By Andre Hall
RIYL: letlive., Linkin Park, Rage Against The Machine
FCC: All except 2 and 9
Favorites: “BURN IT”, “PREY FOR ME/3”, “ANIMAL”, “INGLEWOOD/3”
I can’t talk about FEVER 333 without talking about Letlive (stylized as letlive. but the lack of punctuation and period mid-sentence noodles with my brain). They’re one of my all-time favorite bands. To describe them, I describe their frontman, Jason Aalon Butler. Imagine that Michael Jackson, Chester Bennington, Stevie Wonder, Jack White and Steven Tyler all put their styles in one guy with severe ADHD that loved post-hardcore. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Butler’s explosive, urgent, passionate and charismatic performances quickly turned him into my all time favorite vocalist. The messages and ideas put forth on their fourth album “If I’m The Devil…” made him one of my favorite lyricists too. Unfortunately, Letlive broke up soon after that released.
I wasn’t disappointed for long. Just a few months later, Butler was already in another group. It boasted a Rage Against the Machine type energy with loud, in-your-face rap metal dedicated to inspiring protests and change in society. How does this compare to the soulful, funk-tinged post hardcore of Letlive? Sonically, it’s obviously a very different vibe, but lyrically, it’s natural progression from the final Letlive album. The closing track on “If I’m The Devil…” called “Copper Colored Quiet” repeats the line “We all came to watch your world as it burns” and the first single released from “STRENGTH IN NUMB333RS”, the appropriately titled “BURN IT”, repeats the line “Sometimes you gotta burn it down to build it up again.” It’s like Butler was using Letlive to usher in FEVER 333.
Jason Aalon Butler used his perspective as a biracial man to write biting commentary cleverly conveyed through metaphors in the lyrics of “If I’m The Devil…”, but “STRENGTH IN NUMB333RS” takes a more straightforward approach. There’s nothing to decipher, Butler says exactly what’s on his mind. We know the general idea of his thoughts, but most of it is conveyed in such a vague way it’s difficult to see exactly what the purpose is. He screams lines like “Stand up or die on your knees”, an obvious call to action, but it often doesn’t go much beyond that. It’s not like he should have included a detailed set of instructions, that would have been rather clunky, but as a listener that was inspired by the message, I don’t know what to do with the inspiration. Most of it simply boils down to “go protest”. The record speaks out against police brutality and racial profiling, but primarily in broad and generalized ways. How and where do I protest the general concepts of police brutality and racial profiling?
The concept of protesting seems to have had an impact on the vocal melodies as well. Jason Aalon Butler has always been able to write a killer hook, but many of the choruses of “STRENGTH IN NUMB333RS” feel rather underwritten. “BURN IT” and “ANIMAL” almost have the same hook, and they’re the first two full songs on the album, so it’s hard not to immediately compare them. Right after that comes “PREY FOR ME/3” (all the song titles are in all caps. I suppose it’s to accentuate how angry they are) which isn’t so blatant, but still has a very similar chorus structure. These tracks, and even more so “ONE OF US” and “THE INNOCENT”, have melodies that seem to serve more as battle cries than sensational hooks. These were choruses made to be chanted at protests. FEVER 333 wants to be directly involved in protest culture by becoming a voice and symbol of it. The passion and intent is real, but I’m not sure how successful their mission will be when the words coming from this voice are so vague.
Not everything sounds like a battle cry though. There are moments sprinkled throughout the album that sound like Linkin Park, most notably “THE INNOCENT” and “COUP D’ÉTALK”. The latter especially I can practically hear Chester Bennington (R.I.P.) singing. This Linkin Park influence was not present on their debut EP, so I’m confused as to where this came from. Aside from that, the first chorus of “OUT OF CONTROL/3” sounds a lot like Jimmy Eat World (I know I shouldn’t compare every song with loud “woah-oh”s to “Sweetness” but this one in particular was begging for it) while the hook in the second half sounds like it could be the theme song for a short-lived Disney Channel sitcom called “Kickflip” that follows two step-siblings bonding over their love for skateboarding. It’s so aggressively cheesy that I feel like Chester Cheetah should be advertising to me how dangerous it is.
“AM I HERE?” would be one of the best moments on the album if it weren’t for the ending. This is the only point in the tracklist where Butler is just singing instead of screaming or rapping. His raspy and heartfelt vocals over the swelling strings brings us into an emotion that isn’t rooted in anger for the first time. It works very well until that final chorus where Butler adds a vocal track of him screaming the melody overtop his singing. It’s jarring and far too abrasive for what the song seemed to be going for. If they wanted a big finish, Butler should have jumped up an octave and belted the hook with powerful clean vocals. He definitely has the range for it.
The screams are put to good use on “INGLEWOOD/3” (there are three tracks on the album with a “/3” tacked on the end and they each have a beat change to extend the song for an extra 2-3 minutes). The first half features Butler painting a vivid picture about his life growing up as a biracial man around the riots and brutality of Inglewood. It features an obnoxious “One More Light” era Linkin Park synth line, but the passionate and deeply personal performance make this a shining moment on the album. The second half bounces seamlessly between a friendly and hopeful guiding light, to a blistering flamethrower. The screams in this section make you feel like you’re being struck by lightning. It’s amazing. This was the first time that the album reminded me why Jason Aalon Butler is my favorite vocalist.
Even after listening to the whole project, the lead single “BURN IT” is still my favorite track and probably my favorite song by this group. Butler’s at his most manic and energetic and his lyrics are the clearest and most effective. The guitars in the beginning gradually inject you with adrenaline before the main riff grabs you and takes off. It’s catchy, it’s fun, it’s powerful. Some songs come close to matching this, “ANIMAL” even goes so far as to use a near identical chorus. It’s too similar to “BURN IT” to come right after it on the tracklist, but the wild nature of the song justifies coming back to it. “PREY FOR ME/3” is a close second for my favorite track. The verses are high energy and the transition into the beat change and breakdown in the second half is especially awesome. The moment Butler screams “KICK IT” and the hurricane of guitar wailing hits you like a truck is probably the highlight of the album.
Overall, I thought this album was solid. The message wasn’t as strong as it was intended to be, the instrumentals and melodies could get a little too familiar and repetitive, and it doesn’t do much to demand repeated listens, but there’s enough energy to give you a good time. Despite many issues, there aren’t any tracks that I outright dislike. I enjoy them all at least somewhat, even “OUT OF CONTROL/3” and it’s ridiculousness. Jason Aalon Butler’s previous group Letlive remains one of my all time favorite bands, and so far nothing by FEVER 333 can even hold a candle to their latter three albums. Despite this, once I ignore Letlive’s superior discography and look at “STRENGTH IN NUMB333RS” on its own, it’s a group of guys using fun, energetic and in-your-face music to demand change, and honestly, I’m all for it. I’ll definitely be looking out for whatever these guys do next.