REVIEW: OF MICE AND MEN – “Defy”
Of Mice and Men have endured a year that would be taxing on any artist. The departure of any member from a band is a very difficult thing to manage, and filling that void is always going to pose a difficult task — especially when that person is your lead vocalist. Of Mice and Men took an unorthodox approach to this struggle, and rather than looking externally for the voice to carry their band forward, looked within their own ranks at none other than their bassist — Aaron Pauley — to ensure that the band could continue to perform live, and record a new album. That album, the aptly titled Defy, not only signals a reemergence for the band, but also shows that the future now is much brighter for them than it was twelve months ago.
Title track Defy opens the album on a bouncy start. It’s a fast paced track with an upbeat, groove laden riff that sets a positive tone for what is to come. This fast paced formula is always something that Of Mice and Men has done well, and it’s where the band excels in a live format, with this track having all the hallmarks of a live crowd pleaser. Other tracks like Instincts, Warzone, and Unbreakable all offer more of this same ‘in your face’ tenacity, and leave a lasting impression on the listener, but it’s in the delicacy of other tracks like Sunflower, How Will You Live, and Vertigo that the album really takes shape. All of these tracks take a very methodical, almost melancholic approach to their sound that actively engages the listener.
Pauley’s vocal depth is a shining beacon for the band and is well demonstrated in tracks Instincts and Warzone. These are only two minor examples of one of the greatest, most holistic vocal deliveries in recent memory that has enough ferocity to cover the aggressiveness required for this album, and the depth to provide justice to the emotive songs when required like Back to Me and If We Were Ghosts. It was always going to be hard to fill the void former vocalist Austin Carlile left behind, an artists which Pauley himself noted was ‘irreplaceable’; but rest assured that the vocal performance throughout Defy shows that the band is in extremely capable hands.
Hand in hand with the vocal performance, the lyricism on this album is of the highest quality. The delicate way with which the lyrics are constructed provides an almost abstract duality that makes most songs flirt between being a mixture of a love/farewell letter to Carlile, or a demonstrable show of perseverance through adversity, and the resulting emergence on the other side much stronger for it. The band has obviously been smart in taking this route as not only a reflective mechanism, but one which will surely resonate strongly with listeners.
Musically, it is difficult to place this album. While there is a profound impact made by the lyrics and vocal delivery, the work of the instruments is a lot trickier to judge. There is no doubt that the band has improved on their well-established sound, and songs like Unbreakable, On the Inside and Back to Me stand out as memorable and unique, but it seemed like a there were a few songs that fell a little bit short of the very high bar set by these tracks, and when digested as a whole, makes it difficult to provide an overall ranking for the album.
Valentino Arteaga on the drum kit has put in one of the most impressive performances that I can recall in any recent metalcore release; and throughout the album it is often off the back of his drums and Pauley’s bass lines that a majority of the songs derive most of their impact from. There were also a few sections where the guitar work of Phil Manansala and Alan Ashby stuck out as being unforgettable, particularly solos on tracks like Instinct and the non-distorted passage on Back to Me, but these were scarcer than they probably should have been.
While this isn’t an album that breaks massively new ground for the band, or shatters any of the many established norms of the genre, it is still worthy of your time and is a refreshing listen. It does enough to expose old fans to a new era of the band, and is still enticing enough to draw in a new crowd. Ultimately, if you are a fan of the band then you are probably going to love everything on here, and if you aren’t a fan then there is more than enough to whet your appetite and get you investigating into the band and their back catalog.
Defy sends a message. It sends the message that no matter what you throw at them, Of Mice and Men will continue to persevere in the face of any setbacks. As an album that stands firm in the bands discography, there was no better way to reassure the world that after such a taxing period in their career that they will fight on. Where many bands may have faltered following the departure of a band member, Of Mice and Men have bounced back stronger for having endured that hardship, and Defy is the perfect way to usher in a new era for the band, and the perfect demonstration of strength triumphing over adversity.