Review Summary: “…to be honest this album should have failed much harder given the band’s influences and deadlines, but it didn’t.”
Issues is the band that vocalists Tyler Carter and Michael Bohn wanted Woe, Is Me (The band the were both previously in) to be a few years back. The reason for their departures loosely revolved around a lack of creative freedom in the band. Issues naturally grants the two vocalists the freedom they were once denied, and the sound of the Black Diamonds EP is a testament to that. This time around, the music is more an expression of Tyler’s natural R&B tendencies and Michael’s aggressive eccentricities than prior material in W,IM. There’s no more over-produced orchestral backdrops a la Woe, Is Me though a heavy Hip-Hop and modern R&B influence is present instead.
What’s most obvious about Black Diamonds at a glance is that Issues are doing what they want to do. That’s a good thing and the inherent sincerity is what keeps the record afloat amongst the many, many problems surrounding it. Beneath the surface, however, it seems like Issues have bitten off more than they could chew. The band announced its formation as recently as July 2012, making Black Diamonds a product of no more than four month’s work. Had they taken some more time to craft a cohesive musical aesthetic maybe there would be less problems in their debut effort.
And the problems are great in number and large in scale: the first being the title track/intro to the EP. “Black Diamonds” is in no way representative of the EP with its wubs and womps. While the point of the track is obviously to build a substantial amount of hype for what’s to come, naming it eponymously completely throws off the songs angle and renders it a hindrance to those who don’t know what Issues is all about. Ignoring the song title, it is an uninteresting yet inoffensive intro track.
Adding to the list of questionable decisions is the last three-or-so minutes of the final track “Her Monologue”. While the song up until the 3:30 mark is solid in lyric and delivery, it fades out of that and into a Tyler Carter rap verse featuring a female rapper that serves no purpose. Featuring no other band members, this section beckons the call for a side project because it admittedly is kinda
cool though absolutely shouldn’t be on the album.
Less specifically though, Black Diamonds just fails to come together as a unified effort at some points. There are a notable few abrupt transitions in in album that come off as awkward and unnecessary. In addition to that sometimes Carter’s melodies, while never lacking in skill and execution, sometimes don’t fit the music so well. What comes to mind is the “eh, eh” in “The Worst of Them” that’s a little too reminiscent of those in “Umbrella” by Rihanna. Finally, and probably most disappointing is the inability of the rest of the band to stand out amidst the vocal onslaught. The riffs are good and the drumming is tight, and even the beats and synth lines are well done though they haven’t yet figured out how to both compliment the vocals and vice-versa. This is unfortunately the mark of an inexperienced band and a rushed record.
However the faults, Issues has undoubtedly brought something fresh to their scene for those who are open to it. Tyler Carter’s aforementioned melodies are a step above your average metalcore bands clean vocals. He has a knack for writing catchy hooks and there is one to be found in literally every song on the record (excluding Black Diamonds because he doesn’t sing on it, validating my opinion on how pointless it really is). “The Worst of Them” albeit the sugary “eh, eh’s” has one of the strongest choruses of any –core song in recent memory - to the point where it almost comes off as anthemic. Additionally some of the songs are very well written and even thought provoking. “Princeton Ave” is a reflection on domestic abuse and betrayal while “Her Monologue” is the band at a very vulnerable level, collectively putting on display their “issues”. Unfortunately to counteract these two songs is the quasi diss-track that is “King of Amarillo”, complete with an obvious stab at another band and immature lyrics throughout.
Beyond all the little details, Black Diamonds is a fun listen. It’s a new medium through which to listen to the Woe, Is Me vocalists of old while being able to finally experience their real vision. Though their mess of influences is clearly off-putting to a lot of people, there is potential to be found somewhere within it; Because to be honest this album should have failed much harder given the band’s influences and deadlines, but it didn’t. It stays afloat in miraculous fashion and if that means anything at all, it means that when Issues comes back around with a full length, it’s probably gonna be much better.