Sound — 8
Memphis May Fire is down to only one remaining founding member with Kellen McGregor, who plays guitar and occasional backing vocals. Their fourth full-length studio album, "Unconditional," has eleven tracks and clocks in at just a little under forty-five minutes. They have released 3 singles from the album - "No Ordinary Love" which released in early February, "Sleepless Nights" which released in late February, and "Beneath the Skin" which released in early March. The band has stated in interviews that this album has a more "orchestral," "theatrical" and "mature" vibe to it while also stating that the album will be a little bit like the soundtrack to an action film. I can't speak to any of those qualifiers, but there have definitely been some changes. First off, Kellen McGregor is credited with "programming" as well as lead guitar and backing vocals, and he is also credited as a producer on the album. There is definitely a little bit more in the way of synthesized instruments and programming on their tracks.
The album opens up with the track "No Ordinary Love," which is also the first single released from the album. This track is probably the most "radio friendly" track on the album and has a very positive bouncy vibe to it. The next track is "Beneath the Skin," which is the third single from the album. I was getting into the album at this point, because the band does a good job of playing metalcore that doesn't sound derivative of other metalcore. This is something that is hard to do in a genre that is basically made up of down-tuned riffs with a lot of muted open string chugging, dirty vocals in the verses, clean pretty vocals in the choruses. The song is basically about a girl who feels alienated and alone and how nobody really sees who she is because their generation is incapable of seeing the beauty beneath the skin. Pretty mature lyrics for metalcore. "Sleepless Nights" is the third track from the album, and the second single from the album. It is pretty brave putting all three singles at the beginning of the album - it is like they just picked the first 3 songs as singles because they felt confident enough that the album was good enough that they could pick any song as a single. "Sleepless Nights" is definitely one of the more aggressive tracks on the album and had me tapping my foot in sync with the guitar riffing. "The Answer" is definitely an interesting track, with a very unique vibe to it - especially in the intro. There is actually some extreme auto-tune used in the clean passages on this one which is kind of cool as an effect. "Possibilities" is a more introverted type of track on the album, but it still definitely brings the heaviness and riffing. "Speechless" is not even a heavy song - there is no screaming, there are no heavy guitars, bass, or drums. This is a straight up "pretty" song, but it is still pretty decent. "Speechless" is pretty much a straight love song. "The Rose" uses melody in an interesting way, especially the keyboard melody that is just barely discernible through most of the song, though more obvious in the quieter passages, it has me leaning into my speakers to hear it. The song is another where the lyrics really won me over, being about how they are the rose that grew from the crack in the concrete to achieve their success. "Not Enough" is one of the few tracks that kind of faded into the background when I was listening to the track, but it grew on me more on my second and third listens. "Need to Be" definitely has my favorite instrumental intro, though I don't necessarily like the auto-tuned clean vocals in the beginning. Unfortunately, I spent the whole song waiting for the heavy riffing to come in, and it never happened - clean vocals and music from start to finish. "Pharisees" opens heavy, as if it is trying to make up for the lack from "Need to Be," but it builds up into one of my favorite tracks, with even the clean vocals being almost screams and an awesome bassline. The album closes out with the track "Divinity," which is an exceptionally positive song with a message about even when you're at your lowest there is a divine purpose for everyone.
Lyrics — 8
Matty Mullins provides vocals on the album, as well as playing keyboards, and while he isn't technically a founding member of the band he has been on every single album they have released. I've got to give this guy props - he is one of the best "overall" metalcore vocalists I've heard when you take into account his screamed vocals and his cleaned vocals. His screamed vocals are definitely heavy, but you can still understand what he's saying and his cleans he makes more interesting with some processing and occasional auto-tune, sometimes even hard-tuned auto-tune as an effect. His performance on this album is pretty much exactly what it needed. The lyrics are a little more iffy, with them being generally more mature than on previous releases, but still some really clichéd stuff going on in there. As a sample of the lyrics, here are some from the single, "Beneath the Skin": "Another day she sets foot in this prison/ dreading what they'll say/ So much to give, but no one ever listens/ She dreams of running away/ Crippled by the way they make her feel/ she takes a look at her wrists & turns to the blade/ It's not a cry for attention if she just wants to feel anything other than the pain/ Everyone deserves to be loved, but they make her hate everything she was sure of/ Every day feels like her against the world/ Now she's afraid she'll never be enough/ No one knows all the weight that she holds when she feels alone/ The memories, they haunt her/ No one sees all the pain she brings everywhere she goes/ She feels they'll never want her/ She dreams of a day when she won't have to cry herself to sleep/ Staring at the scars on her wrists she knows this is not who she wants to be/ Another night all alone with her thoughts, dwelling on the questions that race through her head/ Scared to sleep, scared to wake up & face the day when she can't forget the things that they said." I can't get behind the lyrics 100%, but the overall message of the song I can get behind. The lyrical content is definitely more well thought out than some of the band's earlier releases.
Overall Impression — 7
This is one of the most standout metalcore albums I've personally heard lately, with the songwriting taken seriously and the performance on each track pretty much immaculate. You still get the clichéd open string riffs, the breakdowns, etc., but it somehow doesn't come off as monotonous. My favorite tracks are "Beneath the Skin," "Possibilities," "Pharisees," and "The Rose." I also enjoyed "Divinity" and the positive message, and I think the band is very brave to be open about their faith in their music. I also hope they don't turn into using all their songs to "witness" to their fans - I did enjoy "Divinity."