Californian metalcore stalwarts Of Mice & Men have had a turbulent few years. The departure of lead vocalist Austin Carlile in 2017 has lead to a period of upheaval during which their status as vanguards of the scene has seemingly been usurped by fresher faces, such as the Grammy-nominated I Prevail, who are perhaps more willing to present a softer, more radio-rock appealing sound. This combined with smaller concert venues and lower down the bill festival slots, on this side of the pond at least, has left the band looking as if they have faded in to the background of late.
This context is important when considering their newest (and first of a planned trilogy) EP, Timeless, a musically crushing but lyrically introspective three-track morsel which sees the quartet reflecting on their place in the world 12 years into their career. First off, there is plenty to be applauded here – instrumentally the band do not compromise and unashamedly lean into the heavier aspects of the genre with every track being based around hefty, crunching riffs, artillery-salvo percussion and prominent and technical lead guitar lines all delivered by relentlessly capable and well practiced musicians. It’s a sound that in many parts recalls 00s metalcore rather than 10s and, blessedly, for the most part they have chosen to avoid the whiny vocals and bolted-on electronic elements that continue to blight many of their contemporaries.
All of this is nothing new though, after all this describes 2019’s Earthandsky to a tee, fortunately the band have upped their game both melodically and lyrically - the choruses of the title track and 'Obsolete' in particular are very catchy and will surely go down well in the live arena. Furthermore, the lyrics themselves have a bit more depth and substance, fittingly exploring the nature of relevance and obsolescence in a world where tropes and trends are ever-changing.
Aaron Pauley’s confidence seems to have increased immensely since he first stepped into the role of frontman and he delivers with more conviction and feeling than we have heard in previous outings. In fact, confidence feels like a constant for the duration, the band have now fully come to terms with their turbulent rebirth. Having said this, you can only get away with doing the same thing for so long and in essence this is more of what we have seen in recent years. It seems unfairly close to damning with faint praise to describe this offering as solid but unspectacular, but in a musical landscape where the likes of Code Orange are redefining what heavy music can be, retreading old ground is never going to set the world alight.
Timeless sees Of Mice and Men consolidating their territory in self-assured fashion, doubling down and honing the sound they have developed across their last two studio albums. Its brevity serves it well, three high-quality tracks leave you raring for more, but it would be nice to see some progression in the two further planned EPs.
Timeless is released February 26th via Sharptone Records.