I Prevail – ‘Trauma’

By Gem Rogers

Over the last few years, Michigan metalcore five piece I Prevail have been through one of the biggest challenges a band could face – ‘Trauma’ is the album that may never have happened. In the midst of touring to support debut ‘Lifelines’, clean vocalist Brian Burkheiser suffered a severe vocal injury that could’ve seen the end of his career. Eighteen months on, their sophomore full length is the end result of a long road to recovery, done their way and on their own terms.

The first singles released from the album, ‘Bow Down’ and ‘Breaking Down’, capture some phenomenal power; from the unapologetic rage and thundering riffs of the former, to the lyrical beauty of the latter, tapping into the feelings that haunted Burkheiser in his darkest moments. With such a strong start, there was a lot of pressure for the remaining eleven tracks on ‘Trauma’ to deliver – either we’d already heard the very best and the rest would be a disappointment, or it would hit the other end of the scale and be one of the most impressive albums of 2019.

So where does ‘Trauma’ sit on that scale? Well, in the end, it’s somewhere in between. I Prevail have opted to dabble in a little bit of everything here, from the big rock ballad ‘Every Time You Leave’, to a dash of rap vocals and dubstep on tracks ‘Rise Above It’ and ‘DOA’. Though there’s still plenty of room for metalcore, this feels like the work of a band who aren’t holding themselves to the boundaries of expectation.

The result yields a few lower, forgettable points, but when it’s right, it’s really, really right. Tracks like ‘Rise Above It’ feel like the return of Linkin Park in amazing form with insistent vocals and dancing grooves, whilst ‘Gasoline’ is as every bit as incendiary as the name implies. Slamming in with a cough and a deep breath, the verses build pulsing suspense before a chorus that sees unclean vocalist Eric Vanlerberghe destroy everything in sight; if this one doesn’t make it into live performances in future, it will be a serious injustice to mosh pits everywhere. The muttered “holy shit, dude” at the end of these two and a half minutes of fire says it all, and we agree. Holy shit, dude.

It’s swiftly followed by another highlight on the album ‘Hurricane’, bringing focus back onto Burkheiser with a beautiful, soaring chorus feeding into the ballad-esque ‘Let Me Be Sad’, which builds to a stadium-level climax, and the deliciously catchy ‘Low’ with some heavily relatable lyrics – “even when I’m high, I still feel low” is a rarely expressed, but overwhelmingly true sentiment for many. ‘Deadweight’ later brings back the aggression at full pace with out-and-out metalcore brutality, punching riffs and lyrics that take no prisoners – “keep it up, motherfucker, I’ll cut you out” is just about as furious (and fun) as it sounds.

There’s plenty of darkness to be found on this album, but it’s not without hope. Above all, it feels deeply honest, the act of someone placing their heart, fears and worries on their sleeve and exposing their vulnerability to the world. Lyrically, it is mind blowing – these words are deeply personal, yet universal, and albums like this are so important to listeners. What starts as an outlet for the creators becomes a crutch for others struggling to process their own emotions, and there can never be too great an emphasis on the power of albums like ‘Trauma’ to give hope and strength to those in need in a world of fear and anxiety. Here, our emotional torment can be channelled into all the different outlets it may require; rage, sorrow, acceptance, understanding. In their words and music, I Prevail have offered a safety net to the falling.

It’s inevitable with thirteen tracks that some will fade into the background – there’s nothing that would classify as serious filler here, but some make less impact than others, with ‘I Don’t Belong Here’ in particular providing a slightly anticlimactic finish. There can be no doubt though that in ‘Trauma’, I Prevail have produced some of the most powerful, raw, and creative songs of their career so far. The highs are impossibly high, a gigantic leap forward in their development and identity from debut ‘Lifelines’, with innovation and a desire to keep pushing forward without losing the core of who they are. Draping all the brutal, chugging heaviness and powerful melodies that make metalcore great in their own fresh, uncompromising style, it’s clear that I Prevail are here to stay – and boy, are we happy to have them.

GEM ROGERS

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