Photo Credit: Photo via asitisofficial.com
Pop-punk’s resurgence in popularity during the pandemic is one of the more interesting musical trends to have taken place in recent years. It speaks to a few things: chiefly our collective unease and angst, as well as our nostalgia for the not-too-distant past. The genre’s resurgence has seen icons of that genre like Avril Lavigne return to this sound, while newcomers like Olivia Rodrigo have scored chart-topping hits in this vein. Brighton’s As It Is are the latest group to benefit from this trend, and their fourth album – and first as a trio – is the sound of a band ready to enter the big leagues.
The tone of I Went To Hell and Back (stylized in all-caps) is set immediately with the album’s first line: “Close my eyes and cross my fingers I don’t wake up”. I Went To Hell and Back is an unrelentingly bleak album that attempts to capture the anxiety, depression, and general malaise of an entire generation. In reality, its attempts to do this are only intermittently successful. The band have an unfortunate habit of substituting authentic displays of vulnerability with worn-out cliches – “My head is like a cage” is sung on “I’m Sick and Tired”, earlier on “ILY, How Are You?” the trio expresses their sadness through the tired metaphor of rain.
The messaging here, meanwhile, is often unnecessarily convoluted – even directly contradictory. Take the aforementioned “I don’t want to wake up” line. It’s a startling declaration to start an album with, yet the line that immediately follows it up is “‘Cause I don’t really wanna die, but really don’t give a f*ck.” In moments like these, it can seem as though the band is intent on blunting the power of their own songwriting.
Oftentimes, I Went To Hell and Back’s sound – that is heavy distortion and power chords aplenty – is more effective at conveying the album’s message, than its lyrics are. However, the album’s best moments occur when the band digs deep and finds words that capture sorrow and longing like lightning in a bottle. Just based on its title alone “I Miss 2003” sounds as though it’s going to be insufferable – awkwardly tacking on nostalgic references a la Anne-Marie’s “2002.” Instead, it’s a surprisingly thoughtful meditation on what we lose when we lose our youth. It recognizes poignant truths, like how the realities of adult life mean most of our friendships will likely never be as strong as they were at school-age, but how by the time we realize that it’s too late to cherish what we have (“My friends were the best, wish I knew it when I had them”). Meanwhile, it utilizes small nostalgic details in an almost Taylor Swift-like fashion to foster a sense of intimacy (“Four in the morning, singing New Found Glory at the top of our lungs”).
Elsewhere, I Went To Hell and Back never achieves the transcendence it found on “I Miss 2003”, but it still has its moments; “I Lie To Me” does a good job of mocking the overly simple solutions offered by wellness culture, while on “I Want To See God”, the band channel their obvious Linkin Park influence best. “In Three”, meanwhile, doesn’t quite stick the landing, but at the very least, its atmospheric sound-scape offers an interesting departure from the rest of the album. For the most part, though, To Hell and Back is simply a serviceable, rather than great album. However, its best moments suggest a band with unbounded potential.