Review by Jeff Maki
In December 2016, a shockwave went through the rock and metal world when Of Mice & Men founding member and vocalist Austin Carlile announced he was leaving the band due to a long-term health condition. After four albums of building an ever-growing fanbase, tours and festival appearances, and a major breakthrough album in 2014’s “Restoring Force,” would the band go on? Losing a vocalist and face of a band often spells doom. But Of Mice & Men quickly surprised everyone by not only announcing they were going to continue, but they were continuing as a four-piece with bassist Aaron Pauley also taking on vocal duties. 2018’s “Defy” would be his studio debut.
Here’s what Pauley had to say about Carlile’s departure, careful not to mention him by name:
“For the past five years that this lineup has been together, people have expected us to fail. We took that and let it be a motivating fire for the overall vision. Change won’t define us. We’re going to define ourselves. We didn’t want to become a new band; we just wanted to be Of Mice & Men.”
Of Mice & Men appropriately titled its fifth album “Defy.” And even if it’s not a completely original or groundbreaking venture, Pauley proves more than capable as a lead vocalist. There are several potential singles here (a few already released), and the album is an enjoyable listen from start to finish.
In what has become common in the current musical climate, most fans of the band and regular SiriusXM Octane listeners already have heard more than a third of the album prior to its release. After Carlile left, in what seemed like a statement, spring 2017 saw the singles “Unbreakable” and “Back to Me” immediately released to rock radio, while “Defy” came later. A music video for “Warzone” came out a couple months ago, and most recently, the band’s cover of Pink Floyd’s “Money” debuted.
These songs are great representations of the album as a whole. The music is hard rock/metalcore that’s too heavy for standard rock radio but tailor-made for Octane. To give you a better idea, here’s what drummer Valentino “Tino” Arteaga said about writing these songs, speaking of playing Rock on the Range and the band’s other festival appearances:
“We had just been in front of tens of thousands playing our music night after night. That inspired us to write more with a live sound that could move the audience.”
The “we just wanted to be Of Mice & Men” comment from Pauley also is accurate, as “Defy” could just as easilyhave been released in 2009 or 2018. It’s dynamic—as dynamic as metalcore can be, comparable to an album like All That Remains’ “For We Are Many.” Like I said, Of Mice & Men hasn’t lose much, if anything, with Pauley taking over vocals. He’s not the screamer Carlile was, but melodic vocals, metalcore-style screaming and singing are spread evenly over the 12 songs here. I’d compare Pauley’s clean vocals to either Bullet for My Valentine’s Matt Tuck or Breaking Benjamin’s Benjamin Burnley.
In addition to the singles already released, I’d throw in “Instincts” (for being most memorable), “Sunflower” (for being the most different sounding, harder song), “Warzone” (for being the fastest and heaviest) and album closer “If We Were Ghosts” (a heavier, acoustic and moving tribute to Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington) as standouts here.
All in all, if you were a fan of Of Mice & Men, there’s no reason your fandom shouldn’t continue. I’d rank “Defy” slightly behind “Restoring Force” as the band’s best overall output.
January 19, 2018, Rise Records