To see Issues take such a profound nosedive from one of modern metalcore’s highest fliers to just another undercard filler within the scene in the space of one album truly was saddening. Their self-titled debut in 2014 showed a band with such colour and inspiration in a way rarely seen in modern metalcore, throwing in elements of pop, hip-hop and R&B in ways that made sense rather than being utterly trite, and yet when 2016’s Headspace tried to go even further down that lane, it was clear that Issues had pushed their vision too far. It wasn’t a bad album at the time, but Headspace has not aged well in retrospect and only continues to feel messier and less focused all the time, and the subsequent departure of screamer Michael Bohn in 2018 only confirmed for many that Issues was effectively done. It seemed as though they had lost so much of what made them great in the first place, and while their tenacity to continue was admirable, the sneaking suspicion of a band trying to simply delay the inevitable has hung heavily in the air ever since.
But as for Beautiful Oblivion itself though, it reveals just how misguided so much of that trepidation was, as this is easily the most confident that Issues have sounded in years. The retooling they’ve undergone is noticeable, but the genre-clashing intentions have not only generally gone unchanged, but can also rank among the most natural and concise of the band’s entire career thus far. Maybe they still don’t hit the lightning-in-a-bottle moments of their debut, but they come remarkably close, or closer than anyone could’ve reasonably predicted at any rate. Most of all though, the freshness that Issues so regularly flaunted earlier on is back in spades, and when that’s almost consistent across this album after a period where that waning could really be felt, Beautiful Oblivion feels like a rise back to grace in the most satisfying way possible.
If anything, this might be the Issues album where everything comes together the smoothest, with a core consolidating sound that seems to encompass the majority of what they’re looking to capture and blend it into one entity. And let’s stress that that’s only a good thing, especially for a band who’ve been known for taking wild shifts in tack at any given moment, and to have a something much more stable to fall back on gives Beautiful Oblivion a better sense of flow overall. The darker, low-end metalcore sits as a foundation with tracks like Tapping Out and Downfall, but bringing in the super-sharp, super-bright guitar work of a band like Polyphia that feels like a no-brainer move when you really think about, the pop quality of Without You and Get It Right has so much more definition and character that feeding in R&B passages wholesale could only bring in very limited quantities. And with that in play, it gives Tyler Carter’s vocals more room to work themselves into the sort of configurations that only a vocalist with his incredible range and malleability could bring; considering one of the primary worries was how Carter would cope as the sole main vocalist, he’s able to ride these instrumentals in a way that feels more to his speed than ever before. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Issues album without a couple of off-the-wall, off-kilter moments thrown in, but with the focus on melody that Beautiful Oblivion boasts, the impossibly tight funk-pop snap of Flexin and the understated piano ballad Your Sake still feel in line enough with the album’s vision to contribute to the overall more focused execution.
It’s easily among the most defiantly interesting that an Issues release has been, and it’s refreshing to see how a similar ethos has translated into the writing. For full disclosure, Issues have never been the most gifted songwriters, but there’s usually been enough breadth within their subject matter to make up for that, and while Beautiful Oblivion is no different, it’s similarly more evened out as far as overall quality and approach goes. Wisely, bringing forward smaller details once again makes this much more personal as opposed to how overblown and monotonous so much of modern metalcore can be, and even with the odd moment of shooting wider like the fracturing, abusive relationship described on Tapping Out (which, for the record, the band have previously done better on Princeton Ave), it’s hard to imagine many other bands in this vein coming out with a straight-up love song like Find Forever complete with a gospel choir and saxophone, or an ode to being broke on Flexin that effectively parodies the materialism of modern hip-hop. But there’s also the side where Carter circles back on himself that helps the album maintain such an unshakable balance, as he self-medicates and copes with his own feelings of inadequacy on Drink About It and Second Best respectively, and ruminates on how damaging he is to his own relationships on Your Sake in ways that do feel measured and earnest without ever feeling overwrought.
It’s clear to see just how much effort has been put into pretty much every aspect of this album, and how Issues have singlehandedly yanked themselves back from the brink of implosion to becoming one of modern metalcore’s premier talents once again. It’s a straight upgrade over everything on Headspace, that’s not even up for debate, but as far as reshaping their own formula goes and forging yet another distinctly unique path, this is quite the triumph overall. It’s the sort of second wind that’s always wonderful to see a band like this be fortunate to get, and Issues have grabbed theirs with both hands and wrung out almost every drop of potential from it for a really fantastic evolution. It’s the sort of comeback that, given the magnitude of the situation they found themselves in, is a rarity, but one that hits its mark with tremendous accuracy and force.
For fans of: Hands Like Houses, Bring Me The Horizon, Polyphia
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Beautiful Oblivion’ by Issues is released on 4th October on Rise Records.