Rise Records normally does well with its breadwinner bands, but that money train hits more roadblocks as time goes on; more and more kids are stepping away from the monotony. Memphis May Fire, one of these bands, have always been a topic of dispute through the arguably uninspired continual generic approach to their metallic, sampled, and processed brand of post-hardcore – as well as focal point [vocalist] Matty Mullins’ controversial lyrics (IE: “Jezebel”). Though I did enjoy their last record Challenger to a large extent due to the mostly-inspired lyrics and genuine attitude, even having a small soft spot for some of The Hollow, the content has suffered greatly this time around.
This latest record, Unconditional, is absolutely no different from anything they’ve done before; and I mean it – zero difference. The artwork is lazy and was likely made on a whim; the metallic, sampled, and outright cheesy production (headed by Cameron Mizell) is cut from the same uninteresting cloth as every other wannabe “___ [the] ___” band that comes through with the funds. It’s nearly impossible to tell which of the drums aren’t sampled (if there are any besides the overheads), the guitars are digital and overly processed, the strings are extremely overemphasized for the sake of dramatics, and the bass is essentially blended so thoroughly that there’s not even any distinguishable low-end that can be heard, even on a good set of speakers with range. Vocally, Mullins is still at the same place as before; he’s a well-versed vocalist with talents in both the screaming and singing departments, but as always his real differentiating qualities are overshadowed by the transparent and overly-tuned production with not enough gruff.
If there’s one thing these guys have always had a good grasp on, it’s hooks. A few of these songs are still pretty hook-heavy (“Beneath the Skin”, “Possibilities”), but they still get lost after these tired breakdowns that are further dragged down by more tiresome and overly righteous lyrics that exist for the sake of content (an example being the latterly mentioned “Possibilities” and “The Rose”). It’s tiresome to say their best work was their first self-titled EP on Trustkill records – we know that’s beating a dead horse – but guitarist Kellen McGregor, Guitar hasn’t written many inspiring riffs since. In fact, many of the progressions are just variations of ones used on TH and Challenger. Ballad “Need to Be” is very similar melodically to TH’s “The Burden”, and while it works, it is nothing different. I feel like I’m a talking to a wall voicing these opinions, but eventually it’ll catch up. These musicians are going to have to do something different to ever really make a difference.
In this genre, it’s all about delivery and presentation. Everyone expects you to be heavy, to be catchy, and to have those little tricks up your sleeve to try and stand out; the glitches and chops, the stops and drops, but when does it become genuine? Those little moments are fleeting on this record, but they do come out here and there (“Sleepless Nights”, the southern feeling “No Ordinary Love”). With the exception of the overly pretentious but well-executed breakdown, “Pharisees” also serves as an acceptable song in their heavy catalog.
Ultimately, you know how this review goes. It’s not really necessary to lay it all out, because if you’ve heard anything by this band before, you’ve heard this record. In all honesty, the blunt nature of this review is more than anything intended to serve as a reminder that just following the formula for success doesn’t make you a successful band. I want Memphis May Fire to succeed, but without dramatic change they will inevitably be just another link on Rise Records’ roster page. Swing and a miss.