In modern times, seemingly everything old is becoming new again. The latest trends continue to harken back to time periods of yesteryear and the glory days of old; and this stance seems to be most noticeable in music. With the recent surge in vinyl records and now cassette tapes, it seems appropriate to have a sound that’s suitable for the media formats right? Enter in British rap metal/nu-metal outfit Hacktivist. Formed in 2011, the band begin as a “fluke”, incorporating members of various metal backgrounds with a local rapper who had essentially no history in the metal scene. While this was a popular sound in the 90s and even into the early 2000’s, the style has faded into obscurity which raises the question – does Outside the Box bring anything new making you ache for the sound of old or should it stay lost in the past?
Let me be very upfront in regards to Outside the Box as an entire package – it will take multiple listens to appreciate what the band is doing. I point this out because upon first listen, a lot of the album may come across as lacking in diversity of sound, mostly due to the consistent down-tuned instrumentation and foray into djent territory. During my first listen, I felt as if I was mostly listening to the same song over (barring a few exceptions such as “Taken” and “No Way Back”) which is a massive turn off for me, especially from a band that I had previously never listened to. As I continued to listen, the nuances of each track started to stand out and make the overall album listen better – from the sprinkled in electronics for substance, the well placed melodies and balancing act of using Timfy James clean vocals to offset the rapping done by Jermaine Hurley and Ben Marvin.
Thematically, Hacktivist seemingly had a message they wanted to portray and then spit out the complete opposite. Outside the Box opens with the band greeting listeners and applauding them for taking a chance on something different; which is currently easier than ever on any given day. Additionally, the band is conveying this idea they are pushing boundaries forward by meshing rap and metal with a dash of political awareness and messages about their haters, which is in reality overused lyrical themes from so many bands in today’s scene, it is the mainstream. While I have no clue what has gone on during the past four years, it would seem the context of the bands message didn’t convey well into the lyrical aspect of music and that’s where the album fails.
With a sound that calls back to its past roots mixed with unimaginative chords, riffs and lyrics, Outside the Box is an album that will most likely divide people. The album has some great moments (the instrumental track “The Storm” and the melodic style of the title track “Outside the Box”), but the moments come so few and far between causing the album to fall flat. What the guys who make up Hacktivist have worked on for years isn’t game changing nor is it really outside the box; in reality it’s an album that feels twenty years too late and doesn’t have anything special to harken a revival of a sound that hasn’t really been missed.