Still a ‘Force’ to reckon with

Metalcore group Of Mice & Men's new album shows major transition

The new Of Mice & Men album out this month, “Restoring Force,” marks a significant change in the band’s style. Where their previous sound was raw and solid, the band has become more sophisticated and intensely emotional, a shift which works to their advantage.

Despite this strong emotional register, however, many of the album’s strongest elements are tainted by the fact that they can be heard on nearly every other record in the scene. These techniques have already been used and perfected by other wildly popular bands of the same genre, including A Day to Remember and Bring Me the Horizon.

Certain tracks on “Restoring Force” hold hints of the sound that gave Of Mice & Men their rise to fame. “Another You” showcases similarities to the band’s morose trademarks, and the pummeling “Break Free” serves as a throwback to the powerful screaming abilities of the group’s (admittedly gorgeous) frontman Austin Carlile. As an “unclean” vocalist, he is largely responsible for creating the passion that characterizes most metalcore bands, and even though his all-out screaming is sadly absent in some places on “Restoring Force,” the album retains its emotional glory.

The band’s new “clean” vocalist, Aaron Pauley, has a welcome presence on the latest album. The closing track, “Space Enough to Grow,” soothes whatever anger the rest of the track listing throws out, considering the all-pervading heaviness of the album’s first 10 songs.

“Identity Disorder” excites my love for the technical side of music. The layering of clean and unclean vocals, paired with delicate melodies, is a rebirth of originality on an album otherwise lacking any inkling of it.

In contrast to the album’s conclusion, Carlile’s harrowing performance in the opening seconds creates a deliciously dark and mysterious mood. Auto-tuned vocal passages are strategically used throughout both the album opener, ”Public Service Announcement,” and “Glass Hearts.” The style is certainly not unwelcome. The electronic influences deepen the sound rather than cheapen it.

Subtle electronic overtones mark the first appearance of fraud in the album’s musicality, however. The use of computer-altered elements is extremely evocative of early material from the less technically-proficient group Crown the Empire, even though “Restoring Force” thankfully uses the technique more frugally, a testament’s to the band’s true talent.

Renowned metal band Slipknot seems to most heavily influence the group’s new sound, as seen in the punishing guitar of “Bones Exposed” and the breathy, sluggish “You Make Me Sick.” While it’s a noble source of inspiration, Of Mice & Men fails to successfully emulate their latest appeal.

The alterations made to Carlile’s vocal style presents the most prominent change in the group’s sound. Instead of his traditional, throat-scarring screaming, he has turned to a rough yell that is the sole trademark of Bring Me the Horizon’s Oliver Sykes. The style is still wonderfully driven by pure emotion, especially in songs like “Feels Like Forever” and “Break Free,” but is too distractingly familiar to be taken seriously on first listen.

Although certain elements are strikingly time-worn and trite, this album shows a tendency toward progressive styles and mixtures that Of Mice & Men haven’t explored in their career until now. Fortunately, the purity and heaviness of their sound has survived the transition and holds significant promise for the band’s future.

Published February 12, 2014 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau

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