As much as it’s felt like As It Is have been fighting against the current just to get by—between losing key members and generally being phased out of the intense media spotlight—they’ve proven before they’re consistent enough to weather it. The fact that they originally carved out their own place within pop-punk was a good indicator early on, but giving themselves the room to move and grow within it has made their progression fascinating to watch. The Great Depression in 2018 was probably the first major signifier of that being the case, an album that hasn’t held up as much as it could have, but took on a darker, more sober tone that felt like a definitive severing of the more ‘traditional’ pop-punk system they’d come up in. And it does say a lot that, even in continuing with that same thread on I WENT TO HELL AND BACK, As It Is’ consistency is still a big part of how this works so well. They really do deserve a lot of credit for getting so work from their mental health sources without it all bleeding together; lesser bands would simply run with it, but As It Is have grown with their theming rather than stagnated in spite of it. Patty Walters proves an indispensable presence in making it work, as a vocalist that’s swiftly made the transition from boyish effervescence to something more recognisably grounded and angsty without it sounding performative. He’s always had real sincerity in his delivery, and that factors in the deadened tone of ILY, HOW ARE YOU? and I’D RATHER DIE, or the desperation of I HATE ME TOO, or even genuine, fist-clenched anger on I WANT TO SEE GOD. That’s a handy boon to have too when, compared to the sunny ‘50s dichotomy of Okay or the wider societal implications informing The Great Divide, I WENT TO HELL AND BACK dispenses with the bigger extrapolations of its theme but doesn’t feel lesser for it. It’s their most straightforward drilling-into of mental health yet, occasionally bumping into some of the clichés that tend to riddle this theme when done for this long, but not to the degree where it’s actively hindering. If anything, they continue to hit a lot higher than most even despite the relative planing of their lyrics; I MISS 2003 stands as the best example, taking what could be dismissed as a gimmick in weaving in the names of old pop-punk songs, but using that to anchor a return to the happiness that those moments brought, and that seem disappointingly alien now.
On the other hand, all of this can be seen as a pretty lateral move for As It Is, who aren’t deviating from the standard they’ve set themselves across their last two albums. It doesn’t feel as though they’re repeating themselves though, and that’s ultimately the kicker here. There’s still progression to be found when the tone is moodier and has its flourishes of alt-pop and post-hardcore accommodate that. Naturally it doesn’t always work, like in how I’D RATHER DIE’s shrunken pop patter has little effect, or how in cramming in guest spots from Set It Off’s Cody Carson and JordyPurp alongside its own gallumphing weight, IN THREES is basically unsalvageable. Regardless of whether individual moments work or not though, the unified feel of the album seldom falters or dips, and at best, there’s a sturdiness bestowed from darker production elements and electronic crackles around the edges. It’s not about making this seem heavy, but sharpening out what’s coming from the murk, which in turn strips away what could potentially be melodramatic or overly stylised. With titles like I LIE TO ME, IDC, I CAN’T TAKE IT and I HATE ME TOO, just to name a few, the starkness and cut-to-the-chase mentality is pretty evident, but it’s not oversold in the presentation. Between some lower vocal registers and the darker surges of guitar, it can be reminiscent of some of A Day To Remember’s grittier alt-rock pivots in how As It Is find the synthesis between ironclad melody and a human perspective that’s not detached from it. It’s also as catchy as ever which definitely helps, and in the band’s tradition of not feeling watered down or saccharine when they don’t need to. More than anything, it’s an expansion of the solid ground that As It Is have had under themselves for years, where they aren’t striking gold that often, but will continue to amass one of the most consistently reliable catalogues of a mainstream rock band. It’s good that they keep striving to make it all fresh and polished while still holding onto some weight, something which gives I WENT TO HELL AND BACK a succinct feel of a continuation while being new enough to hold its own. Even if that was very much the expected outcome, it’s still good to see it done this strongly.
For fans of: The Used, Set It Off, Save Face
‘I WENT TO HELL AND BACK’ by As It Is is released on 4th February on Fearless Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall