It’s not a controversial statement in the slightest to say that I Prevail never deserved to get as big as they did. They’ve already been rinsed plenty for their awful rendition of Taylor Swift’s Blank Space that broke them, but as a debut album, the amount of praise that Lifelines garnered on the whole was absolutely baffling. Rarely did it extend beyond blunt, thudding metalcore tropes a good few years out of date, but the band never did anything even remotely interesting or different with them, and instead felt content to wallow in their own mediocrity that so many others attempted to paper over for them. Coupled with their willingness to shill themselves out for whatever greater gain they could get (you couldn’t escape their promoted Facebook ads at one point), I Prevail quickly outlined themselves as a band looking to play the game to reach success and did so unashamedly. Granted, it’s not really a surprise that they got away with it in 2016 when this sort of metalcore truly was on its last legs much to the chagrin of those who’d been profiting off it the most, but it’s hard to see how Trauma could reap similar rewards for them, lest they morph into an Amity Affliction-esque embarrassment with no self-awareness of how truly awful they are.
And let’s not beat around the bush here – that’s what’s happened. Here, I Prevail only continue to reinforce how bankrupt of ideas or deeper emotion they really are, opting to tread water so profusely that even then they struggle to stay afloat, and only wind up sinking with the rest of the metalcore jetsam where they so desperately belong. And if this was just another generic, blank-faced metalcore album, it’d still be bad but at least it’d be easy to ignore; instead, I Prevail are shooting for the stars of mediocrity and hitting the ground with a true turd, abiding by every hollow stereotype of early-2010s metalcore that’s aged about as well as a pint of milk in the Sahara and – naturally – falling flat on their faces. Sure, they’ve added a bit more to their arsenal, but rather than diversifying things for the better, they only serve as further proof that I Prevail have no earthly idea of how to get anywhere with what they’re doing.
It’s the sense that they believe that Trauma is some grand, boundary-pushing statement that’s the most peculiar as well, as not only has every single sound on this album been done exponentially better multiple times over, but it’s at least been made to sound purposeful in its execution. Here, I Prevail seem content with slapping together whatever they can that culminates in a total mess that takes whole new inroads into derivativeness, whether that’s entry-level nu-metalcore on Bow Down and Gasoline (the latter especially trying to nab the Beartooth crowd with its opening coughs and heavy focus on quick, staccato punches), Hollywood Undead-esque rap-rock banality on Rise Above It and DOA, and even a detour towards butt-rock balladry on Every Time You Leave to ensure all crossover bases are covered. That is, of course, when such categories can be so easily outlined, and they don’t fall into generic melodic metalcore mush like what’s effectively the case on this album’s entire second half. It’s just exhausting to even attempt to bear; not one concession has been made towards forging a sound of their own, and when everything is polished to within an inch of its life and even the visceral thrill that could come from more overtly heavy material is undercut by the static hiss running through without fail, it’s almost impossible to discern who I Prevail are trying to appeal to. If nothing else, Brian Burkheiser and Eric Vanlerberghe are competent vocalists even without much identifiable personality, but that’s hardly enough to outweigh the slapdash trend-hopping displayed on virtually every track, a fact made all the more redundant by the trends being about a half-a-decade out of date.
Of course, when it comes to talking about out of date with I Prevail, it’s always been the writing that’s embodied that the most, and it’s good to see them keeping on regular form with Trauma. The low bar that metalcore has set has made laziness nothing new, but I Prevail will be damned if they’re not trying to lower it even further, such is the case with themes as fascinating and diverse as standing up against the haters, or describing mental health in a way to minimise any possible catharsis by staying as generalised as possible and throwing in the word “demons” whenever possible. That’s hardly anything new – if anything it’s become the norm of sub-Memphis May Fire chancers trying to pick up whatever meagre traction possible – but I Prevail actively seem to be going for something mercinarily unimaginative here. Would you ever guess that a song called Gasoline looks to wedge in as many tropes surrounding fire or burning as it possibly can? Or that Hurricane would have its lynchpin line as “a storm is coming”? Even when they give themselves the room to try something new like with Let Me Be Sad which, with a title like that, could easily be an examination of emotionality within men and how damaging the pressure to remain stoic and unfeeling can be, it still ends up as another slice of prostrating nothingness that fades as soon as it goes. Though perhaps the most laughable moment of all comes on Rise Above This, not only because I Prevail actively try and imply that their success is through hard work and perseverance when their Taylor Swift cover would totally beg to differ, but it’s the exact sentiment that still royally flopped when it called Rise on their debut.
And that should really underline everything there is to know about I Prevail. This is a band more than content with chucking out platitudes whenever they can, even if they have no weight or impetus to them, because as long as they’re making money out of it, then who really cares? Granted, there have been more openly slimy displays of metalcore game-playing over the last couple of years, but rarely as a band in this genre come across as more intellectually or creative moribund as this. Trauma may want to rest behind the notion of personal exploration and catharsis, but that feels surface level at the very most, and is only saved from the cynical nadir of The Amity Affliction by a performance that suggests that this is a band who actually want to sound somewhat convincing. They don’t, but the intention can be praised; nothing else is that lucky though, as I Prevail continue to hurtle into the lead when it comes to the least necessary bands currently operating today.
For fans of: The Amity Affliction, Memphis May Fire, Palisades
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Trauma’ by I Prevail is released on 29th March on Fearless Records.