California-based metalcore outfit Of Mice & Men aren’t a band who are afraid of taking risks. With a self-titled debut album that demonstrated pure fury, epic growls and pounding percussion, it seemed almost impossible for the quintet to produce an as-astounding sophomore album (2011’s The Flood) and then carry the momentum well into 2014 for the release of their 3rd album, Restoring Force. Restoring Force (produced by David Bendeth) is a record which not only shows Of Mice & Men progress as a band and try out new styles, but also sees them improve on the hardcore elements from their first two albums.
The record kicks off with Public Service Announcement, which is definitely a statement of intent towards critics of the band’s music as well as critics of vocalist Austin Carlisle. Lyrics such as “you all have something to say” and “talking about my story” seemingly refer to the assault charges Carlisle faced in 2011 whilst also showing that Carlisle simply couldn’t care less. The track fades in before heavy riffs courtesy of Phil Manansala and Alan Ashby show us that Of Mice & Men haven’t lost the brutality which made them so great when they surfaced in 2010. Feels Like Forever follows, with a scuzzy riff and a massive chorus fit for arenas. It’s very different from their older material, which is partly due to the addition of Aaron Pauley on clean vocals. His voice gives the whole record a softer edge whilst also contrasting with Carlisle’s screams so well that the album sounds far more cohesive than previous efforts.
Brutality returns in the form of Bones Exposed, which has elements of Bring Me the Horizon and Crossfaith in its full-on metalcore drumming and powerful screams. Pauley once again brings some contrast to the table in the chorus, asking “if I say I wouldn’t be hostile, could you say you would do the same?” in a line which may refer once again to Carlisle’s personal life. It’s a powerful song, not too dissimilar to the material on their debut. Nu-metal breakdowns follow in Would You Still Be There, giving off a more alternative and radio-friendly sound. Aaron Pauley takes the majority of the vocals on this one, with the chorus being another arena-ready hit on a record full of high points. One such high point is the following track, Glass Hearts. Starting with an electronic intro reminiscent of Linkin Park, the song quickly explodes with a loud growl from Carlisle and some more heavy breakdowns. Although a lot of the breakdowns are similar, the one on Glass Hearts perfectly complements the electronic tinges seen in the keyboard and use of electric drums. Once again, there’s an arena-ready chorus courtesy of Pauley, under which Carlisle’s subtle screams can be heard. The final 30 seconds are a chaotic climax of growls, riffs and ear-shattering drums which suddenly cut off as the next track, Another You, begins. This one is more personal, starting with clicking electronic drum beats and clean vocals that make way for a chaotic chorus 45 seconds in. It’s a re-hash of the same elements heard on previous songs, but what makes this song stand out is the lack of growling in the verses, leaving the chorus to be as brutal as possible. It’s refreshing to hear the band calm down slightly. The final build-up towards the end of the song is fit for massive crowds to sing at the top of their lungs, once again demonstrating their newfound ability for arena-sized vocals.
The high pitched riff and electronic drums of Break Free make way for a massive wall of sound and screams, followed by a rampant shout-along and chorus which is extremely reminiscent of Bring Me the Horizon’s Sleepwalking. The whole album is sonically very similar to Bring Me the Horizon, with Break Free being the most reminiscent of the Sheffield group’s 2012 release, Sempiternal. This is the first song on the record with a massive growling chorus, which still begs for arenas and festival main stages. You Make Me Sick is heavy from the start, with underlying guitar effects accompanying the chaotic verses and massive chorus. The song never loses its mayhem-like effect, especially when Carlisle’s growls turn into grunts, making way for a big breakdown which seems almost ready to set off circle pit after circle pit. The lyrics are a personal attack, with the song climaxing into a full-speed metalcore outro which shows that Of Mice & Men are as hard and brutal as they’ll ever be. Identity Disorder once again shows hints of Linkin Park in its electronic intro, with the verses and chorus being as arena-ready as every other song on the album. It’s not the most chaotic song on the album, but the tone of Carlisle and Pauley’s joint vocals in the chorus can give even the toughest man Goosebumps. Lead single and riff-heavy You’re Not Alone is the albums last successful attempt at being brutal, heavy and epic before Space Enough To Grow brings the album to a calm ending. Space Enough To Grow shows Of Mice & Men at their most fragile and sincere, with not a single growl, scream or breakdown in sight. This song above all shows the progression that the quintet have made, simply by demonstrating their ability to strip back their layered riffs and give the listener a chance to reflect on everything. If anything, this song describes exactly what Restoring Force has done for Of Mice & Men – it’s given them enough space to grow into an even better and more progressive band simply by opening their minds to new elements whilst still staying true to their roots.
Restoring Force could well be the record that rockets Of Mice & Men into the big leagues of rock and hardcore!
OF MICE & MEN – RESTORING FORCE – 8/10
Restoring Force is out now via Rise Records.