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ALBUM REVIEW: Of Mice & Men puts doubts to bed with Defy

“Change won’t define us. We’re going to define ourselves. We didn’t want to become a new band; we just wanted to be Of Mice & Men.”

It’s safe to say that California metal act, Of Mice & Men, have had one of the most storied careers in the scene. I’m not going to go through every change and hardship that the band have gone through since 2009, but it serves a point to mention that the founding member, and lead vocalist, Austin Carlisle, has left the band…twice.

They’ve gone from a post-hardcore act, to a metal-core band, to a nu-metal band, and lately they have been finding their niche in the heavy metal scene. Transitioning bassist Aaron Pauley into the lead singer role has been a smooth one, and continuing on as a four-piece presents Of Mice & Men in their utmost natural form, resulting in Defy becoming perhaps the album they were always supposed to create.

“Making this record was so much more about figuring out who we are and developing that, rather than trying to reinvent ourselves and come out with something new,” said Pauley in an interview. “For the past five years that this lineup has been together, people have expected us to fail. We took that and let it be a motivating fire for the overall vision. Change won’t define us. We’re going to define ourselves. We didn’t want to become a new band; we just wanted to be Of Mice & Men.”

Of Mice & Men laid the groundwork for Defy long ago, testing the waters with Pauley at the helm, dropping singles “Unbreakable” and “Back To Me” all the way back in April of 2017. Having been perceived well by both critics and fans, the band released “Warzone”, followed by the announcement concerning Defy, along with the title track of the record.

Two months later, a captivating cover of the legendary Pink Floyd song “Money” surfaced as the last push towards Defy‘s release. All five singles are found on the album, being released Jan. 19, on Rise Records.

If you look back seven years to the bands self-titled debut, their development is completely evident, despite the array of lineup changes. Of Mice & Men was a breakdown dominated, completely post-hardcore effort that mostly lacked emotion and depth. The complete opposite can be said about Defy. 

One of the critiques that Of Mice & Men have been the victim of is that records like Restoring Force and Cold World were very monotonous and predictable. Defy obviously tries to shake this assessment, and it’s successful to a point. I found myself skipping forward only twice on Defy, with tracks “Vertigo” and “On The Inside”. This may because they’re your prototypical OM&M song, but there wasn’t anything special about the two tracks.

But that’s my only gripe about Defy.

“Instincts” and “Sunflower” are captivating song’s that emphasize Pauley’s talents as both an unclean and clean vocalist, while “Forever YDG’n” is the clear standout on the record. It’s heavy, braze, and a complete “screw you” to someone (use your imagination on whom that may be) with Pauley screaming:

“Yeah, you’ve thought that I was dead, and now you can’t get me out of your head. Yeah, you thought that I was gone, but I’ve been waiting to say this for so long. You know you really make me sick.  We used that line because the truth is: While you dug your pit and built a bridge, walked across and now you’re over it.”

As well as:

“Every stick and stone you threw at me, must convict me as you’re growing weak. I’ll fade a lesson in each one you cast. It’ll turn your house into a pile of glass.”

Of Mice & Men performing at Self-Help Festival in Michigan (Photo credit: Robert Sherman)

The other highlight on Defy is the final track “If We Were Ghosts” which was written in response to the tragic death of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, and has perhaps the most emotion and meaning of any song in their discography.  Of Mice & Men have toured with Linkin Park on multiple occasions, and Pauley had a personal relationship with Bennington.

“We were all together when we got the news that Chester Bennington had taken his life,” said Pauley. “We all broke down crying. It details missing somebody. If we were both ghosts, we could do so much together, but I have to wait until I get to the other side. I never did get to say goodbye.”

At the end of Defy, Of Mice & Men accomplished what they set out to prove to themselves, and fans. Their fifth studio album is their most cohesive and driven effort to date, complete with signature breakdowns, a fair amount of clean and unclean vocals, and brutal lyrics worth of mentioning.

This version of Of Mice & Men, is exactly who they’re meant to be.

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