With 2014’s Restoring Force it seemed that Californian outfit Of Mice & Men had settled into a stable line-up, while 2016’s Cold World demonstrated that the band was keen to continue experimenting with and developing their sound beyond the usual metalcore template. However, less than three months after Cold World hit the shelves, vocalist and founding member, Austin Carlisle announced his departure from the group for the second time, citing ongoing health problems and growing creative differences with his bandmates for his decision. With Carlisle’s departure, bassist and backing-vocalist Aaron Pauley stepped forward as front-man, and Defy finds Of Mice & Men continuing on as a quartet.
Of Mice & Men’s fifth album sonically fits somewhere between Restoring Force and Cold World, featuring elements of the former’s focused aggression and the latter’s penchant for exploring a broader sonic palette, though in both cases these aspects are substantial toned down overall. The eponymous Defy opens the album with a simple, yet effective, riff and the highly melodic chorus signals the album’s pop tendencies. Pauley’s dirty vocals are considerably cleaner than Carlisle’s, but this will only prove to be a negative to very particular segments of the audience, and overall Pauley comports himself well as lead vocalist.
Sunflower juxtaposes Of Mice & Men’s abilities to go gentle and melodic, and hard and aggressive, and while aspects of this toing-and-froing don’t always work, the punchy drums from Valentino Arteaga provide the track’s pleasingly solid beat, and the only major flaw with the song being that the group couldn’t bring themselves to end with the softer bridge, instead feeling the need to end with a rehashed chorus pulling double time as a coda, which ends up diluting the track’s emotional impact. Lead single, Unbreakable, features Pauley’s biggest vocal misstep as the unclean vocals are lacklustre, but the dual guitar attack from Phil Manansala and Alan Ashby distracts from this somewhat.
Pink Floyd’s 1973 single Money gets a treatment on Defy, but this is largely a cosmetic affair with heavier guitars and increased tempo, ultimately adding little value to the record. Warzone carries an industrial-metal vibe, leaving the listener wishing Of Mice & Men spent more time exploring this sonic ground, though the tonal shift at the bridge is quite a leap faith on the part of the band. Despite occasionally feeling a little overwrought, If We Were Ghosts closes the album on a mellower, bittersweet note, and reflects the group mourning the death of Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, whom they had befriended while touring.
It seems unlikely that Defy will match the critical or commercial success of Restoring Force, and the album isn’t as sonically adventurous as the underrated Cold World, it does signal Of Mice & Men continue to look at ways of progressing their sound and delivering more than is merely expected.