The leaders of the late 2000’s metalcore scene have been finding various ways of progressing onward from a strictly ‘core-influenced sound. With the death of one trend comes the birth of another which brings the topic of more ‘mature’ music styles to light.
Since figuring out there’s more to being heavy than breakdowns, Of Mice & Men have maintained their dynamically emotional sound by taking a leap of faith into the alternative metal world with acclaimed producer David Bendeth as their guidance. The first of these sessions birthed 2013’s bold Restoring Force, a transitive evolution that honed in on Of Mice & Men’s strengths – Catharsis, a unique rhythm section and dual vocalist interplay. Alternative metal shaded in by tints of Nu-Metal and slight bursts of their older metalcore sound have been the guns OM&M have stuck with and to great effect.
The second of Bendeth’s sessions with Of Mice & Men is the production of their fourth record, Cold World. Whereas Restoring Force focused on balancing out the all-out attack of The Flood, Cold World opts to for an approach that is more inclusive for any fan of the band. With a band as big as Of Mice & Men comes a passionate fanbase and it’s a fact that their brave jump towards a bigger area of the heavy music world can be considered polarizing. Any patient fan of the band will realize that the heartfelt core of their approach is still being maintained. Cold World won’t necessarily feel familiar at first. Its focus on post-grunge, Nu-Metal and alternative metal feels decidedly unlike the Of Mice & Men heard on even Restoring Force. Repeated listens and deeper digging reveal that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree despite the wealth of uncharted content.
The vast array of various influences and palettes is, to say the least, impressive. Opening the album slowly is “Game of War”s Tool-esque build-up and it truly picks up perfectly where “Space Enough To Grow” left off. Piano, an army snare and an air of anxious suffering create a sensual experience thanks in large part to Aaron Pauley’s distinctly soft voice that portrays a peaceful calm despite singing about anything but. “The Lie” follows perfectly with a chunky groove that recalls “You’re Not Alone”. Frontman Austin Carlile comes apart at the seams while halfways rapping, halfways bellowing about living in a dishonest society. The first two songs being of a more political nature proves that this record is a new step for the band already.
Cold World is not only one of the best-paced albums you’ll hear this year, but also one of the most consistent when it comes to its mood. Switching between soft-loud dives of grunge, creeps of unsettled Nu-Metal and energetic and impassioned shouts of early 2000’s rap rock keeps the listener on their toes while refusing to adhere to any form of stagnancy. The best examples of the record in this aspect tend to be its angriest and most powerful moments. “Pain” sounds like it was pulled directly from the sessions of The Flood‘s four bonus songs, nestled between “The Flood” and “The Depths” with its crashing percussion, urgent neck-snapping riffs and turntable build-ups. The means of bringing the 90’s metal style to a modern fusion of aggro deathcore ends up working really well with an anthemic chorus that demands to be shouted along to. “Contagious” successfully depicts Austin Carlile at his most adventurous, building tension in the verses and belting a memorable chorus about his struggle to maintain optimistic. “Relentless” improves on the anthem aspect even more by recalling early Linkin Park-esque attitude with a framework that exudes Three Days Grace’s hard rock. This track likely needs minimal introduction – It’s been a main theme on WWE for almost two months now.
The only criticism of Cold World is that its vitality is a subtlety. For a band as ambitious and hungry as Of Mice & Men, Cold World‘s brilliance isn’t immediately apparent. Maybe it’s due to the focus on fleshed-out diversity within a consistent style that causes the depth of Cold World left to be discovered. Of course, the patience does pay off in spades as the girth of the hooks in songs like “The Lie” and electronically-focused “Real” and constantly shifting vocal styles of frontman Austin Carlile give Cold World a massive amount of replay value. Notable too is that Of Mice & Men fit within an alternative metal framework so well that it almost feels like they were deceiving us on the first record and wanted to secretly play this style before any of their peers had similar thoughts. They’re far more convincing than anyone could have expected from such a genre shift.
Despite the slow crawl of revealing the record’s genius, every member here is worthy of praise, especially drummer Tino Arteaga who is, to say the least, an underrated and versatile percussive force. Guitarists Alan Ashby and Phillip Manansala have grown into such effective and interesting riffsmen. Aaron Pauley is by no means a slacker of a vocalist, but he has a range and style he stays comfortable within and is tenfold a more interesting bassist. However, his combined abilities show he has immense talent that he continues to prove as the newest member of the band. The chemistry between he and Austin is incredible, certainly the most interesting vocal pair in the game currently. Examples of the band’s brilliance are abundant here. “Like A Ghost” is hard to not to nod your head to with the by-now signature slant of the group’s rhythm section and familiarized uplifting melodies. This track, “The Hunger” and beautiful Alice In Chains-esque “Away” are the best examples of the spot-on chemistry heard throughout the record, especially when Austin’s vocal versatility is taken into play. Did Jonathan Davis and Marilyn Manson sneak into the vocal booth?
For such a dark and down record, it’s nice to hear the final moments featuring some positivity. It’s no secret that Austin Carlile has been going through personal Hell with his many health issues, so hearing the words “I’m finally okay” in closer “Transfigured” after so much suffering is enough to bring a tear to anyone’s eyes. Carlile himself has made it so far and that goes just as much for his bandmates who have been there to see it all as well which can be effectively felt while listening to Cold World. Somehow the moodier approach to the style of the record works much better than a strictly aggressive take on the music. “Pain” contrasts perfectly as the record’s heaviest song, but every other song feels heavy due to the emotional aspects of their topic or the band’s delivery, remarkably so.
Regarding the growth of Of Mice & Men, Cold World is their most mature work to date. By exploring their collective influences further (various 90’s grunge and alternative bands) the musicians have stuck to their talents admirably while subtly adding in more instrumentation aside from the norm of guitar, bass and drums as well as experimenting more with tone by introducing interludes and more atmosphere. Due to this, Cold World feels full and at its best, progressive. Of Mice & Men can’t be faulted for branching out. What Cold World is able to do is add more value and credibility to the band’s name through their ascension. If Cold World is an age, it’s a confident thirty – Not the identity crisis of the twenties nor the sluggish descent of the fourties. It’s right where it wants to be and doing just fine.