Sound — 6
Like many other metalcore bands incepted during the American metalcore boom several years ago, Miss May I came out of the gate swinging with utmost ferocity in their borderline-deathcore debut album, "Apologies Are for the Weak," and though it didn't have remarkable success on the Billboard charts, the titular song of the album would land on the "Saw VI" soundtrack to help boost the young band's popularity. Without wasting time, the band would record and release their follow-up album, "Monument," a year later, which cut down on the death metal influences, but starkly doubled down on their metalcore influences of As I Lay Dying, Bullet For My Valentine, All That Remains, etc.
With their first two albums being produced by the prolific Joey Sturgis, Miss May I's recent attempts to change direction in sound (if ever so slightly) have been influenced by working with different producers. With the enigmatic Machine (who has produced albums for Lamb Of God, Every Time I Die, Chiodos, Suicide Silence and more), Miss May I's third album, "At Heart," upped the band's sonic substantiality, but while the textural aspects were better curated, the reach for more grandeur (e.g. the overuse of gang cheers) was heavy-handed. The band would be even more cocksure about growing their sound with their fourth album, "Rise of the Lion," where the self-proclamation of it being their "best album yet" was backed by the prospect of having worked with veteran metal producer Terry Date (who has most notably produced albums for Pantera, Soundgarden and Deftones). Ultimately, however, "Rise of the Lion" wasn't a revelatory album as the hype posed it to be, and with its toned-down metal energy being the general change of things, listeners felt the album left much to be desired.
Promptly going back to the studio to make their fifth album, "Deathless," it's evident that Miss May I want to rein in their sound back to the heavy home range where it used to roam before, and considering that the band have gone back to Sturgis for the production duty, it's nearly uncanny. This re-appeal to heaviness more or less harks back to the band's days of "Apologies Are for the Weak" - along with the bountiful return of breakdowns which were nearly phased out in "Rise of the Lion" (with the slogging death chugs in "Arise" and the title song being the heaviest of the bunch), "Psychotic Romantic" sets itself as a nostalgic offering of intensity, not only fully abstaining from clean vocals, but also throwing in a blastbeat/tremolo section in the middle.
However, this return to heaviness is ultimately a return to beaten-path territory, both for Miss May I and for metalcore at large. Along with the slew of thrashy double-time rhythms and melodeath-style guitar riffs that derive from the band's metalcore inspirations from a decade ago (see "Trust My Heart (Never Hope to Die)" and "Born From Nothing"), cases of compositional déjà vu occur in "Deathless," like "Empty Promises" sounding like a lost song from All That Remains' "The Fall of Ideals," and the stampeding lead riff in the opening "I.H.E." having the exact same feel as the other opening songs on the last couple of Miss May I albums.
Even in spite of this, "Deathless" does show some improvement from Miss May I. The 2/3 quasi-breakdown in "Bastards Left Behind" is a nifty change of pace, which then hands the baton to one of lead guitarist BJ Stead's best guitar solos ever (an even better guitar solo is performed in "I.H.E." as well). The guitars also do what they can to create some dark ambience to counterweight the reinvested aggression in the album, like in the morose and spatial intros of "The Artificial" and "I.H.E.," or the gothic flavor in "Deathless," and though these extra songwriting elements aren't sufficient enough to stand at the same level as the brash metal energy, it at least keeps the sound of "Deathless" from being absolute regression.
Lyrics — 6
After the fan-inspired subject matter that fueled the lyrics in "Rise of the Lion," which was also an effort for frontman Levi Benton to decompress after the immensely personal bouts of lyrics he wrote for "At Heart," Benton has come back to writing about his own struggles in "Deathless." As he first revealed his issues of abandonment with his parents in "At Heart," Benton touches upon that vulnerable topic once more, with the most direct case being "Arise" ("What's done is done / You want to say you're wrong / How could you call me your son?"). Benton also writes about the general mental tug-of-war he has with depression and anxiety in "Trust My Heart (Never Hope to Die)," "Turn Back the Time" and "Born From Nothing," and adjacent to this, "Psychotic Romantic" is his letter of love and graciousness to his wife for being a beacon of support in his life in the midst of all this - though his articulation of this does come off more overwrought than passionate.
Overall Impression — 6
With the album essentially showing Miss May I tracing back their footsteps to their comfortable home range after their arguably unsatisfactory fourth album, "Deathless" is an updated take on the band's classic sound, wielding equal parts growth and stagnancy. Though the performance is reputable, and some new tricks keep the album from sounding like a shallow and shameless redux of their early material, the album is ultimately shadowed by a "been there before" feeling of staleness. The great ambivalence that "Deathless" treads is a line between Miss May I's ability to fare well in familiar territory and their inability to innovate, which they'll have to figure out how to remedy in the future.