For the past year or so, Of Mice & Men have had a pretty rocky ride. With the departure of founding member, vocalist, and ring leader Austin Carlile at the end of 2016, the band have steadily picked the pieces back up before pressing on, and with the release of the aptly titled record ‘Defy’ in January, their sights are certainly set on defying the odds.
Now, the newly reduced four-piece are back in the UK for a headline run once again (their first since Carlile‘s departure), only this time they’ve downgraded from Manchester’s 3,500 capacity O2 Apollo to the 1,500 capacity O2 Ritz – and the balcony has also been closed off, meaning quite a drop.
Tour openers Sylar  are making their Manchester debut tonight, having only been to the UK once prior for last year’s Slam Dunk Festival weekend. Despite still being fresh faces amongst a good portion of the crowd, their nu-metal revival is bolstered with much fervor, treading into a mix of both early era Linkin Park and very subtle hints of Emmure. Cuts like ‘Assume’ and ‘Soul Addiction’ host choruses as slick and sharp as razors, largely thanks to guitarist/vocalist Miguel Cardona, whilst ‘Golden Retreat’ really shows the chops on Jayden Panesso.
The crowd are certainly much more familiar with Florida’s Wage War , who in many ways sound much like the evening’s headlining act. Indeed, it doesn’t take long for pits to start expanding on the floor right from set opener ‘Alive’ and into following number ‘The River’ too. The breakdowns and chugs continue to come through thick and fast throughout, and a particular shout out needs to go to guitarist and vocalist Cody Quistad for his soaring vocal work, especially during the set’s only moment for a bit of a breather, ‘Gravity’.
With sweat beading from off of their heads, the crowd are completely amped up in time for Of Mice & Men  to take to the stage, and the band pounce right into ‘Defy’. Frontman Aaron Pauley‘s voice is on absolute top form, performing aerial acrobats of flipping between towering and insatiable cleans, animalistic screams, and at times even throws in some low gutturals for good measure.
Drummer Valentino Arteaga also makes his presence known, as he blasts through some of the set’s heavier choices like ‘You Make Me Sick’, ‘Warzone’, and the almost militia-like drumming that accompanies ‘Pain’. It’s a shame though that for the most part things just seem a little too stagnant, impassioned, and the the band come across as they’re going through the motions.
Guitarists Phil Manansala and Alan Ashby both seem a little bored and disinterested in delivering a show, and though the fans don’t stop jumping from start-to-finish, and a few circle pits get thrown into the whole thing, it’s hard to not notice that there’s a serious lack of fire here.
Things pick back up towards the set’s end when the band create a YDG trilogy medley (performing ‘YDG’, ‘Still YDG’n’, and ‘Forever YDG’n’ back-to-back), and an encore of ‘The Depths’ definitely provides one final gut punch before the curtains close.
In Of Mice & Men‘s defence, their recent change in ranks has been quite drastic; Carlile‘s presence both onstage and within the band’s mechanics is undeniable. They’ve stepped up to the change with gusto, but maybe there’s still some unconscious calibrating ongoing that’s yet to see the four-piece finally claw their way out of the darkness, into the light, and truly defy.
Written by Zach Redrup (@zachredrup)
Founder & Editor for DEAD PRESS! | Atheist and antitheist. | Judge of the quick & the dead since 1989.