Michigan metallers I Prevail first rose to prominence with their unexpected cover of Taylor Swift’s ‘Blank Space’; the single was subsequently included on their breakout EP, Hearts vs Mind - twisting a pop favourite into a beatdown-laden take. The hype only built from there, culminating in 2016’s debut record Lifelines, including opening slots for bands from Hollywood Undead to Pierce the Veil as well as their own headline tours.
The question is, can I Prevail keep up the with hype train and deliver the goods on their sophomore effort, Trauma? The end result is, frankly, a mixed bag. The oft-invoked axiom that good music comes from hard times certainly rings true to an extent; Trauma was put together in the aftermath of the throat issues suffered by vocalist Brian Burkheiser that nearly derailed his entire career and this theme permeates through the album regularly.
Opener ‘Bow Down’ is a definitive statement, a war-cry, that I Prevail won’t let these issues hold them back. It's chock full of vitriolic screams, soaring vocals and breakdowns as well as some electronic elements that underpin the album as a whole and lend an almost hiphop/trap feel in parts. Unfortunately, followup ‘Paranoid’ doesn’t live up to the bar set by its predecessor, though continues to blend genres with reckless abandon, throwing in auto-tuned vocals, rap verses and the requisite electronics and whispers of “I think I’m paranoid”.
Genre blending is certainly a hot topic at the moment, with plenty of bands throwing everything they can in the melting pot with varying success. Needless to say this blend needs to be carefully balanced lest it devolves into an amorphous, featureless mess of screams and squonks, a trap all too many bands are falling into. Trauma has some excellent moments and curveballs alike such as the the ballad-y ‘Every Time You Leave’ which adds welcome, more traditional hard rock to the mix with guest vocals from Delaney Jane, but this is then followed by the dub/trap heavy misfire that is ‘Rise Above It’. Again, it’s commendable that the band want to try new things but ‘Rise Above It’ features Hollywood Undead-esque rap verses and imitation-Korn dubstep breakdowns for choruses; it’s jarring and poorly executed, killing the emotional momentum from ‘Every Time You Leave’.
This is an unfortunate feature as a whole; tracks like ‘Bow Down’, ‘DOA’, ‘Gasoline’ and ‘Deadweight’ showcase a band evolving away from their more strict metalcore brethren into something far more interesting and confident, but there’s just too many songs that fly way wide of the mark such as ‘Paranoid’ and the emo stylings of ‘Let Me Be Sad’. Despite tracks being short, at fifteen songs it’s also overtly long and the album sags in the middle - causing it to out stay its welcome.
While the production raises a few eyebrows too - the mastering seems unnecessarily loud, with instruments not having a lot of room to breathe and there’s little difference between quieter passages, as well as a slight hiss in the very back of every song that sounds like it’s from the compression. In a nutshell Trauma is a solid record that when it peaks - it borders on exceptional, but when you take a step back and look at this record as a whole, you soon realise that Trauma doesn’t do enough to justify its length or hype.