Hacktivist break out of the box

The UK quintet’s debut does rap metal justice.



Maxwell Heilman, Writer

The advent of nu metal effectively gave the synthesis of rock and hip-hop a reputation for being bad, very bad or utterly embarrassing. It is a frustrating reality that a sea of awfulness overshadows the fusion’s success stories. UK’s Hacktivist navigated this highly polarized niche since they formed in 2011.

Undeniable Validity

Since releasing their debut EP, the Milton Keynes natives have exhibited Meshuggah-inspired riffage through the lense of grime music. What truly separates Hacktivist from their contemporaries is the undeniable validity of their metal and hip-hop elements. As the vocal duo Jermaine Hurley and Ben Marvin were far beyond the likes of Fred Durst and Mike Shinoda in the flow department, so were the drum, bass and guitar comparable with artists like Periphery and Volumes.

Refusing to sacrifice on either end of the spectrum, Hacktivist maintained validity in spite of the unflattering stigma their contemporaries earned them. This earned them an impressive following despite never releasing an LP until March 4. While far from perfect, and unfortunately irritating at times, “Outside the Box” powerfully exemplifies rap metal living up to its potential.

Tone of the Album

“If you’re listening to this album we thank you. You’ve opened up to the notion that you don’t need to follow,” is heard at the beginning of “Our Time,” setting the tone for the album. Avoiding the lyrical atrocities of their scene, Hurley and Marvin live up to their band’s name as they spit fire over the state of society. What exactly they are upset about is sometimes unclear, but it is certainly a step up from the pubescent frustrations of Linkin Park. While some verbiage on this album is too cheesy for me — my blood sugar skyrocketed when I heard the call to arms in “Taken” — tracks like “Deceive and Defy” and “Buszy” are sincere enough.

Bringing flow to match polyrhythmic instrumentals, Hacktivist has not lowered their standard for vocal chops. Being from the UK, Hacktivist’s vocalists have strong accents. While this could sound strange to some listeners, I think it adds to their musical divergency. Screaming, singing and rapping compliment each other in a wonderful way, providing consistent and compelling variety throughout the album.

Interesting Chemistry

Guitarist Tim Beazley, bassist Josh Gurner and drummer Richard Hawking remain as tight as ever. Hawking and Gurner have a particularly interesting chemistry, playing off each other in a funky R&B style while adhering to a Meshuggah-esque foundation. Infectious grooves and crushing breakdowns make this record as danceable as it is mosh-able. While tracks like “No Way Back” allude to nu metal, oddball time signatures and syncopation elevate Hacktivist above the riff-raff. The trio provides the perfect backdrop for hip-hop without forsaking originality, something largely absent from rap metal since 1993’s collaborative soundtrack “Judgement Night.”

The only drawback in the instrumentals is some melodic choices. I enjoy most of them, but I hate the eerily familiar introductory synth line of “Hate.” Hacktivist coveredN****s In Paris” in 2013, making the line even less tolerable. Nonetheless, the tasteful lines that permeate other songs in addition to blissful interludes and straightforward grime of “Rotten” make up for a few bouts of laziness. In spite of its shortcomings, “Outside the Box” marks exponential growth in a genre that has lacked lasting value for so long. Who knows? Maybe this is the beginning of rap metal transcending its past.

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