Written by Rebecca Hooey
On August 10, 2018, British pop-punk icons As It Is released their third full length album, titled “The Great Depression”. Even before hearing this album, I knew I’d want to spend time with it before reviewing it. To get more than a first impression, and see how well the concept album played out. And let me tell you, I was so happy with this album. It presents a scathing indictment of societal norms, and a call to arms for the masses, telling them to speak up not only for what they believe, but also to speak out about mental illness and de-stigmatize it. All this happens through the storytelling of ‘The Poet’, who goes on an intense journey over the course of the album, and through metaphor and hyperbole, forces introspection upon the listener. This isn’t the kind of album that leaves you unscathed once you’ve listened to it.
The album opens with the title track, which is an open letter from the protagonist of the album. He addresses the listener directly, and vocalist Patty Walters’ aggressive vocals lend a certain sincerity to the lyrics, which bring light to the double edged nature of alternative music. “The Poet” considers himself both the source of the problems, as well as the cure that people seek.
Two of the next songs (“The Wounded World”, “The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry”)) continue along the lines of enlightening people to the problems with society, between the romanticisation of depression and suicide, to forbidding boys from crying or showing emotion. While the vocals, guitars, and drums generally stay heavier than the typical As It Is track, there is a lovely tender moment at the Beginning of The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry)” that’s stripped back to a lone guitar and soft vocals from Walters. It almost feels like he’s taken your hand, and is looking into your eyes while singing the lyrics. The track “The Fire, The Dark” tells the story of “The Poet’s” personal relationship to a woman, presumably his significant other, and brings up questions about dependence upon others, and how destructive that can be.
The song “The Handwritten Letter” is exactly that, a fervent, urgent letter to the poet’s significant other. Things that the poet needs to get out while he’s courageous enough to say them. The guitar riffs sound almost frantic, it’s easy to conjure the image of the poet sitting, running his fingers hysterically through his hair during verses. This leads into a soaring, romantic sounding lead in the chorus, which only adds to the meaning of the lyrics. This song feels like a final love letter, a goodbye.
“The Handwritten Letter” leads perfectly into the softest, most vulnerable song on the album, “The Question, The Answer”. This song is a plea, from “The Poet” to death, to tell him about the end of his life and the afterlife. Walters’ raw, emotional vocals blend perfectly with the instrumentation of the song to create a feeling of helplessness, which is a stark contrast to the raw shock and awe of “The Reaper”. The track features UNDEROATH’s Aaron Gillespie, whose gruff vocals are perfect for this track, about the poet’s face to face encounter with the personification of death.
“The Two Tongues (Screaming Salvation)”, moves the plot of the concept album along brilliantly, presenting the mental back and forth that “The Poet” goes through after seeing death. His inability to decide between death and his significant other tears him up inside, and at the end the listener is left with the question of who he chooses.
This question is answered with “The Truth I’ll Never Tell”, which, along with “The Haunting” tell the story of “The Poet’s” attempt to rejoin his life and cope with his mental illness. The vocals in “The Truth I’ll Never Tell” sound almost disconnected, mimicking the feeling of dissociation that depression often brings along with it. Walters sounds clear and genuine, with backup vocalist and guitarist Ben Langford adding a raw edge to some lines. Even the repetitive fading end of the song serves to mirror the never ending nature of mental illness, and the thoughts that they bring. “The Hurt, The Hope” is an introspection about the yearning to feel better, and the hopelessness one can feel when relief seems forever just out of reach. Despite the soft, acoustic instrumentation of the song, it still feels pointed and angry.
The last track, titled “The End”, is the indignant, exasperated monologue of someone trying to change society when no one wants change to happen. It is the final imploration of someone who’s been through hell, and in trying to get out, has found blame outside of themselves. It begs the question, “Are your actions your fault, when you begged for help?”
This album marked a change for As It Is, not only aesthetically, but sonically. This album had a much rougher edge to it, allowing the band to more than just dip their toe into a rock and roll sound. Overall, this album is solid. The instruments are crisp, the lyrics are layered and poignant, and the vocals hold up and serve to not just deliver the literal words, but bring to life the feeling behind the words. You can so easily visualize the poet in all of these songs, going through all of these experiences. With the close, personal feel that the lyrics give, it forces the listener to look at themselves, their own actions and mindset. As It Is stated before “The Great Depression’s” release that this is an album that “provides more questions than answers”, and they weren’t lying. Personally, I know I’ll be pondering questions brought up by this album for a long time to come. Hopefully you will too.