Before you’ve even read a word of this review, you’ve likely already made up your mind about Issues. The Atlanta-based metalcore newcomers are undoubtedly one of the most polarizing scene bands in recent memory, and there’s a good chance you’re reading this to confirm a stance that you’ve already taken.
In truth, there may not be a conclusive answer about the aesthetic legitimacy of Issues just yet. But does their self-titled debut full length at least offer us a conclusive answer about who the band is?
Once again, the answer is a bit tricky. Their debut Black Diamonds EP picked up where the core members left off after their departure from Woe, Is Me, with a dash of nu-metal and hip hop elements thrown in for good measure. Issues is a whole other animal, rife with influences from post-hardcore, nu-metal, R&B, hip hop and pop, all blended together in a furious mix. The results are quite conflicting.
At their best (“Sad Ghost”, “Stingray Affliction”, “Never Lose Your Flames”), Issues find a wheelhouse for combining their sounds in a way that sounds fresh, exciting and pleasing to the ears. At their worst, (“Late”, “Life of a Nine”, “Personality Cult”), the band sounds over processed, amateur and pandering to a few too many audiences.
The rest of the time, Issues is somewhere in the middle – not necessarily heavy, but too aggressive to come across as strictly pop. Instead, they waver back and forth, never putting their foot down, inevitably leading to awkward transitions and corny breakdowns that seem to only come as a reminder that the band is signed to Rise Records.
To say that there’s a little something for everyone on Issues would be a bit misleading. Instead, the final product is more akin to the idea of too many cooks in the kitchen. Tracks like the R&B/pop-rock inspired “Tears on the Runway Pt. 2” transition awkwardly into the faux-heavy sound of “The Settlement”.
Other tracks like “Late” have the gall to revive the Nintendo-core sound that we all agreed to forget ever existed, while “Old Dena” brings back the uninspired nu-metal DJ interlude courtesy of Tyler “Scout” Acord. These moments almost parallel the feel of any number of mixtapes your friend made for you in high school.
So Issues is bad, right? Well, not totally. Whether you like his style or not, the consensus on clean vocalist Tyler Carter seems to be a relatively positive one. Even in the midst of the most convoluted moments on the album, Carter is able to right the ship with some of the catchiest hooks and fantastic melodies you’re likely to hear this year.
Take “Mad at Myself” as an example – the track is a messy one, filled to the brim with the aforementioned over-compensating genre-blending. However, Carter’s croon is undeniably memorable as he delivers one of the best choruses on the album. Even as he sings atrocious lines such as “I got this old girl, I know she’s trying to play me / She’s like a Honda, these days I drive Mercedes”, you’ll find yourself singing along once you’ve recovered from a heavy facepalm.
As the album wears on, Carter begins to outshine screamer Michael Bohn on nearly every track. Bohn starts off ferocious on opener “Sad Ghost” with the lines “Standing in front of this bed with some matches, watch it burn / I’ll pray my body burns, too”, and has scattered moments to shine. Unfortunately, so many of the songs cater to Carter’s pop/R&B style that a large number of his screams feel forced into place.
So what’s the consensus? Issues excels by attempting fresh new sounds, and the band deserves credit for trying something different, even when it falls flat. There are moments in which the band sound polished enough to stand alongside metalcore giants like A Day to Remember or Of Mice & Men.
The other side of the coin includes all of the usual suspects. Issues often comes across as cheesy, both in its lyrics and its sonic execution. There’s room for experimentation in this genre, but not by experimenting with everything at once. What results are a few gems when everything works right and a few duds when it all comes crashing back to reality.
If nothing else, Issues is fun and will have you singing along to its syrupy hooks well into the summer. If the band wants to stick around and rise above the rest of the now incomprehensively large pack, they’ll need to pick a sonic identity and stick to it.
For now, it seems fitting to consider their debut the good kind of bad. Or maybe the bad kind of good. How’s that for ambiguity?
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.