If time does in fact heal all wounds, then California’s Of Mice & Men have certainly been putting theirs to good use. The departure of Austin Carlile from the band has been well documented, you’ve read a hundred news articles on it – but that doesn’t change the fact that it left a gaping hole in one of the biggest metalcore bands to reach prominence in the last 8 years.
Passing the proverbial vocal ball to bassist Aaron Pauley instead of bringing in another vocalist to continue their previous blend of scorching heavy vocal and ice cool chorus melody may have raised question marks at first, but Defy puts a majority of your doubts to bed with bullseye precision. Is this the best OM&M have ever sounded? No, but it’s a significant step forward and lays out a blueprint that can see the band continue on from here for the foreseeable future.
The opening one-two punch of the title track and ‘Instincts’ comes with a fair helping of maturity and grandeur, there’s a heap of modern rock groove in the mix, as well as a straight up metal solo making it’s way into the latter – something we’ve seen very little of in the quartets previous work.
Defy‘s greatest characteristic though is that it truly feels like OM&M have gone all in here, as opposed to its predecessor Cold World which often felt as if the band felt obliged to give a physically suffering Austin Carlile a role on the record despite his deteriorating health.
‘Back To Me’, ‘Unbreakeable’ and ‘Forever YDG’n’ all follow the same pattern; a verse that huffs and puffs an amalgamation of rock & metal before exploding into grazing chorus cleans from Pauley, it’s the most genuine and heavy (believe it or not) that the band have sounded since 2014’s Restoring Force. The contributions of Pauley to this record cannot be underestimated – that ball we were talking about him being given? He, without doubt, runs with it here and puts in a career-high performance.
For all the positives that you can find in this new chapter of OM&M’s book, it’s worth noting that the absence of Carlile does peek its head through the sand from time to time. It’s understandable – the former frontman had a vocal line that could cut through a sheet of steel, and Defy never quite hits the atmospheric darkness found on The Flood or the bands self titled debut, despite the growls of Pauley and the truckload of breakdowns chucked in for good measure.
It’s worth pointing out that this venture is far from a watered down version of the band though, in fact, this effort can be considered far heavier than its predecessor. While there are moments on the record where it feels like breakdowns have been used simply as place-holders so you don’t think the band have sold out – the tone of Defy is unquestionably scathing for a majority of its play-time.
This is seemingly Of Mice & Men 4.0, and the franchise has far from last its way – on the contrary, this version of the band strikes as their first major step back towards world domination. The past 18-24 months haven’t been the kindest to the quartet – but Defy very much puts that to the back of their minds and focuses on the future. Welcome to the new Of Mice & Men, you can expect them to be around for a good while yet.