What makes a band generic is not that they choose to involve themselves in a genre done over and over by self-proclaimed music elitists, but refusing to cut themselves out of the square they formed in. Memphis May Fire, despite all criticisms, does not fit in that category. The Dallas, TX brigade released their most developed work yet, The Hollow, just over a year ago; and history tells us any new release barely a year thereafter spells trouble instantly. That does not apply to this record. This latest assault, Challenger, is their next leap up the set of proverbial stairs, further expanding on their sound without sacrificing the things that ultimately made their previous record succeed.
Challenger is far more personal than anything they’ve done thus far – at least to the point that its accessible enough to make that assumption fairly. Each song switches between different topics of relevance to frontman Matty Mullins’ life, and the way he captivates as he has in the past has never been more consistent. He makes these songs really hit home with down-to-earth topics that anyone can relate to. Every band member hits home with their instrumentation, including Anthony Sepe (ex-Decoder), whose new chunky guitar riffage provides consistent framework throughout. This record spans 11 songs, doesn’t feel rushed, and ebbs and flows through without much hesitance. The first thing you will notice is that the overall mix, sound, and quality of the actual music surpasses The Hollow. Each instrument fits snugly in the mix, and each of the little samples and keyboard parts that flutter around the record don’t feel out of place.
Blasting off with a sure-fire anthem for motivation, “Without Walls” is their statement to the industry that they don’t care about scenes or labeling; they’re determined to provide some sort of twinge of flair that hasn’t been been a part of their calling card. Fist-pump ready (in the good way), heavy, and ferocious, the song sets the tone for the majority of the record. “Alive In the Lights” is one of the heaviest appearances on the album, and immediately decimates any pre-conceived opinions that this band has no stones. Mullins voices his utter disgust for greedy corporate execs who continue to destroy the art of music, and literally rages throughout the entire song. It is a serious monster in a bottle, as is its follower “Prove Me Right.” One aspect of their songwriting that they’ve always succeeded in is delicious, twangy, and southern-led fretwork that lets you know where they’re from; “Red In Tooth & Claw” features the best example of this, notably with a short but sexy guitar solo right after the first chorus.
“Vices” comes back to the band’s angrier side and sits well in the pocket alongside the previous songs. It features one of the best choruses of the record thanks to an incredibly catchy melody and Mullins’ superb range. “Legacy” is one of the best songs on the record, simply about holding on to hope and delivering the message with soaring harmonies, fantastic programming, and a monster breakdown to seal the deal. “Miles Away” is the cliché slow song, but unlike many other attempts at such a ballad, it utterly destroys the others in one fell swoop. Swirling around Mullins’ relationship with his wife and the difficulties of being torn between your calling and your life back home, its relatable but ever-prevalent topic is sure to catch you off guard anyway. Sleeping With Sirens‘ Kellin Quinn makes a nicely done guest appearance in the bridge, but it honestly doesn’t do too much to add to or take away from the song. Nonetheless, it’s a real tearjerker – utterly encapsulating and beautiful.
“Jezebel” puts the steel-toed boot down with a throat-crushing rant about sluts and groupies who only use band members to get ahead (although they really aren’t). This is another contender for the best chorus on the record, as well as the best tongue-in-cheek moment for referencing a song within a song (there’s an obvious but hilarious nod to “The Haunted” from The Hollow). “Losing Sight” loses steam in the grand scheme of the record, but is really the only song that does. It’s belligerent, and the guest appearance of Danny Worsnop from Asking Alexandria – despite obvious hatred from internet trolls – doesn’t take away from the song. He delivers a solid, raw, singing and screaming verse that proves that he’s not all gimmick. “Generation: Hate” is the biggest allude to their previous works, southern and would totally fit as a b-side. Another fantastic chorus, solid instrumentation, and pissed-off rant later, we arrive at the closer “Vessels.” Honestly, I’d listen to this song once and skip over it. It’s just an instrumental, and though mostly fitting and nicely done, ultimately its place is not really needed and serves a rather sloppy outro to an otherwise great record.
Memphis May Fire have come a long way since their debut full-length Sleepwalking, and their increasingly tightened sound has made monumental strides in the last year. This record is great but not the top of their potential, mostly due to the satisfying but still yearning lyrical structure and climbing-high-but-not-quite-there song structure. They’re on their way though, and right now this record is easily the best they’ve made. I believe the time to create their real masterpiece is approaching quite fast.