As It Is’ third album ‘The Great Depression’ opens with a bang; the title track is theatrical, loud and sets the tone for the rest of the record. The album name alone is a potentially polarising title if you’re unaware of the overarching concept, but no matter your stance the record is likely to grind any preconceived notions about this band or record to a pulp.
As with all great concept albums, The Great Depression comes with an intricate narrative to accompany the music. Performed from the perspective of ‘The Poet’, the record tells the story of their experiences with mental health issues, as well as analysing society, modern-day problems, and comprehending the way in which they all influence each other. According to the band, the album is intended to “ask questions rather than giving answers, exploring the lines where consolation and glorification collide, and asking if art is too subjective to offer a universal solution”.
Musically, it’s a departure from the group’s last two albums, with a significantly heavier sound. Produced by Gene “Machine” Freeman, who has worked with artists like Lamb Of God, Clutch, and Every Time I Die, their evolution as a band is more clear than ever.
The track list is separated into four parts, seemingly titled after the first four steps in the ‘Seven Stages of Grief‘. Stage I: Denial is an introduction to the narrative, opening with aforementioned The Great Depression to kick the whole shebang off. Following on is The Wounded World, an equally aggressive track presenting The Poet’s perception of the broken world around him. Guitarist Ben Langford-Biss‘ sweet riff heard throughout the The Fire, The Dark is a strong driving force behind the song.
The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry) is a powerful commentary on the way in which men’s emotions are treated within society. Lines like “keep it all inside, ’cause boys don’t cry” are a stark reminder of the sad reality that expressing emotions is considered shameful, thanks to ever-present toxic masculinity. It’s topical and sends a strong message – a definite high point on the album. The Stigma rolls straight into The Handwritten Letter, another gutsy track with verses that reinforce their new rockier sound, and choruses that pay homage to their pop punk roots.
The Reaper (ft. Aaron Gillespie) is a huge highlight on the record for me. A filthy bassline courtesy of bassist Alistair Testo rings out, before vocalist Patty Walters rips through to begin what’s probably his heaviest vocal performance so far. The sweeping chorus features prominent backing vocals and more sweet riffage by Langford-Biss, before coming to the bridge featuring Aaron Gillespie. Gillespie is most well known as a member of metalcore band Underøath, but also toured as drummer for Paramore from 2013-2016. He lends a stellar vocal performance and adds another dimension to the song.
The Two Tongues is another favourite; the fast chorus has definitely led me to speed while driving my car when it kicks in – oops. The Truth I’ll Never Tell is a melodic throwback to past releases, with tasteful pepperings of tambourine and Walters’ signature honest lyrics throughout.
Stage IV: Acceptance is fittingly far more subdued than the rest of the record. I found the three songs to be my least favourite on the record. Emotional acoustic ballad The Hurt, The Hope and The Haunting just didn’t interest me. Thematically both fit with the narrative, but I just didn’t like either song. The album closes out on a high note with The End, a theatrical expression of frustration with the apathy of those not paying attention to societal problems. The explosive bridge is backed by a fantastic chorus of powerful instrumentals, packing the perfect amount of punch to end the record.
I’m sure plenty of people will miss the point of this record. Those who can’t cope with seeing men wear make-up, or talking about their feelings are unlikely to benefit from this release. But those with open minds; those who need encouragement, conversation and to see openness in the media about mental health; will. It’s an incredibly important discussion that needs to be had in every space, by people with influence and the power to induce change. As It Is have done just that with The Great Depression, and I have complete faith that this record is going to do a whole lot for a whole lot of people.