Sound — 7
It was fairly early into their career that Memphis May Fire knew they wanted to expand upon the general expectations of their metal backbone. After signing to Rise Records to release their sophomore album, 2011's "The Hollow," which pivoted from the southern metal flair of their 2009 debut album into a melodic metalcore style, MMF continued to elaborate upon the orchestral and synthesizer flavors dabbled with in their following albums, 2012's "Challenger" and 2014's "Unconditional," with the latter hitting #1 on the Billboard Alternative Albums chart. Pair these expanding arrangements and production value with frontman Matty Mullins' self-titled solo debut album that came out later in 2014, where he flexed his vocal capabilities in the realm of Top 40 pop, and it's easy to see that MMF's desires to grow their metalcore sound come from a pop music influence.
Now on their fifth album, "This Light I Hold," MMF continues that arc of intertwining their metal sound with pop sensibilities. Reaching more starkly into that realm of arena rock/metal with the abundant clean vocals in "Unashamed" and "Live It Well," the big and synthy "Letting Go," and the quaint rock ballad "That's Just Life," MMF also start moving away from the orchestral grandeur of the previous "Unconditional" (with string sections only appearing briefly in "Out Of It," "Sever The Ties" and "The Enemy") and use their non-metal section to play more upon negative space, with gentle breaks in "Carry On," "Better Things," and "Not Over Yet."
This also make for better dynamics on "This Light I Hold," and MMF still deliver on the heavier end of their sound to contrast those gentler moments. Kellen McGregor's lead riffs impress in "Out of It" and "Carry On," and Jake Garland's drumming teems with energy in "Better Things" and "Not Over Yet," and while the breakdowns are more quantity thank quality (like in the overloaded "Wanting More"), MMF's new trick is to set up the typical pre-breakdown build-up before dropping into a fleeting double-time section, heard in "The Antidote" and the eponymous song.
Lyrics — 7
After his strong, Christian-inspired lyrics in "Unconditional," Mullins eases back on the overt Christian themes in "This Light I Hold" but, as the album title implies, continues penning his lyrics with the intention of emanating positivity. This is most direct in the pick-me-up message of "Not Over Yet" and the appeal to compassion healing all people in "The Antidote," but Mullins also includes the struggles that come with reaching that positive state of mind. From showing his own anger towards those who've wronged him in "Sever the Ties" and "The Enemy," to confessing his own spells of self-indulgence (in "Wanting More") anxiety and self-doubt (in "Out of It," "That's Just Life" and "Letting Go"), Mullins keeps himself in check and knows his own flaws are a constant effort to triumph over, but alongside that, he sees his position as a musician as a responsibility to be as much of a beacon of positivity as he can be, seeing it as a responsibility bigger than himself in "Carry On" ("I'm not doing this for you / I'm not doing this for me / It's bigger than what you choose to see"), "Unashamed" ("I will illuminate with every word I say") and "Live It Well" ("And when I leave, I hope they say / That I chose to live my life for something bigger than me").
Overall Impression — 7
After their past two albums began to run the well of symphonically-tinged metalcore dry, MMF's next direction in "This Light I Hold" adopts a more modern style of pop influence to emphasize the band's melodic aspirations on top of its metalcore style. It's not absent of flaws, but ultimately, "This Light I Hold" does an alright job showing MMF continuing to scratch their pop itch while not losing a grip on their metal aggression.