As humans understand it, there are several tiers to reality—or our perception of reality, at least. There are the physical aspects; the senses, the visceral elements of existence that we can feel, smell, taste, touch and see. Those are our base; everything else takes that basis and expands upon it, building to become more and more abstract with each “filter” we add. These facets—levels, if you choose—continue to stack, and as they pile up, so does the innate complexity of how we perceive existence and what “reality” really is.
The more levels there are, the more complex things are. It’s true in video games, It’s true in architecture, and it’s true in life—and now, it’s true in metalcore.
Thanks to progressive metalcore act Levels, the concept of complexity with advancing intricacy now has a convenient name. Stacking vicious breakdowns, brutalizing chugs, mind-boggling patterns and catchy choruses atop one another like a musical game of Jenga, Levels’ latest full-length effort is one for fans of anything that goes djent in the night—although in its purest form, it manages to avoid the many pitfalls of the unfortunate onomatopoeia that serves as its musical style’s namesake. Levels’ Famined Records debut hits like a metalcore record but adds elements of progression to appeal to the genre’s more elite side, making it a worthwhile listen on all fronts.
Where it might be a rough-but-appropriate fit, Levels are a progressive metalcore band—but they aren’t an absent-minded djent group nor are they just a metalcore act with a couple grooves thrown in for good measure. Instead, Levels take a foundation of rudimentary metalcore—abrasive verses, the occasional cleanly-sung chorus, and some bouncy, brutalizing breakdowns—and add technically savvy transitions and intricate instrumentation in between the gaps to keep their dynamic fresh and intriguing. True—they don’t reinvent the wheel, but they make it spin smoothly as if they’ve been doing this their entire lives. Percussionist Dalton Kennerly and bassist Jacob Hubbard work as the group’s core, with Kennerly’s quick hands and fleet feet giving Levels’ sound punch while still keeping it moving—leaving Hubbard to add heft and thickness to the mix. Hubbard’s low grooves not only lend power to Kennerly’s kick drum and roaring toms, but also serve as a stellar firmament for the awe-inspiring fretwork of guitarists Jager Felice and Rob Matthews. Together, the duo function to define Levels’ label as a progressive band, riffing and grooving between dissonant chords and devastating chugs alike—in some instances heavy as Hell, while in others ethereal and ambient. Felice and Matthews, while not the next Tosin Abasi or anything of that sort, do what they do well, bringing beef and beautiful harmonies together seamlessly.
Just as Levels use elegant instrumentation to bridge the gap between progressive metal and good ol’ metalcore, the band’s vocal element follows suit. Frontman Jake Sanders (aided by Kennerly) uses a sprawling range and a serene voice both to play to Levels’ heavier and softer sides respectively. Some tracks—“Bloodstream” for example—heir on the heavier side of things with Sanders’ voice doing just that. Likewise, other cuts (“Mind,” featuring Volumes’ Myke Terry, for example) are a more balanced blend of the band’s multifaceted nature. In this fashion, Sanders pilots Levels through seas of tumultuous, chug-laden aggression and deceptively placid ethereality, ever capable—albeit not “trend-setting”—no matter the setting.
Just because Levels don’t propel themselves into a position to become the next heavy music household name doesn’t mean they should be written off. True—heavy music currently exists in a time where not being “the best” means you’re likely to get swept under the rug—but Levels’ label debut remains excellently written, fluid, practiced, and thoroughly enjoyable. Select tracks (“Mind,” as well as a couple others I’ll save for the listener’s discovery) serve as anthems that will make their way into the metalcore enthusiast’s long-term playlist, while others are enjoyed more at a whim—but make no mistake, they’re still bound to be enjoyed. Levels’ self-titled effort stands as a record that moves the band in a position to become a bigger name within the scene given a little more practice, patients and time—and if that isn’t a “win,” what is?
For Fans Of: As a Conceit, Northlane, Volumes
By: Connor Welsh