When music is as its best, it is capable of holding a mirror up to the human condition in a way few other art forms can ever match.
In the hands of the observant, the erudite, the compassionate and the philosophical, music allows us to better understand who we are and feel powerfully less alone.
With their third album ‘The Great Depression’, As it Is are comprehensively proving themselves to be such artists. Stepping out of their comfort zone with aplomb while asking, and answering, complex questions in a way precious few bands ever do.
“This record started off life as an exploration of the question ‘Do we as a society have a fetish for mental illness?’” offers frontman Patty Walters; “Do we romanticise or glorify a sickness? It was important for me to do some soul-searching around that question. Are we part of a scene that actually does more damage than good in terms of the way we talk about these issues?”
Indeed, across ‘‘The Great Depression’’s dozen tracks, As It Is – completed by guitarist and singer Benjamin Langford-Biss, drummer Patrick Foley and bassist Ali Testo – take the listener on a journey which delves into every aspect of arguably the most prevalent social ill of our time. From public perception, to internal war, the quartet unflinchingly confront the most difficult questions around depression, the value of life over death, and whether the rhetoric around ‘reaching out to talk’ is ostensibly hollow, if no one is prepared to hear those words.
“I definitely want people to hear this record and think hard about these issues generally and also how they specifically impact their lives,” nods Walters. “Take social media as a popular example. We’re sold things algorithmically that make us unhappy – it’s constant scrolling, it’s not about contact. We as a society are creating platforms that create misery. But we all use those services so it’s us who need to take accountability and work together to fix this. We wanted to really open the conversation up and not just offer a bunch of empty slogans.”
To that end, the band hung the narrative of the record around a central figure, known as ‘The Poet’, as a prism through which to interrogate the topics at hand. Life though, began to quickly imitate art.
“To be truly honest, the record took a different turn when [late Linkin Park frontman] Chester Bennington took his own life,” explains Walters.
“What happened with Chester really shaped the direction of the story,” adds Langford-Biss. “In the week after that we wrote the song ‘The End’, a track about how we’re always being encouraged to speak out about what ails us, but especially in the case of Chester who was so open in both his lyrics and away from music, often people aren’t really listening.”
“There are moments on this album where The Poet is really weighing up whether death might be more of a relief than to keep on living,” continues the singer. “On ‘The Reaper’ our protagonist has spent such a big part of his life romanticising death that Death actually appears before him. Death becomes an acquaintance who he talks to the same way he talks to his wife and those two figures end like the devil and angel on his shoulders. One wants him to see the good in life, the other wants to take the pain away and offer him a release.”
In the end, The Poet’s ultimate fate remains open-ended and ambiguous, with questions of morality, social responsibility and duty thrown back onto the audience.
“There are no easy answers here,” notes Walters.
There most certainly are not, but As It Is have delivered a body of work which pulls no punches as far as the depth of its narrative fabric goes.
“It is the first time we’ve written an album rather than a bunch of songs,” asserts Walters. “And we’ve really pushed ourselves to do so, we’ve opened up to each other while producing this album – and we had to – in a way we never have before.”
But if the four piece have delved into brave new territory conceptually on ‘The Great Depression’ then the sonic leap forward that runs in tandem with it signals this record as not just a landmark release for the band, but for the scene as a whole.
“I grew up listening to Hundred Reasons, Biffy Clyro, Funeral For A Friend, Glassjaw, Underoath and that entire scene,” recalls Walters with an unfakeable, unshakeable enthusiasm. “For me, that was the music that defined a big part of my life.”
Perhaps it should be no surprise then that As It Is have channeled the snarling spirit of post-hardcore in a manner that will comprehensively shatter the narrow expectations of those who may have previously sought to pigeonhole them.
“We could so easily have made a record that was really safe, ticking the usual boxes,” grins Langford-Biss. “That might have been what people expected us to do. But that was never going to be what happened. Our attitude was ‘Do the opposite of what everyone else is doing’”.
It was in that against-the-grain spirit that the quartet holed up in Dripping Springs, Texas with legendary producer MACHINE (Lamb Of God, Every Time I Die, Armor For Sleep) to cut themselves off from the outside world and plunge as deeply as possible into a project as possible.
“It was corrugated metal and outdoor showers,” laughs the Walters. “We lived and breathed the record while we were there and sometimes that’s an uncomfortable process, but it’s through that discomfort that you get the best work from yourself.”
“Machine’s influence was really valuable too,” adds Langford-Biss. “The work he’d done with bands like Armor For Sleep was huge for us but he’s also a massive Hip-Hop guy so we were able to use a whole host of techniques that we never had before. He’s an American who understands what’s great about the British rock that we’ve tried to channel on this album.”
Indeed, ‘The Great Depression’ is comfortably As It Is’ most layered, technically accomplished and certainly most aggressive record to date. From ‘The Reaper’’s Biffy inspired staccato jabs, to the filthy riffing of ‘The Fire, The Dark’ (co-written with the aforementioned Hundred Reasons’ very own six-stringer Larry Hibbit) to lead single ‘The Wounded World’’s almost Prodigy-esque two bar drum loop, it’s clear that As It Is are not meekly dipping their toes into new territory, they’re mastering an entire new landscape at the first time of asking.
All of which adds up to a record that establishes the band as one of the most daring creative forces in their scene. One which reinvents while retaining what was already great, one which is full of vaulting ambition that feels both powerfully universal and profoundly personal, and one which demonstrates with absolute clarity a band brave enough to go their own way and succeed.
“The reason we do this is because it’s exciting,” finishes Walters with a grin. “There’s a safety which all of us reject when we listen to this music and we are firmly embracing that.”
After all, no one ever made it to the very top by checking boxes and following the rules. And the top looks to be exactly where As It Is are headed.