Nashville rockers The Ivins have been making music for quite a while – both together and separately – and after years of challenges, roadblocks and frustration, they finally realized their dream of producing an album of songs that they could share with the world. In late April they released their debut album The Code Duello, and it’s quite an undertaking, with 13 tracks. The various tracks were recorded between September 2013 and January 2017 in New York, Virginia and Nashville, with the assistance of a number of important producers in the music industry, including Michael Rosen (AFI, Papa Roach), Mark Needham (Imagine Dragons, The Killers), Bill Leverty (Firehouse), Beau Hill (Alice Cooper, RATT) and Anthony “Rocky” Gallo (John Legend, Carrie Underwood).
The Ivins are brothers Jim and Jack Ivins. They share songwriting duties, and Jim plays guitar and sings lead vocals (and also bass and keyboards on the album), and Jack plays drums (as well as guitar, mellotron and backing vocals on the album). More recently, they’ve been joined by Hatton Taylor on lead guitar and Regan Akers on bass and backing vocals to complete the band’s stellar line-up.
In describing The Code Duello, Jim stated “stylistically, I call this a ‘3:00 A.M. album,’ [with] the vibe of the music as the sound of walking through the Lower East Side of Manhattan at 3:00 A.M., inebriated and wearing sunglasses.” When I asked him about the meaning and inspiration behind the album title and theme, he explained:
“A Code Duello is a set of rules for a duel. A fight, if you will. The title couldn’t be more appropriate because this album is about a fight. A fight to get the album made. A fight between us and the music industry. A fight to make rock music viable to an audience increasingly disinterested in the medium. A fight with society’s expectations about what we “should” be doing with our lives. A fight to be heard. A fight for a connection. Much of the album’s lyrical content deals with those themes and our struggles with the music industry.”
Hallmarks of The Ivins’ music are complex melodies, brilliant, multi-textured guitar riffs, and aggressive percussion (courtesy of Jack’s athletic agility with his drum kit) that create a rich and dynamic soundscape. Their unflinching, intelligent lyrics about love, relationship and career struggles are delivered by Jim’s skillful vocals that go from tender and heartfelt to raw and impassioned.
The album kicks off with a siren announcing the arrival of “Freefall,” a powerful song about coming to terms with a partner who’s no longer emotionally invested in a relationship that’s failing. Jim bitterly sings “Your sloth a hurdle in my way. Your passion is clearly concealing apathy. My back’s broken from your weight.” The layered shredded and swirling guitars are outstanding, and Jack’s hammering drums (he’s jackhammer!) and crashing cymbals add heft to this blistering track.
“Heartbreakers” erupts with explosive percussion and guitars, and Jim’s vocals are fervent one moment, then a screeching crescendo the next. This hard-driving track is about being interested only in casual sex, not wanting to get emotionally involved but feeling empty afterward: “Didn’t realize they were the same. Didn’t know that they were playing the same game. Didn’t realize nobody cared. Was surprised when they didn’t get hurt. Was surprised when it didn’t work. If this is what I wanted it to be? Then why’d I wake up feeling empty?” Along a similar theme, “Lay Me Down” speaks to looking for an emotional connection in casual encounters, but never finding it: “If you lay me down, thought I’d see God. But all I see’s a nameless face staring at me.”
The guys’ awesome guitar work really shines on “Stockholm Syndrome,” where they throw down a cascade of razor-sharp riffs that snarl and chime. Jack pounds the hell out of his drum kit, while Jim’s electronically-altered vocals implore: “Building me up to tear me down. You say I’m not what you crave, and yet now here you are, but I’m screaming stop. You may be gone but you’re living a lie ’cause you could never fully give up and let this die. Standing on shoulders just to say that you’ve grown, but I won’t be your Stockholm syndrome.”
A catchy, upbeat melody belies the bittersweet lyrics in “Masquerade.” The track features lovely, intricate guitar work and the guys’ wonderful harmonizing vocals that contrast with its story line about realizing your partner doesn’t really love you and has just been going through the motions. The lyric “If love is blind, then I’m wasting my time with eyes” is especially poignant.
A standout track is “Roam the World,” with instrumentals so terrific they honestly send shivers down my spine. Upon hearing the opening jangly, reverb-heavy guitar riff, it’s clear this song is going to be something special. There’s a lot going on musically, with amazing multi-layered guitars, heavy buzzing bass and power drums, along with some well-placed synths. Jim’s captivating vocals match the music’s power note for note as he sings: “And I can’t stop running away. But even if I die I know I’m home with you. If I die I’ll roam the world with you.”
The band just released a fantastic video for “Roam the World.” Directed by Kylie Rebecca and filmed in black and white, the video stars Ivy Rhodes & Jordan Fitzsimmons as a couple with a complicated relationship, juxtaposed with footage of the band performing the song in an airplane hanger.
One of my personal favorites is “The Seeker,” a stunning rock song with one of the most beautiful guitar hooks I’ve heard in a while. The track opens with dreamy synths, followed by haunting chiming and jangly guitars and heavy doses of strong percussion. Jim plaintively sings: “Come follow me into the dark. Come and be the second heartbeat for this vagrant life, that which I chose.” I love this song.
The guys ramp things up with frantic riffs and rapid-fire drums on “Nothing Left to Say,” then segue into the melodically complex “Mountains.” I continue to be blown away by the Ivins brothers’ musicality, as the guitar work on this powerful track is impressive. The lyrics speak to persevering in the face of obstacles and self-doubt: “We’ve come too far. We fell so hard. We’ve come too far to pay for a loss of who we are.”
Another standout track is “Tell Me,” perhaps the heaviest and darkest of them all. The story line has the singer on an airplane that may crash, thinking about his past transgressions and regretting things he never got the chance to do. Wanting to atone, he asks for God’s forgiveness. “And life flashes before our eyes. But all I could see was all I hadn’t done. I couldn’t tell the wife I never had goodbye. Love was always what I wanted most, but kept from me through lies.” The song features the guys’ signature intricate, guitar-driven melodies and strong percussion.
Closing out the album is the heartfelt “Bring Life,” about finding the strength to go on after the death of a loved one by holding onto memories of them. “Even though your grave lies in the shade, I know the grass still grows, and brings life to this place of the dead. You bring life to this place of the dead and ease my mind, ’cause even in death you bring me life.”
The Code Duello is outstanding from start to finish, and even with 13 tracks, none seem like filler as is sometimes the case with other albums of this length. The Ivins have a great album on their hands, and it should also be in yours.
- Lay Me Down
- Out Of Air
- Stockholm Syndrome
- Made Up Mind
- Roam The World
- The Seeker
- Nothing Left To Say
- Tell Me
- Bring Life