Many bands go through turbulent times, and California metalcore bruisers Of Mice & Men have had their fair share. Their last album ‘Cold World’ received mixed reviews, and vocalist Austin Carlile departed the band for the second time in 2016, citing both ongoing health problems and shortly after musical differences. But, they’re back on the scene again with bassist and clean vocalist Aaron Pauley taking the reigns as frontman, ready to burst your eardrums with the aptly titled new album, ‘Defy’.
The eponymous opening track is rebellious, groovy, and quite a change in sound from their previous material. Pauley takes to his new role with great aplomb, his trademark cleans blending seamlessly with some caustic screams. It’s his first time assuming the role of the frontman since he stepped down from Jamie’s Elsewhere back in 2012, and he slides into the position comfortably.
Thudding drums and chunky riffs are the order of the day on ‘Instincts’, with an impressive lengthy solo from guitarist Phil Manansala sandwiched between some brilliantly blistering verses and a killer hook.
This is a record packed tightly with polished, mosh-worthy anthems, and Of Mice & Men are steering their new vehicle with confidence and capability. Exuberant banger, ‘How Will You Live’, is all gang chants and frenetic fretwork just begging for a circle pit, whilst lead single ‘Unbreakable’ with its monstrous chorus is a classic crowd pleaser.
That being said, there are a few misfires. The Pink Floyd cover of ‘Money’ is a bit out of place – a cheesy karaoke take that seems shoehorned in – whilst the forgettable ‘Sunflower’ seems to be clamouring for a huge crescendo that never materialises.
Possibly the album’s biggest stand out is surprisingly its closing track, ‘If We Were Ghosts’, a moving, haunting tribute to the late Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, who the band toured with back in 2014. “I have to wait ’til I get to the other side / because I never got to say goodbye,” croons Pauley, and it’s sincere and emotive whilst managing not to be mawkish. The delicate, chiming percussion and soaring, smooth melody ensure that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill rock ballad, and the album ends on a glorious high.
As the album’s title suggests, Of Mice & Men are defying expectations with this release, and it’s likely to cement them as one of metalcore’s front runners. A few disappointing filler tracks leave the album feeling longer than it needed to be, but, despite this, there’s a lot of solid material on offer here from a band who steadfastly refuse to be counted out, and rightly so.