Albums Dead On Arrival: I Prevail – “Trauma”

Music fans would label “Trauma” as I Prevail’s “sell-out” record, however I completely disagree with such a notion and label the album as an underdeveloped departure that hit way off the mark.


Antonio Llanos, Staff Writer

Watching an artist rise to fame and gain the notoriety they deserve is rewarding. It’s the humanity of the story. Tthe struggle for nuance and the desire to distinguish oneself from their fellow artists while also creating something new and personal is a sentiment that is easily shared throughout many walks of life. However, if not executed correctly, can lead to emotionally empty and projective work that causes feelings of embitterment and avarice. Such is the case with I Prevail’s  sophomore effort, “Trauma” which was meet with a deserved split positive and negative reaction.

“Trauma” was released on March 29, 2019, by Fearless Records. The background surrounding the album is best described by the title, backed by a lot of struggle both in and out of the studio. Following the release of their effort on the pop cover album series, “Punk Goes Pop Vol. 6,” the band garnered massive attention covering Taylor Swift’s song, “Blank Space.” However, troubles started catching up to the band beginning with vocalist and frontman, Brian Burkheiser’s vocal chord surgery. 

The album comes out of a period of intense struggle for the band both in and out of the studio. The band garnered massive attention covering Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” on the collaborative album “Punk Goes Pop Vol. 6” in 2014. However three years later, vocalist and frontman, Brian Burkheiser, needed surgery on his vocal chords. The event, as he stated in a tweet at the time (add link to tweet), was physically and mentally taxing but caused him to come out of it a stronger person. 

Then about a year later, during the album’s production, fellow musician Kyle Pavone from We Came As Romans or WCAR, sadly passed away due to an accidental overdose. All members of I Prevail were long-time fans of WCAR, as stated in an interview with Billboard in 2019, and Pavone and WCAR had come to support I Prevail during their 2017 tour, so the death truly hit them hard. The passing of a long-time hero and the rise of a bigger fan base pushed I Prevail to balance themes of remembrance of where you come from and where you go. 

While some songs on the album definitely work in tandem with I Prevail’s classic mix of heavy metalcore with gritty, yet catchy pop choruses, the album falters by leaning on trap-inspired production fills that are too commonly heard to be re-produced as “experimentation.”  That being said, the musical exploration and features on the track really make the album worth a number of listens.

“Bow Down,” is a strong start, musically. The track progresses as guitarist Steve Menoian and drummer Gabe Helguera create a brutal but groove-based riff that anticipates the chaos of a classic metalcore song. However, lyrically the song fails. Rather than the lyrics of the song encapsulating strife or recounting a troubling experience, the lyrics read cocky, not confident. “Yeah, this is where you fall apart/Yeah, this is where you break/To everybody who doubted/Get on your knees and bow down!” While worship might be a great theme of exploration for a song, it cannot be how you give your new listeners an introduction to you as an artist.

“Paranoid” is the mirrored opposite of “Bow Down”. While the lyrics of the track themselves are fine-tuned and vulnerably aggressive, containing a self versus mind structure, the music falls flat. It leans too much into the production value of a trap-like drum machine groove. The background track is too reliant on a trap beat to carry the progression of the song. Essentially, this is part of what the entire album suffers from, relying on production to make up for undeveloped musical material. Part of what also weighs the track down is the sacrifice made from Burkheiser’s ambitious return from surgery with simplistic choral performances where a longer period of rest between recovery and recording could have enabled him to get to the vocal pique, exhibited on “Lifelines,” that were more intricate and that much more developed.   

“Every Time You Leave (Feat. Delaney Jane)” picks up the slack for the previous two tracks in a metal-inspired power ballad, highlighting both Burkheiser’s renewed vocal ability along with Canadian solo artist, Delaney Jane. Burkhesier’s voice is particularly notable with a bit more grit and rasp as a result of the surgery. The lyrics are vulnerable, the background track builds to an interesting chorus melody, and every part of the track was intricately planned. Moreover, the performances and composition that note reminiscences of I Prevail before the rise to fame. Particularly, most of the musical composition on “Lifelines” geared the chaotic metalcore elements to a climax that was both melodic easily transitioned into.  Every song was unique in its experimental guitar riffs enough to distinguish each song from one another, where “Trauma” completely abandons all those elements.  

“Rise Above It (Feat. Justin Stone)” is another redeeming track featuring fellow Cleveland native rapper, Justin Stone, whose addition to the track is very well integrated.  Stone, Burkheiser and unclean vocalist, Eric Vanlerberghe establish a dynamic that caters to one another’s unique performances. While normally having three different vocalists on a track would overwhelm the background music, the track seamlessly integrates each vocalist to the point that both Burkheiser and Vanlerberghe can be heard rapping well. 

“Gasoline” is a great aggressive track that gets the listener off their feet and straight into the pit. Aside from the band being cognizant of their sound from their previous album, “Lifelines,” it highlights the progress the band has made with their music, implementing more complete guitar riffs, poly-rhythmic grooves and a screaming performance that puts Vanlerberghe at the center of the track.     

“Hurricane” is a well-composed song and is personally the best song from the album. Aggression and harmonic melody collide under a self-reflective track where Burkheiser lyrically breaks down the vulnerability and depression he was going through post-surgery. “Tell me that I’m lost inside my mind(I reach out but it’s pulling me under)/Remind me I’ve been searching for something I won’t find/Tell me I was never worth the time (I reach out but it’s pulling me under)/Or just blame it on the person you think I left behind.” Both Burkheiser and Vanlerberghe enable the track to progress in wonderful musical exploration that harken to the musical ambition that lacks in the rest of the tracks of the album. 

I generally want like this album, but there is so much relying on background production and falling short with underdevelopment that should have been fleshed out with more time in recovery or in the studio. Both the album and Burkheiser needed the time to further develop and intricately weave tunes that allow the album to put them in a position where the band’s art is not sacrificed for the cost of keeping fans happy. Ultimately, it seems the band was met with a loyal fanbase that they will not be able to maintain due to their reactionary ambition to remain a “relevant” band both in the scene and mainstream. 

3/5 Only because of Burkheiser’s performance on the album exhibited how passionate he was about it, otherwise it would be a 2/5.