Bring Me the Horizon have ‘gone pop’. Of Mice & Men have gone KROQ. Asking Alexandria… well lord knows what’s happening with them right now, but if Danny Worsnop is back for good then it wouldn’t be surprising if they went further down the rock ‘n’ roll route they’d tapped into as early as Reckless and Relentless. The times they are changing, but the Memphis May Fire of 2016 remain almost identical to the Memphis May Fire of 2011. Anomalous southern-fried debut Sleepwalking aside, the band have stuck to their bread and butter of crunching breakdowns and radio choruses with clinical precision. The results have varied from excellent (Challenger) to just a little bit rubbish (Unconditional), but if anything the consistency has left Memphis May Fire in a unique spot. As the other members of metalcore’s top table leave the feast to ply their trade in other sounds, the Texan quintet are left in a class of one.
It wasn’t difficult for this album to top the band’s last effort, but This Light I Hold manages to do so in style. For one, the washed out production of Unconditional is left in the dust, with a return to the ruthlessly polished approach of the band at its peak. Matty Mullins also sounds more fired up, and though his scream doesn’t have the intensity it did five years ago he remains a very impressive singer with an innate star quality. His lyrics still sometimes sound like they were culled from a 15-year-old Hot Topic customer’s diary, but when they’re being delivered in impassioned tones over breakneck riffs and the swooping synthesised strings that have come to characterise the Memphis May Fire blueprint, it’s easy to forgive him.
Much of the album effectively retreads past ground, but with an urgency bereft of anything from its predecessor. The title track, “Carry On” and “The Antidote” are all chug n’ slash anthems that would fit as neatly into the band’s live set as they would the daytime playlist of a rock radio station. Props must go to guitarist Kellen McGregor – the band’s chief songwriter shows dexterity in both composition and shred soloing that’s greater than anything shown prior to this. On previous albums he and the band have been guilty of simply hammering out a breakdown with the safety net of synthesised instruments to provide the melody, but on tracks like “Better Things” and the hard rock-oriented “Wanting More” the riffs are left to do the talking.
There are a handful of stylistic deviations, with mixed results. Memphis May Fire have always been able to pen a good ballad, and “That’s Just Life” keeps the standard high thanks to a powerful Mullins performance and an organic feel that the band have rarely called on before. On the other hand, the Crown the Empire-esque metallic opera of “The Enemy” falls a tad flat, as does the guest appearance of ex-My American Heart vocalist Larry Soliman on “Not Over Yet” (Jacoby Shaddix fares much better on the title track, clearly enjoying getting the chance to get aggressive over something heavier than his day job.) “Out Of It” is also a notable weak link and an odd choice for an opener – “Carry On” would have been a much stronger way to kick off proceedings, as the band themselves have proven by using it to open their live shows recently.
This Light I Hold is not revolutionary, nor is it the pinnacle of Memphis May Fire’s career. But it is a notable upswing after a downturn in creative fortunes for the band, and a worthy belated follow-up to Challenger. Sticking to a formula that’s as overused as modern metalcore, the band have nonetheless succeeded in crafting an enjoyable, largely consistent album. Memphis May Fire thus defy the changing tides of the scene around them and keep doing what they’re doing – and this time, they’re doing it well.