Of Mice & Men – Defy
Despite everything seemingly being stacked against them from the outset, Of Mice & Men somehow (ahem..) defied the odds against them to become one of the most credible and exciting bands on the modern metalcore circuit. Yet their story has also been one of modern metal most tragic tales, with the band’s iconic, founding vocalist Austin Carlile (ex-Attack! Attack!) being forced to leave the band due to his ongoing struggles with Marfan syndrome, which affects the body’s connective tissue—although Carlile has since stated that creative differences played a role in his departure as well. Defy marks the band’s first album fronted by increasingly prominent bassist/clean-vocalist Aaron Pauley and, though it’s clearly intended as a declaration of their independence, it’s hard to argue in light of its release that Carlile wasn’t the driving force behind the band’s previous success.
Since Pauley joined the band fro 2014’s Restoring Force, Of Mice & Men’s sound has seemingly taken an increasing turn turn towards a more commercial, mainstream sound. Not that they ever strayed too far from such an approach to begin with, but Restoring Force‘s dialed back aggression and focus on Pauley’s big, clean hooks indicated a clear ambition toward radio rock airplay, and though 2016’s Cold World might be seen as a mildly experimental departure from the template, Defy sees the band return with their most commercially mugging effort yet. Mainstream success nor its ambition shouldn’t be begrudged automatically, but in the case of this record it’s hard not to feel rather cynical about the whole thing.
What should have been an album of personal triumph feels like it has been written by committee, with the lyrics penned by some kind of clichéd motivational metalcore twitter bot. Track titles like “Defy” and “Unbreakable” make pretty clear the type of triumphant narrative the band are trying to sell here, but the whole thing comes off as insincere and seems a bit in ill taste given Carlile’s circumstances. There’s very little variation among any of the tracks and none of Pauley’s hooks are ever catching enough to make any of them stand out. The album’s lone oddity comes in the form of a baffling cover of Pink Floyd‘s “Money”, which I guess is aimed at capturing the same audience that flocked to Fall Out Boy‘s cover of Michael Jackson‘s “Beat It”, with the result being about as tepid and and providing an early contender for this year’s “who asked for this?” award.
This album is too bland to be considered truly offensive. Nevertheless, Defy is completely devoid of the distinctive personality inherent of Of Mice & Men’s previous efforts. Pauley’s harsh vocals are serviceable but nothing more, and the uninspired songwriting on this record has seemingly rendered them the one thing they never were: simply another interchangeable modern metalcore band with no individual identity.
It also occurs to me that this video is essentially a shot-for-shot retread of
Attack! Attack!’s infamous “Stick Stickly” video.
Defy is out on January 19 via Rise Records.
Cane Hill – Too Far Gone
It would appear the nu metal revival has entered its final stages. Too Far Gone—the second full-length effort from Louisiana hopefuls Cane Hill—draws from a distinct set of mid-to-late-period influences with nary a trace of more inventive first wave acts like Korn, Deftones or even Limp Bizkit to be found. Instead, the record, for the most part comes across more like a mash-up between Coal Chamber and (as its cover might suggest) Papa Roach, with dashes of early-Slipknot littered throughout. That might not sound like the most appealing combination, but it comes at a time when there’s a gap in the market waiting to be filled by that sort of thing, and the slick modern tonalities Cane Hill bring to the table as well render Too Far Gone a far more successful endeavor than it really has any right to be.
That being said, the album is at its best the further it strays from its source material. The deathcore-esque breakdown toward the end of “Erased” joins hard-hitting opener “Too Far Gone” as an early highlight, while the volatile Slipknot-aping “Scumbag Fix” proves the best of its back end. Elsewhere the band try their hand at more melodic fare, to mixed result. “Why?” is a surprisingly accomplished, electronic-tinged number that is noticeably more reserved than its surroundings and genuinely impresses via Elijah Witt’s uncharacteristically versatile falsetto croon, while “Lord of Flies” comes off like a Union Underground b-side and “Singing in the Swamp” brings to mind a bouncier Staind. Despite these notable surprises, the rest of the songs are rather less interesting. “It Follows” is proper nu metal dross, and the album’s final offerings are nothing if not forgettable. Thankfully, there isn’t a repeat of “Cream Pie” this time round though. So that’s nice.
Too Far Gone is a distinctly cleaner and less obnoxious effort than Cane Hill’s previous outing(s). Yet, while the band hit a lot of interesting angles on this record it lacks the edge and excitement of their debut, even if it has perhaps more to offer overall. However, while the band are still on their way to properly establishing their sound and what they’re offering up surely won’t be to everone’s tastes, the fact remains that Cane Hill are doing this sort of thing better and with more genuine passion than anyone else out there at the moment. For better or worse…
Too Far Gone is also out on January 19 via Rise Records.
Netherlands – Hope Porn
Early last year, we told you about the fuzzy brand of pop-sludge that Netherlands trade in; think Torche but way more punk and filthier to boot. That shoutout was late, as Audubon was released in 2016 and we simply slept on it. But we won’t make that same mistake twice. Netherlands are now set to release an EP titled Hope Porn (perhaps a wink at “disaster porn”, a name given to movies which focus on panoramic shots involving the destruction of cities, heavily influenced by 9/11) and we’re here to tell all about it. What do we have to say about it? Well, it goes fucking hard, to start with; Netherlands show no sign of slowing down, possibly even turning their guitars even fuzzier on this release, if that’s even possible. They’re also adding some much needed variety to their sound.
The third track, “Negative Likes”, is a good example of that. It takes the basic Netherlands formula, namely loud guitars and spaced out vocals, and adds a pleasing “start stop” staccato structure to it. This trick adds a certain amount of “math” to the cauldron, mostly serving to shake up the listener who might be complacent in their understanding of where Hope Porn was going. Add the usual infectious groove to the mix, like on “The Moon Boy Swing”, a doom metal like depth and swagger on “Deathless” and you have yourself quite a dirty, sneaky, groovy little EP. If you like fuzz and you like it smart and energetic, we urge you to once again place Netherlands on your map.
Hope Porn releases on the 9th of February via the band’s own Records and Tapes Records.