Sound — 7
Ah. The classic "metalcore band goes soft" routine. This scenario has played out numerous times with bands like Bring Me The Horizon, Asking Alexandria, and in the genre in general with bands like Issues, and Of Mice & Men is no exception to this. After their much heavier, more technical first two records, Of Mice & Men began to flirt with more mainstream hard rock tones on 2014's "Restoring Force." More clean vocals, cleaner and simpler production, less technical instrumental playing, elements of nu-metal and alt-metal, and more standard song structures, those traits have all made themselves apparent on the new album, "Cold World."
Straight from the opening track, "Game of War," the change in this band is pretty evident. With not a single shred of metal riffage or harsh vocals in sight for the entirety of the track's four minute length, it instead relies on vaguely Tool-esque bass and vocal interplay, ambient synths and piano, and sounds like it could have come straight off any mainstream hard rock album made in the beginning of the previous decade. All things considered, it's actually a pretty decent tune, and a cool way to open up the album. "The Lie" follows, displaying more of the heavier hard rock sound the band started tapping into on "Restoring Force," featuring some Linkin Park-style shouted vocals, a very simple chorus, and a weird sort of synth intro.
These two tracks opening the album represent the extremes of the style the band went for on this record, though most of the songs sound more like "The Lie" than "Game of War." Throughout the record, the riffs remain fairly simple, though there are sometimes some unique turns like the 5/4 time signature of "Like a Ghost" and the heavier riffage in "Pain," the only track on the album to pretty much lack any clean vocals. Shades of nu-metal are all over the track "Relentless" with verse vocals that could have come straight out of the rap-metal era. The album also has a couple of brief instrumental interludes, "-" and "+," which are really just short breather episodes, barely worth mentioning as songs on their own, but they do sort of break the mood of the album for a brief time frame.
The songwriting on this album is not bad, and the band does show a few tinges of creativity, and it seems like they're wearing some rather decent influences on their sleeve (you'd swear you were hearing them channel Tool on the beginning of "The Hunger"), but overall there's nothing on this album that really grabs my attention for being special. Most of the songs kind of have the same structure, with the riffs and the weird guitar noises happening exactly where you'd expect them, the choruses having the same expected melodies, and mostly just kind of plodding along. It's an album that kind of just passes you by, if you're not paying strict attention to it.
The instrumental playing is also not really anything special. Alan Ashby's and Phil Manansala's guitar playing isn't going to win any awards for originality, and Aaron Pauley's bass playing and Valentino Arteaga's drumming, while definitely in the pocket, are still nothing really special. Austin Carlile's vocals are really the only immediately recognizable trait for this band, and even they kind of sound a little too derivative. On the plus side, David Bendeth's production is actually really good on this release, with a lot of sonic breathing room and good separation between a lot of the instruments.
Lyrics — 7
Of Mice & Men, like pretty much every metalcore band out there, tends to focus on vaguely personal, dark, emotional lyrics throughout the release of "Cold World." Word for word, I found the lyrics on this release to be better than some of the average metalcore bands who tend to drown their songs in sorrowful melodrama, since these at least seem to be a bit more thoughtful, such as these verse in "Game of War":
"Cruel world, captivating
Hollow, eaten alive from the inside
Rapture, kind decision
Old eyes can't take much more though I still try
Cause I'm waiting for the war to end
But are we just ending to begin again?
If patience is so virtuous
Then maybe I'll be damned"
Then there are the typical sort of "inspirational" lyrics you get with these metalcore-turned-soft kind of bands, like these from the chorus of the song "Relentless":
"No I won't quit, get over it, you'll never win
I will survive, I am relentless
And I will fight to stay alive cause you know I
I will survive, I am relentless"
They're really nothing special, as far as metalcore lyrics go, but the message is fine enough, and they don't bother me nearly as much as many other bands in this genre do. Austin Carlile's singing skills are also nothing really special, but he does do a fairly adequate job on this album, and I can't really fault his vocal style for anything specific, other than the fact that maybe he sounds a little too much like a few other vocalists (Mike Semesky, ex-Intervals, and Nathan Ells, ex-The Human Abstract, come to mind immediately), but that really comes down to personal preference.
Overall Impression — 7
So has softening their sound worked in Of Mice & Men's favour? Admittedly, I had never really been able to get into their early works, and I find the changes the band has made to their sound over the past two albums to be welcome, to a point. They did make a bit of a trade off for their originality by switching to a more mainstream-friendly sound, and that could hurt the band's sound as well. There are some decent songs, and much like with my review of the recent The Amity Affliction album, I found the opening track to be the strongest due to its rather drastic difference in sound compared to the rest of the album. "The Hunger" is also another really good track, with a bit more of an almost strangely proggy and sludgy vibe to it, and some really cool vocal melodies. But on the whole, the album came off as a bit same-y, a bit unoriginal, and just not that special overall. If you were a fan of the changes to the band's style on "Restoring Force," you'll likely enjoy this album. If not, you might want to find another band, since they really took those stylistic changes to their ultimate conclusion with this album.
So overall, it's not really a bad record, but not really a great one, either. Probably good for a listen or two, and the opening track "Game of War" is definitely worth checking out.