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Thursday 25 March 2021

Reviews: Of Mice & Men, Metalite, 1782, My Own Private Alaska (Reviews By Liam True, Simon Black, Paul Scoble & Alex Swift)

Of Mice & Men – Timeless EP (Sharptone Records) [Liam True]

Whatever your feelings about the state of metalcore over the past decade or so, it’s hard to deny that Of Mice & Men have sat pretty near the top of the scene for a while now. Formed in 2009, their self-titled debut was one of several records which helped shape metalcore as we know it today. Since then, they’ve repeatedly mastered the genre’s chugging riffs and massive hooks over five more studio albums. Even the 2016 departure of founder and vocalist Austin Carlisle didn’t knock them off their stride. 2019’s Earthandsky quickly became a fan-favorite, with the band sounding fresher than ever. A follow-up has been hotly anticipated ever since, and now it’s here in the form of a three track EP entitled Timeless.

The record is the first of three EPs Of Mice & Men plan to release in 2021. These form a sort of trilogy, set to culminate in the release of the band’s seventh studio album. In an increasingly common trend, they were written during the COVID-19 pandemic, pieced together over platforms like Twitch and Zoom. No strangers to challenges, this new way of working doesn’t seem to have phased the four-piece. Timeless reveals a band still very much at the top of the game when it comes to crushing melodic metalcore.

Musically, Timeless doesn’t throw up many surprises. Every track features the kind of gigantic arena-ready chorus we’ve long come to expect from Of Mice & Men. On the first two songs, there’s the melodeath-inspired riffing which has been a genre staple for at least two decades now. There’s also of course plenty of tight, technical and chugging metalcore riffs which the band lock into with ease. Guitarists Phil Manansala and Alan Ashby deserve a special shout-out, providing quality lead work throughout, and especially on Obsolete. The rhythm section of vocalist/bassist Aaron Pauley and drummer Valentino Arteaga hold their own too, giving everything a firm and thundering grounding. All three tracks would sit comfortably in the band’s setlist, but the highlight is surely Anchor. This one is easily the most dynamic song on the record. As well as providing the usual massive chorus and riffs, it features moments of delicate soundscapes and electronic beats. At points, it even draws Deftones comparisons, most of all from Pauley‘s lighter vocal stylings in the song’s verses.

One of the band’s intentions with Timeless was to give fans an “experience in headphones.” For the most part, they seem to have achieved this through the addition of synths and textures. These make the band sound bigger than they ever have before – not that they needed much help with that. This is great, but it would definitely be interesting to see them push further into the moments of relative quiet heard on Anchor for Timeless' planned sequels. In doing so, they could provide fans with a genuinely dynamic record – something of a rarity in modern metalcore. If Timeless, and specifically Anchor, signals the start of new era of experimentation for Of Mice & Men, that’s pretty exciting. If not, and that’s about as far as the band go in terms of new sonic territory, then that’s unlikely to be much of a problem either. Sometimes it’s just nice to hear a band at the height of their powers doing what they do best. Either way, Timeless marks a solid first entry to Of Mice & Men‘s 2021 trilogy, and a record that should have listeners eagerly looking to the next one. 8/10

Metalite - A Virtual World (AFM Records) [Simon Black]

OK, so this was a little different.

Most regular readers of my entitled ravings may have noticed that I tend to cover a lot of Power and/or Progressive acts. This is partly my own fault, because most of the gang can only tolerate these genres in relatively small quantities (not strictly true, it's mainly that you don't like unclean vocals much - Ed). However, it’s always nice when something comes along that breaks the mould slightly, as after a while all the multi-album mythological/pseudo-historical concepts arcs get a little wearing even for me. So who are this lot then? Well Metalite hail from Sweden, whose population of ten million or so souls seems to have a much larger proportion of technically gifted Metal musicians than the rest of the world put together (I’m guessing that this may be as a consequence of the need to pass the time in those long, snowy winter months in a country where alcohol is prohibitively expensive). Either way they produce a lot of acts that consistently score highly from me, and that odd one or two that seem to break out globally.

The band position themselves in the Melodic Metal and Power camps, but I quite deliberately mentioned the more Progressive side of things, because technically the musicianship pushes beyond their own modest descriptions – particularly in the ivory keys department. And then there’s the decision to use the kind of Pop synth sounds and sequencing that you might expect to hear in a Trance club than a Metal one. It’s a fairly unique approach and one that often sees the crunch of the guitars very much take a back seat to the vocals, keys and drums in an upbeat major key tone. It’s a futuristic tone that fits the subject matter of the album, which is exploring topics like artificial intelligence, virtual reality and technology in a largely positive way, making a refreshing change from the more negative tone that many peers have chosen when they explore the negative impacts of that tech. Vocally front woman Erica Ohlsson’s voice nicely fuses the Pop/Melodic Metal direction of travel – it’s light and inoffensive when it needs to be, but she can belt out the Power as and when needed and this sits nicely in a series of songs that are clearly more about the journey than the direction of travel.

If you are a traditional Metalhead then this probably won’t be for you (although I defy any of you not to raise an appreciative, if slightly taken aback eyebrow at the Synth based blast beats that crop up in Running), but it’s important to remember that it’s acts like this that push the boundaries and crossover into the more popular worlds are the ones that ultimately increase our ranks. So you can bitch how bands like this “aren’t metal” but the reality is many people start from there and consequently find themselves more open to experimenting with other, heavier bands in the genre. …And it’s not like the band’s choice of name doesn’t clearly state where they are coming from! Upbeat, cheerful and a refreshing change from the Melodic/Power norm. 7/10

1782 - From The Graveyard (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Paul Scoble]

Anna Göldi was the last woman in Europe to be tried, tortured and murdered by the state for the crime of Witchcraft. The final victim of several hundred years of religious psychopathy. Anna was murdered in 1782, and that is why Marco Nieddu and Gabriele Fancellu named their band 1782, as a tribute to her. 1782 formed in 2018, and Marco and Gabriele released their first, self titled album a year later in 2019. 2 years later we get the follow up, what have 1872 got for us this time? 

After a suitably spooky intro in the track Evocations (Intro), we get 7 tracks of huge and heavy doom. The sound is big and fuzzy, with a huge guitar and bass sound that is verging on Electric Wizard levels of hugeness. Most of the the riffing is fairly simple, several of the songs have only one or two riffs, which isn’t unusual for doom. This is an album that works mostly on repetition and dynamics, in several tracks on the album there are minimal and soft riffs that slowly build to huge and very heavy proportions, the track then drops back to the style it started with, still playing the same riff. On some tracks this works very well, the tracks feel hypnotising and dreamlike, in a way that works very well. However there are places on From The Graveyard where this doesn’t quite work. 

Sometimes I found myself yearning for some complexity or something more from this album. The fact that there aren’t any solos doesn’t help, everything has the same feel, there's no variation to keep you interested. From The Graveyard is not a bad album, a lot of what is here is very good. There just isn’t enough going on to keep me interested, if the band can add a little more to the mix to make it more interesting, they could go from making a solid good album, to making something great. 6/10

My Own Private Alaska – Let This Rope Cross All The Lands (AWAL) [Alex Swift]

Performing in a genre known as ‘piano core’, french act My Own Private Alaska are dark if captivating. The song compositions take musical cues from post hardcore or metalcore except…you guessed it, the primary instrument driving these compositions is not the guitar but the piano. While I admire the use of pianos in rock, I’m not actually sure what Let This Rope Cross All The Lands achieves, except to swap out one instrument for another. Admittedly, there are moments such as the emotion fuelled Your Shelter and the exalting Ego Zero where the keys swell to dramatic and lofty heights, granting an almost classical flair to these tracks but strange as this might sound to say, I can’t hear anything else that distinguishes them from other acts in the ‘core’ genres. 

I will pause to admit that this is simply a five song EP of B-sides and rarities, and so may not fully represent the whole range of everything this band is capable of. Indeed, upon listening to their 2010 album Amen, I noticed a far more distinct and interesting variety of influences from post-rock to avant-garde. That piece demonstrates that this band are capable of deconstructing the core fundamentals of their influences and creating something new from the shards of those concepts. Remember though, I am critiquing what I am presented with on this EP, not the band as a whole and while I won’t go as far as to say these songs shouldn’t have been released, they don’t demonstrate the full scope and ability of these musicians. 5/10

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