Review Summary: Rather than being a metalcore band trying to be pop, Trauma indicates that I Prevail is a pop band trying to be metalcore--exactly what you can expect from a band still riding the popularity of a Taylor Swift cover from years ago.
When I first put on Trauma, I thought that just maybe I had written off I Prevail too soon. "Bow Down" is a satisfactory and even enjoyable metalcore song, with nasty heavy sections, tension building, and a fairly decent chorus.
This is as good as it gets; the album doesn't get good again. It scarcely even reaches adequate.
The follow up track is "Paranoid," which shakes things up a bit. Beginning with clean vocalist Brian Burkheiser's pop vocals to match the music, second lead vocalist Eric Vanlerberghe tags in with a Mike Shinoda-influenced delivery that increasingly becomes more aggressive, which would lead one to think a breakdown is coming. Instead, we get a hip-hop cutaway before heading into the chorus. This isn't actually bad as it keeps the listener on their toes. I found myself predicting that the breakdown might appear after the next verse, but felt misled when this never happened--just the same section as before. What felt like an interesting moment the first time around becomes the thing that kills the momentum of the song; it never builds up or progresses anywhere, clocking in at under two and a half minutes. The feelings left by "Paranoid" set the tone for the remaining 11 tracks.
Another aspect of Trauma is its heavy incorporation of not only modern pop music trends, but sounds that were popular at the start of this decade and even...the MySpace scene？ "Every Time You Leave" will leave you thinking that I Prevail isn't any semblance of a metal or hardcore band, with it's OneRepublic-esque opening verse leading into a similar feeling chorus but with distorted guitars. The guest vocal by Delaney Jones sounds like an imitation of Halsey, although she does have a nice voice. As the song goes on I get a reminiscent feeling of electro-pop/space hard rock band Starset, but without the epic sonic experience, or it tries and fails.
"Rise Above It" actually does a somewhat better job capturing an almost epic feeling in its pre-chorus, before jumping into a heavy dubstep/brostep section, which isn't bad in and of itself but is just another cliche in the middle of a song that already is borrowing sounds from others. Vanlerberghe's opening psuedo-rap vocals, while again certainly influenced by Mike Shinoda, also feel like there's some inspiration coming from less talented, unimportant vocalists from a decade ago like Hollywood Undead and 3OH!3. Burkheiser's vocals occasionally utilize Auto-Tune, as they also did for a part in "Every Time You Leave," which may be for effect but most likely are masking deficiencies in making compelling vocal melodies or charisma, not unlike the studio trickery trying to make up for Phil Labonte's clean vocal shortcomings on the last several All That Remains albums. There's also an unnecessary guest vocal from Justin Stone even though his verse is barely more technical than Vanlerberghe's rudimentary attempts at rapping up until this point.
"Breaking Down" opens with a soft section (that later reappears transformed as the chorus) before going into a verse where Burkheiser almost seems to be attempting sad boy mumble rap. Vanlerberghe's delivers a decent tension-building pre-chorus before the chorus invokes the opening line, which Burkheiser struggles to take to a new level. The song ends on what feels like ought to have been a bridge, again cutting the song short before allowing it to flesh out as was the case in "Paranoid." The outro's quiet atmosphere sets the backdrop for the repeating mantra "I don't really like myself." It is here that I want to discuss the lyrics. Much of the lyrics on this album deal with Burkheiser's struggles with depression, with "Breaking Down" perhaps the most explicit description. I applaud Burkheiser for tackling his issues through his lyrics and using the music video for the song to bring more awareness to an illness that most people talk about but few know how to discuss appropriately. But as far as the lyric's quality, at best they're honest and inoffensive, and at worst they're cliched. The lyrics for "Breaking Down" are one of the few highlights of the album beyond the first track. Ultimately, the lyrics don't bring the album down (the music does a good job of that on its own), but they definitely don't it any favors.
"DOA" is simply a mess, combining Burkheiser's upbeat pop-vocals with Vanlerberghe's almost-raps over a hip-hop clap beat and generic electro-pop, before kicking into another dubstep rock section that feels like a watered down version of something Muse did on The 2nd Law (I further back up this comparison with the short, effect laden solo that sounds like Matt Bellamy is simply testing his effect pedals). The song also annoyingly juxtaposes occasional screamed vocals and it just doesn't work. "Gasoline" has more Shinoda-esque verses paired with admittedly fun heavy choruses and a bridge, though the try-hard repeated "Burn it all down!" chorus is rather similar to the more bluntly-put chorus of Five Finger Death Punch's "Burn MF" (which itself is awfully similar to Dope's "Die MF Die"). Overall, the heaviness starts as fun but the track ends quickly, and feels more like a reminder that states "hey we're still a metalcore band, we have to have a few new songs to get the pits going at the shows;" the song sounds like A Day to Remember performing a track that Three Days Grace ghost wrote for them.
"Hurricane" is an annoyingly generic pop-polished post-hardcore effort with a heavy bridge section that sounds like anything every post-hardcore or metalcore band that has worked with Joey Sturgis this decade has put out (I should note that Sturgis did not work on this album, but it's certainly alike to his brand of sterile pop-metal). The remaining few tracks are more of the same the album has already offered: more bland vocals with some Auto-Tune, more bad rapping, more forced heavy sections, more cliched RnB/pop tropes.
The closing track lethargically stating "I don't belong here" is another vulnerable opening-up from Burkheiser, but it ought to be a message to I Prevail itself and their place in the music industry, because as popular as they have become as of recent, nothing they have done has suggested they deserve the place where they stand or that they can sustain the popularity. Trauma is also an appropriate title for the album because as if there weren't already way too many rock bands badly using contemporary pop trends (I would have been full-on triggered had there been millenial whoops but thankfully we have been spared), I have here an album that even more annoyingly focuses on them in nearly every song; it's a summation of many of the things wrong in modern metalcore and mainstream rock at the moment, taken to even further extremes as these pop moments are leaned on even further than metalcore. It's not enough that every sound found in Trauma can be traced back to something else, but everything it imitates or anything it can compare to that's been done before has been done better. From Ashes to New are a better example of Linkin Park-inspired modern pop/rap-rock/metal. Bullet for My Valentine's maligned (though I don't think it's as bad as it's reputation) Gravity was at least an earnest effort to bring pop and electronic elements to their metal base sound, and those mixed results stand above this. As bad as the pop-metalcore trend has been, there's something positive I can say about a lot of the bands that do it, and a small handful of bands are somewhat decent at it.
But the biggest sin of Trauma isn't it's lack of originality, but simply the fact the songs are just so poorly put-together. I don't inherently consider music being generic to make it bad, as plenty of bands that lack originality still have something to offer in songwriting or musical proficiency; I Prevail offers none of these things. With "Bow Down" being the only song to eclipse the four-minute mark, none of the songs have room to breathe, and they certainly have nothing to say in their brief time parameters. The musicianship is nothing to commend, the lyrics aren't special, and the vocals are often just bad. The only saving grace of Trauma beyond it's opening track is that the short songs (probably an attempt to rack up more streaming hits) make this experience over quickly, though I wish I had never listened to it enough times to give the band the couple pennies they earned from me. It was a traumatizing experience that I can never get back.