Album Review: Hyperdialect // Hacktivist

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If there’s any band that’s had a more mercurial career over the course of a decade than Hacktivist, you’d have a hard time looking for one. Formed in Milton Keynes at the beginning of the 2010s, the quintet of grime MC J Hurley, MC & screamer Ben Marvin, guitarist and clean vocalist Timfy James, bassist Josh Gurner and drummer Rich Hawking’s hard-hitting blend of djenty progressive metal and UK hip-hop captivated millions around the world. Their debut album Outside The Box was a smash hit and the hype around it got the band big festival shows and support slots on tours with Korn and Enter Shikari.

However, things didn’t exactly go to plan once it was time to get started on the next album. Ben Marvin decided to leave the band and was replaced by Jot Maxi, a London-born Cyberpunk rapper whose gritty delivery almost seemed to foreshadow the rise of the more metal-influenced end of the Soundcloud Rap scene such as Scarlxrd and Ghostemane. Then Timfy James decided he wanted to leave too, leading to a long search for a new guitarist until they found former Invocation and Exist Immortal axeman James Hewitt. It was with this new re-imagined lineup that Hyperdialect, the band’s long-awaited second album, came to be.

Right from the start of the album’s opening track ‘Anti-Emcees’ you can tell that Hyperdialect is a much more aggressive affair than Outside The Box was. While the song starts with a very electronic opener with lots of ambience, it doesn’t take too long before it smashes you in the face with a massive 8 string riff. You won’t hear any clean vocals on this song here either. In fact, you won’t hear any of them on the album at all, as the band has decided to completely drop them following the departure of Timfy James. This album is all about the screams and the bars now and ‘Anti-Emcees’ is definitely full of the latter! J Hurley and Jot Maxi don’t leave you any room to breathe with their fast-flowing delivery. That doesn’t let up when they duck out of the mix either, as the song’s middle section gives you a false sense of security before launching into a section full of blast beats and death metal riffs.

This relentless aggression is a constant theme throughout the album. With no need or desire to incorporate clean vocals or catchy choruses anymore, J Hurley and Jot Maxi have been given full reign to put their heavily grime-influenced lyrical delivery at the front and centre of the band’s sound. Most of the album’s songs don’t really have traditional hooks to speak of at all. Instead, they rely on lyrical speed and gymnastics of both their MCs. The result is something that’s much more intense than what you would have heard on Outside The Box. Even one of the guest vocal appearances on the album comes from a vocalist who is definitely known for his aggressiveness. That vocalist in particular is ex-Betraying The Martyrs and current Ten56 frontman Aaron Matts, who absolutely lets loose on the album’s title track in brilliant style with his trademark deathcore growls.

The only track that really has any remnants left of the old Hacktivist hooks is ‘Armoured Core’, where Jot Maxi screams out a powerful chorus that crowds will definitely be singing along to when gigs eventually return! Coincidentally, this is another track that has a guest vocal on it, that being one from London-based rapper Kid Bookie. Kid Bookie’s guest verse is definitely one of the highlights of the entire album; he delivers his signature speedy style in a way that locks in perfectly with James, Rich and Josh’s grooves and ramps everything up well for Jot Maxi to deliver that final chorus hook.

It’s not just the vocals that are noticeably different either. James Hewitt has interpreted the Hacktivist style in a very different way to his predecessor, bringing in influences from the more extreme side of metal as well as including guitar solos into the Hacktivist sound for the first time. His version of Hacktivist is definitely much more relentless and aggressive than the version that wrote Outside The Box. The riffs are lower tuned and much more technical and the grooves are much more Meshuggah than nu-metal. The ultimate expression of this is the incredibly heavy ‘Planet Zero’, a song based around off-kilter ultra-low grooves, loud electronics and the most aggressive vocals to be featured on a Hacktivist release to date.

His addition of proper lead guitar sections is most effective on ‘Armoured Core’. The solo on this track is a sprawling Fredrik Thordendal-esque affair that lurches almost unpredictably, making itself into one of the album’s stand-out moments. James’s lead guitar gymnastics also get a great showing on the title track, albeit for a much briefer moment than they get on ‘Armoured Core’.

The grime and hip-hop influences creep into the rest of the music too at times. This is something you hear really clearly on ‘Turning The Tables’, where the intro and verses with synth parts and electronic beats that are more like what you’d expect to hear on a Skepta or JME record, contrasting the typical Hacktivist heavy guitars. There’s also a brief excursion into trap on one of the verses of album closer “Reprogram”, something that fits in brilliantly with that section of the song’s criticism of people who over-expose themselves on social media.

The only real criticism I have of Hyperdialect is that the lyrical content can, at times, be a little bit jarring. The band seems to switch between being politically aware and self-aggrandising with no real idea of which they actually want to focus on. This sometimes happens during the same song, let alone between different tracks! The timely political and social messages of songs like ‘Dogs of War’, ‘Planet Zero’ and ‘How Dare You Exist’ are polar opposites to the kind of lyrics you’ll hear on ‘Anti-Emcees’, ‘Lifeform’ and ‘Armoured Core’, which are themed more around bigging themselves up and exploring the personal lives of the two MCs.

The lyrics on the non-politically themed tracks can also sound a bit too much like a self-parody at times. It gets to the point where you’re left wondering whether they might have been outtakes from an episode of People Just Do Nothing, rather than written by a band trying to rebuild their stock after a period of years of difficulty. Whilst that lyrical style is a tried and tested trope of grime, it leaves you wondering whether Hacktivist is a political band through and through or a fun nu-metal act that’s trying to be socially aware.

Hyperdialect’s lack of catchy hooks is also a bit of a problem at times. Whilst it does suit the more intense focus of the album, it’s definitely something that’ll put off older fans of the band who are used to the more hooky nature of the older material. It also makes the album a bit of a difficult listen when you’re trying to get through it at first. With everything being so relentless and in your face, it can be a bit difficult to get through it all without taking a bit of a breather at some point in between! This more aggressive sound will definitely translate very well into live performances though, especially when it comes to songs like ‘Armoured Core’, the title track and ‘Planet Zero’.

When all is said and done, Hyperdialect is a great second effort from the British rap-metal revivalists. It’s a heavier-hitting re-imagining of the band that, if all goes well, will definitely propel them into their next decade and set them up brilliantly for when the world goes back to normal and shows and tours return. Much like what J Hurley says on ‘Armoured Core’, Hacktivist may have been away for quite a bit but their comeback is definitely savage.

Words by Robert Percy


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