal could rarely boast these numbers.
Poor timing meant that letlive. were caught out at sea with few supplies. The lust for organic, creatively lush hardcore/post hardcore hadn't become rife yet. They were the band that seemed to be adored by everyone caught in their storm - but it never translated to mass appeal. Gun to their heads, you get the feeling most media execs would have loved to put Butler and co front and centre as opposed to bands that creatively couldn't match them, but their hands were tied by instant demand and popularity. That's not to suggest their time as a band was a failure, realistically letlive. did better than 85% of outfits that try to make music their career. But that never negates from the idea that, all things considered, it seems criminal they weren't generational frontrunners with Architects, Parkway Drive, and Bring Me The Horizon.
By the time 2016's If I'm The Devil approached, it was almost universally accepted that the chance for letlive. to attain the recognition they deserved had passed. They were instead a band that had found their audience, and could comfortably make a career from maintaining them. Exceptional a record though it was, the final letlive. album was once again, somewhat overlooked. Favouring (for the most part) soulful storytelling over manic, theoretical call outs of the system, If I'm The Devil was a demonstration that perhaps letlive. had hit their peak in the early 2010's - and what a peak it was.
The band would go on to announce a permanent hiatus in 2017, the 'you don't know what you've got till it's gone' shockwave was felt throughout alternative music. Large detail wasn't given, instead thanks and gratitude for what the band had achieved up to that point were dished out. Messages of dread and despair flooded social media channels across the globe, you wonder where these same people had been for the last six years. Nevertheless, letlive. was dead, and were laid to rest as one of the greatest bands of their generation.
Of course, Jason has gone on to form Fever 333, a trio that, thus far, are doing what letlive. were never allowed to do: capitalising on their momentum. Their incendiary attacks on political systems built around racism, as well as having an innate knack for song writing to boot has made them hot property. Debut record Strength In Numb333rs stretched far and wide, they're signed to Roadrunner Records, Jason is no longer just the voice of the silenced, he's also one of THE voices.
But there lies a stark difference between Fever 333 and letlive. As Jason Aalon Butler's new project doesn't quite withhold the same level of creative brilliance as his previous venture did. As good as the new trio are - they're yet to deliver the kind of record that you feel everyone has to hear at least once - letlive. delivered two of them.
Perhaps letlive. never becoming the phenomenon they should have been was written in the stars. Fever 333's stance of equality and solidarity is clinically apparent, they're making a real difference. Latest EP Wrong Generation depicted Jason's own personal time participating in the BLM movement, a landmark moment even for someone of his creativity and vision. The bands 'demonstration' livestream that concluded with a list of police brutality victims was a moment that had to be noticed, too, as was Jason's latest Kerrang! Magazine cover feature showing the same names drawn on his face. Whether Fever 333 is the best band the front man has ever partaken in is almost irrelevant - the message is spreading.
In terms of legacy, letlive. will be eternal. At a time where new ideas (good ones at least) in alternative music were few and far between, they were a godsend. Laboured by trying to breakthrough at the same time as a movement that would engulf mainstream rock media, their existence may never have gotten the credit it truly deserved. But maybe having them as more of a collectors item band is fitting - if you were a part of their journey, you know how fortunate you are.