At some point every creative has the same dream: take all of your closest friends, rent out a studio, and seclude yourselves from society while creating purely-communal art. There’s something eternally-appealing about being able to create whatever you want, whenever you want, and however you want. The concept of living off your own creativity is the end game for pretty much every artist, even if it means you’re just scraping by.
Much like communism, the “purest” form of these collaborative projects are rarely ever achieved, and even less often do they produce anything that sees the light of day. There are rare outliers like The Desert Sessions, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy that have become success stories, but more often than not, this style of creative incubation is a process that thrives in theory but fails in practice. Even with all of the ways that collaborative albums can fall apart, UK-based metal collective Levant has managed to craft an album that’s worthy not only of being added to this impressive list, but proof that this model can work.
Levant began in 2014 as less of a band and more of a code name for a studio project created by Nick Hutson. Levant’s “debut album” initially started life as an anti-war record, but soon became a highly-collaborative piece that brought in multiple artists all working together to create one release under Hutson’s direction. Now four years in the making Beneath Rubble, Run Rivers Red is almost here, and the hard work has paid off into something wholly unique, constantly-varied, and incredibly-well-polished.
From the first seconds of the album, Beneath Rubble captures the listener’s attention with a George W. Bush pull-quote from a 2005 address:
“The United States has no right, no desire, and no intention to impose our form of government on anyone else.”
With this sample (and its modern context) fresh in the listener's mind, a distorted guitar immediately juts into the mix, punctuating the end of this sentence and making way for pounding cannon drums. This instrumental onslaught is accompanied by a new sample, not from politics, but pop culture in the form of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.
“Dictators free themselves, but they enslave the people! Now let us fight! Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! in the name of democracy, let us all unite!”
While this Chaplin quote lies relatively quietly underneath the propulsive instrumentation, it provides an immediate juxtaposition to the album’s opening moments, casting a stark political contrast over the remainder of the album.
After these scene-setting samples, singer JJ Jackson (of The Bastard Sons) takes over vocal duties, barreling into the track headfirst with the album’s first throat-shredding lyrics. Alternating between low growls and piercing screams with each line, Jackson jumps between two vastly-different vocal styles at a whiplash pace. It’s an absolutely breathtaking feat to witness, and a hell of an introduction to the album.
Second track “Carry Me Home” also serves as the album’s lead single, a hard-drinking song with a southern metal bent and vocals helmed by Johnny Mennell of The Family Ruin. Vastly different from the first song in tone, style, and delivery, “Carry Me Home” lets the listener know early on that they won’t be hearing the same thing twice on this album.
Once the third track begins, it’s clear how well the collaborative gambit paid off for Levant on Beneath Rubble. Songs jump back and forth between different vocalists, styles, and subgenres, all while still feeling cut from the same cloth. There are soaring vocals, bombastic drumming, machine gun guitarwork, and sharp bass lines, all wrapped up in clean production and immaculate melodies. Song topics range from political to interpersonal, but it all adds up to a record that feels ever-changing yet singular thanks to Hutson’s vision.
While metalcore fans will feel right at home within the first track, Beneath Rubble also pulls off an unexpectedly-wonderful feat of softening over time. Despite beginning with such a searing and acidic political song, the album gradually eases the listener into a vast array of different styles that get softer as the album goes on. This becomes most apparent on the fifth song “A Perfect Picture” which is a borderline pop-punk ballad that sees Johnny Mennell sharing vocal duties with Christine Schneider for a heartfelt duet.
There are dozens of compelling moments scattered all throughout Beneath Rubble that are worthy of their own breakdown. From rumbling southern guitar metal on “Say Whatever You Like” to crashing cymbals on “The Darkness in Me,” every instrument and collaborator gets a moment to shine somewhere on the album. There’s a monstrous riff throughout “Silenced” that lead up to a volcanic scream, and a crushing chorus on “Draw The Line” that’s still stuck in my head, but these are just a few moments that felt particularly affirming throughout my multiple listens.
This all leads up to album closer “Time To Shine” which provides some roundabout bookending as pieces of Carl Segan’s “Pale Blue Dot” monologue is sprinkled throughout a glittering, distant, and ornate piano line. Reminiscent of the now-famous Great Dictator x Inception mashup that went viral nearly one decade ago, “Time To Shine” makes the listener feel at once infinitesimal and triumphant. A goosebump-inducing reminder of humanity’s scope in the grand scheme of things.
The album ends on a holistic note of hope. A reminder that we’re all more similar than we give each other credit for. That the shared experience of existence bonds us, and that’s something to celebrate. That universality is a reason to love and be loved, not tear each other apart. And that’s a message we need in 2018 more than ever.
Every band is a collaborative effort, but Beneath Rubble, Run Rivers Red is a testament to the spirit of collaboration. It’s 11 tracks and 39 minutes of concrete proof that sometimes working toward a shared vision pays off in spades.
Beneath Rubble, Run Rivers Red is set for pre-release on 6th August and will be officially released across all major streaming platforms from 3rd September.