When Of Mice and Men released Restoring Force all the way back in 2014, I played it on a loop. Since then, I’ve mostly stopped keeping up with what they’ve been up to (bar the big one, Austin Carlile’s departure from the band back in 2016). Since then, the band became a four piece, with Aaron Pauley taking charge of the vocals. Let’s peek at what their latest studio album, ‘Defy’ has to offer us.
The album opens up, promisingly enough with the album’s title track— ‘Defy’. The guitars on this track are immediately a ton of fun to listen to. An interesting blend between classic rock and heavy metal. When I first listened to the song, the message of it felt a little reminiscent of ‘Public Service Announcement’ (keep that word in mind, reminiscent). The song explores an idea of not being held down, and continuing to move forward, despite adversities. However, one thing of note on this album is that as much as there’s positive things to say about these songs, there’s also a little criticism. Near the end of the song, the constant repetition of ‘defy’ started to feel repetitive and made me wonder if the song really needed its four-minute run time.
You start to get a sense of what this album will be like very early on, as the next song, ‘Instincts’ proves. The drums take the lead here—before the heavy bass kicks in. The quick shift between drums and then back to bass truly portrays the talent of the rest of the band, but it leaves you feeling a little befuddled, as it feels very abrupt and doesn’t necessarily fit with the rest of the song. The song, is, ironically enough, all about survival. About not thinking about things too deeply, and well, trusting your instincts. The more prominent drums on this track feel like a breath of fresh air—they keep pace with the aggression of the rest of the song without feeling out of place. The positives start to wear a little thin near the end of the song, as one of the things you’ll notice is the repetitiveness of the guitar—a loop of what sounds like the same three chords and it really just stilts the song instead of helping it flourish.
When it came to lyricism on this album, nothing on the two opening tracks gave me much food for thought, that is, until we got to ‘Back To Me’. Back To Me is a beautiful exploration of feeling as though they’ve gotten left behind, either through someone’s fault or through their own shortcomings. ‘We get left behind/In the fallout’ is a particular line that stood out to me. The decision to have this song be minus the screaming really works well to the songs advantage, as it helps to explore the pleading and self-reflective tone that the song takes.
Something else of note on this album, again when it comes to the lyricism is that I never felt as though they were ever fully exploring the themes. Each song feels a little surface deep, as though perhaps the band wanted to delve deeper but then stopped themselves. In terms of instrumentals, they try to spice things up on ‘Sunflower’ with the addition of a ticking clock in the background—and though it makes sense with the overall message of the song, it honestly feels a little distracting.
Out of the songs on the album, ‘Vertigo’ is definitely one that I connected with. The guitar is a lot cleaner and softer on this track, definitely veering closer to rock than metal. When you listen to this record, there’s one aspect that truly stands out. For me personally, the songs that strayed into alt rock were the songs that truly stood out as being gems, and the two mashing genres never really feel as though they fit together—they feel as though they’re at war. ‘Vertigo’ however, is a strong track, all about trying to keep yourself upright, even through challenging times. It asks the important question: exactly how do you stay afloat, when it feels as though everything around you lacks purpose or meaning?
For me, one of the strangest decisions was to include a metal-core cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’. Though I haven’t heard the original song, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with the cover—OM&M make it sound distinctly their own, it does make you wonder the necessity of it.
I had incredibly high hopes for this album, and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t feel as though those grand expectations were met. There was certainly nothing wrong with this album, but there was certainly nothing great about it either. Songs like ‘On The Inside’ and ‘Warzone’ didn’t really feel as though they brought anything new to a scene that has had some truly spectacular releases recently. I think Aaron Pauley sums up the problem with the album himself, as he’s quoted as saying that: “We just wanted to be Of Mice and Men.” And therein lies the problem. OM&M is not the same band that they were when they started back in 2009, and sometimes rebranding is the welcome change that is necessary.
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