Review: Defy by Of Mice and Men
I’ve recently begun writing album reviews for afterLIVE (check out my thoughts on Tonight Alive’s Underworld and Fall Out Boy’s MANIA) but with one review slot a week and many, MANY albums released, I decided that I’d bring album reviews to The Bumbling Blogger, too! Hold on to your hats, things are about to get heavy.
The first half of Of Mice and Men’s fifth album is exciting and fresh. Defy, Back To Me and Unbreakable prove that the band aren’t shying away from heavier music just because of the departure of unclean vocalist Austin Carlile. Aaron Pauley steps into the role of sole frontman without hesitation. His voice isn’t as strong as their missing member’s, but Pauley has the edge as he can easily slip between clean and unclean vocals, often in the same line. It only takes a couple of songs for Of Mice and Men to prove doubters wrong: they were right not to call it a day, despite the odds being against them.
Instincts shows a marked departure from the band’s normal style, guitars moving the band towards a classic rock sound. As Pauley yells, “Press on, and trust in your instincts”, it tells the story of a band who weren’t sure whether to continue. This narrative is further explored in Sunflower, as Pauley repeatedly asks “Can you break away from it all?”. It’s surprising that the band decided to wait until all eyes were on them to finally release music that made them stand out, but the first few songs on Defy make Of Mice and Men sound like a brand new band.
Closing track If We Were Ghosts is a highlight because it’s vastly different to the other 11 tracks. Judging by the musical style and Pauley’s mournful tone as he sings, “I have to wait ’til I get to the other side/’Cause I never, never got to say goodbye”, the song was presumably written as a tribute to Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington, a close friend to Of Mice and Men. It’s tender, emotionally evocative and pretty heartbreaking: one of those songs that gets every person in the audience holding their glowing phone in the air.
Sadly, the rest of the album sounds as though it’s been written using A Child’s Guide to Metalcore.
Compared to the range of styles explored at the start of Defy, the second half is disappointing. These songs are unlikely to make an impact at all. They sound too similar to tracks that the band have already released, but the older material is stronger because of how well Carlile and Pauley’s voices complement each other.
Vertigo follows lead single Unbreakable, but fails to impress. By the end of the song, you’ve already forgotten what it sounds like. This also happens by the end of Money. The song should be a passionate diatribe directed at the rich and famous, but instead sounds like a band going through the motions – a poorly executed attempt to make a political statement.
How Will You Live has an interesting bridge, but a paint-by-numbers breakdown. The same can be said for Warzone and Forever YDG’n: I felt as though I’d heard them a million times before. Warzone is intended to further demonstrate Pauley’s ability to perform unclean vocals, but his guttural roar isn’t as strong as Carlile’s and verges on indecipherable at points.
Other than the aforementioned closing track, the only song on the second half worth listening to is On The Inside (which sits between How Will You Live and Warzone). It’s a breath of fresh air. Compared to the blandness of the songs surrounding it, On The Inside is impossible to ignore. The perfect balance of unclean and clean vocals, it blurs the lines of genres, jumping from an I The Mighty-esque verse into a kickass chorus and a raging breakdown.
If you aren’t yet familiar with Of Mice and Men, Defy is a great starting point. The biggest problem with the album is that it struggles to compete with their earlier releases (particularly 2014’s Restoring Force). However, the first few songs overshadow their back catalogue, proving the band are capable of taking huge steps forward… If they can resist looking over their shoulders.
If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of Defy, please consider using my Amazon Affiliate link so I can earn a few pennies!