2014’s Rise of The Lion was aptly named – It escalated Miss May I above & beyond the post-hardcore scene they were once associated with and into the vast heavy metal realm. Though the Ohio mostly-long-haired 5-piece have been a metal band from the beginning, their start in a smaller scene has made their growth that much more satisfying and humble. Arguably one of the harder working & ambitious bands in the current heavy music world, the band now want to prove to both Warped & Mayhem crowds that they are ‘Deathless’.
It seems weird to be releasing another album one year after such a massive undertaking as the promotion cycle for ‘Rise’, but here are Miss May I standing firm. ‘Deathless’ takes them back to their Joey Sturgis-produced roots, much to the joy of their somewhat split fanbase who were indifferent to ‘Rise’s rough, raw mix and heavy metal leaning-sound. Sturgis’ mix is crystal clear & polished, evoking memories of 2010’s ‘Monument’. Despite relying on a producer the band worked with in their early days, ‘Deathless’ is a blend of the older breakdown-laden melodeath of such an album as ‘Apologies Are For The Weak’ and the aggression, variety & metallic energy of ‘Rise of The Lion’. Through tracks such as ‘Trust My Heart (Never Hope To Die)’ & ‘Psychotic Romantic’ this is especially evident, blending thrashy, relentless riffing with floor-shattering breakdowns. Though it’s easy to draw comparisons to ‘Monument’ through even the first 3 tracks the band’s sound is darker & more realized than it was on that specific release. Whereas ‘Monument’ drew Trivium & As I Lay Dying to mind, ‘Deathless’ conjures up nostalgic memories of bands such as Unearth and Chimaira (save the ‘I hate everyone’ lyrical gripe, it wasn’t that original to begin with). Guitarists BJ Stead & Justin Aufdekampe toy with ideas of death metal, speedy, claustrephobic solos and dark atmospheric guitar leads as opposed to blindly shredding and forcing technicality. The title track demonstrates this wonderfully, other tracks such as opener ‘I.H.E.’ simply didn’t need the unnecessary lead guitar melody in the first verse & should lean strictly towards the darker side of things, because that is where MMI excells most on this record. The predictability and often needless execution of breakdowns & chugs throughout the record are the only aspects that truly feel like a few steps backwards for the band.
There are some neat, if not forced, pop sensibilities provided by Ryan Neff’s signature soaring choruses. ‘Bastards Left Behind’ is Neff at his best, showing more range and control than ever before in a massive chorus, despite his opening ‘oh woah-oh’s needing no place in the song. Contrarily ‘Arise’ as a whole is one of the weaker tracks, and certainly didn’t need the chanting of the admittedly typical title nor the somewhat rough around the edges chorus. He fits far better in ‘Empty Promises’ somewhat predictable textbook but easy on the ears usage of heartfelt melody & a beautiful showcase of lower range in the final verse. It’s a fact however that Neff & powerful screaming vocalist Levi Benton sound fantastic together, Benton’s raspy snarls contrasting well with Neff’s purified singing and newly acquired active rock gruff. As a bassist Neff is ever present as well, working wonderfully with beastly drummer Jerod Boyd, especially in the pre-chorus frenzied slap of ‘Psychotic Romantic’ . Boyd’s performance isn’t quite as exemplary as it was on ‘Rise’ with far fewer fills and varying tempos, but he’s still a maniac, especially in Slipknot-inspired ‘Turn Back The Time’, bringing to memory the first time we heard Joey Jordison’s manic double bass kicks.
Interestingly enough the lyrical content of the record is much more about the struggle to actually depict oneself as deathless than it is about actually being deathless. The most aggressive track in that case easily goes to ‘I.H.E.’ but ‘The Artificial’s sarcastic mocking of anyone who sits on a false throne later on in the album came as a slight surprise. ‘Bastards Left Behind’s title alone is memorable enough to be on the token T-shirt design of the album’s touring cycle. It is ‘Psychotic Romantic’ that ends up being the most unique concept ‘Deathless’ has to show, its modesty & brutal honesty about being the undesirable in a relationship & feeling like you’re not good enough for the other person’s affection standing out amongst the other 10 tracks.
Just as ‘Deathless’ contains a mixed selection of ideas the flow of the album is jumbled by an incoherent track ordering. Despite ‘I.H.E.’ being clearly defined as the opening track there is no such thing as unrelenting with this album’s flow, for better or for worse. The middle portion of the album doesn’t exactly drag, it just isn’t too terribly interesting & ‘Born From Nothing’ doesn’t exactly feel like a closer, despite being a good track. Once it ends it still feels like another track could follow. And maybe that’s just as well because this IS the second Miss May I album we have received in a year’s time. Perhaps ‘Deathless’ is meant to be a placeholder for a bigger offering from the band. Taken as it is, ‘Deathless’ stands as a work of nostalgia for the longtime fans of the band who were patient enough to sit through ‘At Heart’ & ‘Rise of The Lion’s transitional album cycles. In that way it succeeds. This may not be Miss May I’s best overall work nor demonstration of skill but it IS the definitive album for them & their fanbase thus far.