The hotly anticipated new record from Metalcore darlings Of Mice & Men is finally here, and the band has produced another delectable album of infectious flavours and delights. This is the first album without the adored former singer, Austin Carlile; and fans have wondered what this new era of the band would bring. Singer and bassist Aaron Pauley, rhythm guitarist Alan Ashby, and founding members drummer David Valentino Arteaga and lead guitarist Phil Manansala have truly fused as a four-piece and in Defy convey a smooth transition into what seems like it will be a more tuneful direction for the band (as opposed to the grind that is synonymous with the Carlile era).
It starts with ripples of crisp electric guitars that deliver a delectable motif in title track, ‘Defy.’ Pauley’s raspy screams lead into to a powerful and rousing chorus, exclaiming “I defy!” Forceful bass drums and bass guitar lay a thunderous foundation to this song that stands strongly in the face of naysayers. The song is beautifully composed and sleekly builds up the key change of the final chorus. This is a very classic Of Mice & Men construct and demonstrates the formidable song writing that lies at the heart of this band.
Fluttering drums spearhead second song ‘Instinct,’ solidified by Manansala’s rich lead guitar hook. Pauley once again produces potent clean and unclean vocals with great command in this fast-paced track. The chorus is melodious with a pop-basis and hammered in by hasty kick drums. The song also features an intuitive Manansala guitar solo that kicks things up several notches.
‘Back To Me’ is the band’s pretty pop number – predominantly clean vocals with hopeful and romantic melodies. It is very typical of modern, mainstream Metalcore songs, with the overlaying of vocal effects and a chugging breakdown. It’s a feel-good song with an insurmountable heart.
‘Sunflower’ eases the pace of the album with bass-driven verses and harmonious vocals contrasted with searing growls. It’s not a bad song but is overshadowed by the albums better tracks.
The band bring things back with single ‘Unbreakable.’ Again, in the pop vein, it’s heavier verses make way for another sanguine chorus. It’s a showcase of Pauley’s versatility and emotion; he has a remarkable prowess for delivering outstanding clean and unclean tones and this only ratifies his being one of the best Metalcore vocalists in the scene right now.
‘Vertigo’ is understated and is one of the songs you will still have stuck in your head (in a good way) long after the album is finished. Of Mice & Men have truly mastered the art of writing great earworms using refined lyrics and saccharine harmonies, coupled with the band’s driving instrumentation.
Taking on Pink Floyd is not an easy feat. But Of Mice & Men rise to challenge with ‘Money.’ Using the song’s classic rhythmic sound effects of loose change and cash registers, they round out the song’s plush bass line with highly-charged guitars. The band capably capture the original’s spunk and charm and manage to add their own flavour into the mix. They have condensed their version down to under 4 minutes in length but do cover all the key aspects of the song, including the electrified guitar solo (performed lusciously by Manansala).
‘How Will You Live’ has beautiful inflections of guitars in its chorus – a disparity from the brash riffs of the verses.
The sweetness of ‘On the Inside’ swells into a power-pop chorus – like ‘Sunflower’ this song is outdone by other songs, but it’s not a bad track in and of itself.
‘Warzone,’ another single off the album, has smacks of the grit that Carlisle had garnered upon the band, and uses domineering screams and coarse, racing verses juxtaposed with a melodious, rosy chorus. It is a strong track, and veers nicely off the pop direction that most of this album takes.
Along this same route ‘Forever YDG’n’ rips through. The song carries the signature ‘YDG’ theme from previous albums (the self-titled debut (2010) and 2011’s The Flood). It’s a nice inclusion and does hark back to their raw and brazen earlier material. Pauley smothers with his ripened screams and growls; and the band produce a razing breakdown towards the end; but ‘YDG’ evolves with a sleek, clean chorus, distinctive from the ethereal delivery of former clean vocalist Shayley Bourget.
The album closes with the simple ‘If We Were Ghosts;’ a gentle, softer song – gorgeous and languid.
Is it Of Mice & Men’s best record? No. Does that make it a bad record? No. The band has chosen to take a broader direction in their sound, transfusing their Metalcore elements with broader alternative forces. And they live up to this intention, with powerful, blissful songs that you will sing along to and want to listen to again, and again. The band is still as robust as ever; as fervent as a four-piece as they were in the past. Take this album for what it is, and don’t expect it to be what they were seven years ago. What has made Of Mice & Men such a loved band is their finesse, talent and ability to write and produce compelling music – and Defy delivers strongly on all of these.
OF MICE & MEN’S DEFY IS AVAILABLE HERE!