Are Issues a metalcore band? On the evidence of 2012’s Black Diamonds EP, yes, albeit one that could mix and match elements of R&B, EDM, nu metal and hip-hop with a dexterity that belied their then infancy. When they had the opportunity to spread their wings on a self-titled full-length, they made the question even more difficult to answer by putting less emphasis on the breakdowns and scream-along hooks of “Love Sex Riot” et al and more on their confetti cannon of external influences ranging from Korn to Rihanna to skate punk to trap.
You can now throw funk into that equation. As a taster for their upcoming second LP, “The Realest” works best as a confirmation that pigeonholing Issues as a metalcore act is as stupid an idea as a wall between Mexico and the USA. It’s got ridiculous levels of groove, the rhythm guitars working more as a muscular bass line than the djent-core beatdowns of the band’s past material. This leaves room for Skyler Acord to make a more than convincing case for the Best Bassist AP Award he’s been nominated for, hopping and skipping across the register with a melodic, show-stealing performance. He wrestles for the spot of MVP on the track with Michael Bohn, who tries his hand at clean vocals for the first time. His earthier tone provides a nice foil to Tyler Carter’s silken delivery, and the interplay between the two singers is as effective as ever.
Throw in some surprisingly sprightly guitar leads, DJ Scout’s trademark Lethal scratching and a wonderfully Chic outro and you have the recipe for a summer banger on your hands. Even so, there’s something intangible that’s missing from “The Realest”. That it lacks the energy that up to this point has permeated Issues’ music is partly by design, but it’s disappointing nonetheless, particularly considering this has been revealed as the album’s opener. Moreover, the hooks fail to be as immediately gripping as those on the singles from the self-titled. It’s got swagger and smoothness to spare and grows on repeated listening, but “The Realest” cannot be described as Issues firing on all cylinders.
Headspace lands on May 20th, and this first slice of it suggests that fans need to expect the unexpected. Its leadoff single is neither a disappointment nor as effective an opening release as the band might have liked, and one overwhelming feeling is that the track will feel very different when there’s a full body of work behind it. There’s more than enough freshness to keep the album’s release exciting, particularly due to Bohn’s clean singing and the comfortableness with which the band can dial back the heaviness. Fingers crossed that Headspace is as expansive and thrilling as its predecessor.