For Fans Of
On paper, Letlive. vocalist Jason Aalon Butler, The Chariot guitarist Stephen Harrison, and Night Verses drummer Aric Improta teaming up sounds like the ambitious heavy music crossover equivalent of Avengers: Infinity War. Well, in theory, at least. When it comes to reality, The Fever 333’s debut EP isn’t bad nor awful; it’s just disappointing in face of the amazing pedigree and the incredible records of each member’s respective bands – both past and present. A proper victim of the hype, this one most certainly is.
With the seven bouncy tracks housed within ‘Made An America‘, the three-piece constantly switch back and forth between rap/hip-hop/trap sections and louder moments of post-hardcore and punk rock, all to varying degrees of success. I’d seriously hesitate to ever label this release as full nu-metal, though really, this supergroup is what you’d get if Letlive were spliced with Rage Against The Machine/One Day As A Lion DNA, and had a whole bunch of Run The Jewels poured into the mixing bowl as well. And honestly, the sound of this EP just makes me want that Zack de la Rocha solo album to come out even more desperately because god knows it’d be better than this and anything that Prophets Of Rage have done too.
But in typical Alex fashion, I digress.
If you’re a long time follower of Jason Butler and have read/heard interviews he’s given over the years, then The Fever 333’s genre dynamic here between hardcore and hip-hop shouldn’t be all that shocking given the frontman’s childhood, history and his deep love for both styles. Well, that, and the facts that Goldfinger frontman/super-producer John Feldmann – who helped birth this project with Jason originally – produced this EP, the band is managed by Prospect Park’s Peter Katsis, and as you’ll read from that first hyperlink, Aric didn’t actually track the drums. Rather, Blink-182’s Travis Barker – who comes from an equally strong punk and hip-hop background – recorded the drum parts instead for the EP. And that bothers me more than you know. No, not because Barker is a poor drummer – he’s amazing and will go down as one of the true greats, for sure – but because of how talented and how impressive Aric clearly is behind the kit, yet he sadly wasn’t given the chance to shine on ‘Made An America‘. That’s a straight-up injustice right there!
Still, sonically speaking, and due to Jason being the frontman and this band’s mixture of sounds, The Fever 333 is much closer to Letlive. then anything that resembles the mathy and feedback-driven, experimental hardcore qualities of The Chariot or the complex and jagged prog-metal that Night Verses create. That’s simply because this is a new project and it can’t just combine all three prior band’s sounds together, thus needing to separate itself from its member’s pasts in some ways in order to justify its own existence. Which I completely understand – this isn’t a Light The Torch scenario, after all. But also because it seems that with Letlive. being the most popular and successful of the trio acts, the only intended star of the show of The Fever 333 is only Jason and sadly, not the entire band.
Granted, that’s down to the eye-catching, charismatic energy Jason exerts as a person and as a performer, but it’s also due to how his vocals are louder than everything else on the EP and how they just utterly dominate these mixes. Whether he’s screaming his head off over core punk beats and really over-saturated but bland guitar riffs (‘We’re Coming In‘); rapping solidly over trap hi-hats and drum machines (the verses of ‘(The First Stone) Changes‘); or belting out the kind of hooky rock chorus you’d expect from some no-name Rise Records signing who’d be forgotten about in less than five years time (‘Soul’d Me Out‘, ‘(The First Stone) Changes‘ again). Again, by its execution, it’s quite clear who the main focus of this new EP was and that left little room for anybody else.
Other than learning these seven songs to perform live, and judging by how these tracks have turned out in the final product, Stephen (who was the last to join the band) and Aric either didn’t or maybe weren’t even allowed to offer any kind of input into this EP’s construction. If that does turn out to be the case, then that’s a goddamn fucking shame and is something that’s hopefully rectified come their next release – if one even follows. Because it’d far too ironic for a group who talks about inequality, community and better representation would then have two of its three members be so underused and so underrepresented on its debut effort. And if I’m wrong and that’s not how it all went down, then a far more saddening prospect remains: these guys have lost their knack for killer songwriting.
Lyrically, ‘Made An America‘ is much more politically driven than most of what The Fever 333’s respective members have written in the past. After all, with Jason spearheading up the vocals and lyrics, he’s already offered us all some incredibly personal songs over the years: ‘Day 54‘, ‘27 Club‘, ‘Pheromone Cvlt‘, ‘Muther‘, ‘Younger‘, and ‘Renegade ’86‘. So now, his internal focus turns outwards. Plus, given the tumultuous and stranger-than-fiction political world that we’re all apart of, this loud-mouthed and outspoken political approach here isn’t surprising. In fact, it’s definitely warranted given the current climate, but it’s something that could’ve resulted in ‘Made An America‘ being a far more memorable and poignant release if it had all been handled better.
For this EP isn’t at all poetic or deep, nor all that nuanced in many of its lyrical discussions. With a clear exception that I’ll get to soon, there’s nothing present that’s as gripping, as interesting or as well-articulated as ‘Casino Columbus‘, ‘Good Mourning America‘, ‘We, The Pros Of Cons‘, ‘That Fear Fever‘, ‘White America’s Beautiful Black Market‘. Or even Letlive.’s desperate wannabe-AFI circa ‘Black Sails In The Sunset‘ track, ‘Another Offensive Song‘, and that’s really saying something. Maybe the band wanted to be upfront and blunt about topics but a lot of this EP’s lyrics just feel so dumbed down compared to what you’d expect from such an enigmatic performer and well-spoken artist like Jason. So much so that all I can think when I listen to this is: “Man, what the fuck happened in the last two years?”
Instead, here it’s all about the campaign slogan and how loud you can shout it at the opposition. Hence why we get Jason screaming ad nauseam “We’re coming in, motherfucker, coming in” over dull, distorted guitars on – that’s right, you guessed it – ‘We’re Coming in‘, as he also talks about taking out these “false American prophets“. Hence why we get the frontman immaturely yelling “middle finger to the face, that’s our point of view” on the pissed-off but overly brief trap/hip-hop closer ‘POV‘, that just amounts to nothing more than a political screaming match over some half-decent beats. (Which contradicts the whole fucking point of having self-awareness and being able to see things from a different perspective detailed in the preceding track, ‘Walking In My Shoes‘). Also hence why we get the singer simply decrying an age-old moot point that “it’s time to make changes” in the chorus of ‘(The First Stone) Changes‘. Like, yeah, no shit dude, but I didn’t need this song or this EP to tell me that – I and everyone else are all quite aware, thanks.
Y’know, I suppose that any kind of protest movement requires it’s basic slogans to be chanted out over and over again, and The Fever 333’s demonstration is most certainly no different.
However! The sole lyrical exception I mentioned before arrives in the EP’s solid opening title track. On this song, we get some really vivid imagery through Jason’s lyrics about growing up in low-income areas, how people deal with poverty in different and often illegal ways, (“The homie Hector selling heroin from nine to five“), witnessing police brutality first hand (“Making quotas off baking soda and mass shock/This ain’t a theory, I saw it happen on my block“), and how minorities were and are so poorly treated. It’s a rare but albeit strong moment for the EP overall where The Fever 333’s message and their music correlate effectively at the exact same point; making clear the intended microcosm of a failed American dream that the EP’s title hints at presenting.
Further speaking on what this EP gets right, another genuine high point of the release is the absolutely slapping fourth track, ‘Hunting Season‘, which is jam-packed with anti-authoritarian Rage vibes and has plenty of bounce to its groovy flow. ‘Hunting Season‘ also nails that duality between the band’s nebulous “us” vs. the equally nebulous “them” approach, revolt-on-every-street-corner ideals, and their actual music too. It’s also where the band’s unbridled energy threatens to sweep them right off their feet, which is not only exciting and dangerous to experience but is also what made Letlive.’s and The Chariot’s music so damned good in the first place: the idea that it could all careen off the rails at any given point. Not only that, but when Jason screams “no, you can’t keep us under your thumb” to represent the fastly rising boiling point of public resistance and of finally fighting back and begins screaming like an utter maniac, all backed up by a killer drum groove no less, I buy it. More importantly, I believe it. But I cannot say the same for most of the other tracks on this underwhelming EP.
Elsewhere, the guest vocal feature of Yelawolf in the first verse of ‘(The First Stone) Changes‘ is fucking baller. Absolutely no question about it! Which is why it’s so utterly frustrating that a big, dumb and unnecessary anthemic chorus is abruptly shoehorned in when the song’s verses and both Yelawolf’s and Jason’s rapping parts – which are genuinely solid too – are easily its strongest parts; elements that should’ve come to define the song even further.
And I think that on that note about getting something really great only to have it pulled right out from under you, this is the perfect place to leave the body of this review off to help summarise ‘Made An America‘: a constant tug of war between being half-killer and half-filler.
If you watch any live video of The Fever 333 online – literally any video – you’ll see the kind of high-octane energy that you’d expect from well-known and talented musicians like Jason, Stephen and Aric. Which is great: the physicality and energy of their shows are what helps to make The Fever 333 such an exciting act. Plus, the band supposedly use some income brought in from merch sales and the like to be donated to certain charities, which is most certainly noble too. But other than being a highly kinetic live act and being charitable in their work, the actual music here is what’s on review here, and it’s just not up to scratch for what a supergroup like this should be able to produce together.
I have endless love for each of the three bands that this trio originates from and I’m also genuinely happy to see Jason and Stephen continuing on with music in some way. But in this particular instance, ‘Made An America’ can never hope to hold even a fastly melting candle to records like ‘Into the Vanishing Light,’ ‘Copper Wasp‘, ‘One-Wing‘, ‘Long Live‘ and of course, ‘Fake History‘. More than that, the key thing about ‘Made An America’ and The Fever 333 is that, despite my own comparisons, I didn’t simply want this to just be Letlive., The Chariot or Night Verses. No, I just wanted it to be good. And it’s not.
- Made An America
- We’re Coming In
- (The First Stone) Changes
- Hunting Season
- Soul’d Me Out
- Walking In My Shoes
‘Made An America’ is out now via Roadrunner Records. At least these guys haven’t lost any of their hectic energy when they play live; evident by this performance of ‘Hunting Season’ (with Travis Barker reprising his role on the drums) for Last Call with Carson Daly: