If there’s one thing the Ohio militia Miss May I have a grip on, it’s metal. These guys, in a short amount of time, have elevated to mega status because of their furious take in the world of metalcore. Rising to prominence with the release of 2009’s Apologies Are for the Weak, maintaining momentum with 2010’s Monument, they are now continuing the rise with their latest release, At Heart. The latest installment shows the group making some changes in the music department, opting out of some of the “chugga-chugga” riffage for more technicality and a stronger emphasis on instrumentation. Although this mindset was perfect on paper, this release suffered a couple pitfalls while showing the group trying to mature their image.
For the die-hard fans who want me to just get to the point, this release isn’t bad by any stretch. In fact, it’s really solid. I feel the best word to describe this record is just a bit bland. You can immediately see their progression start to resemble more of a Bleeding Through or Unearth type of style, but they are still keeping their trademark sound intact. One thing you will notice right away is vocally, MMI have got their shit together. Vocalist Levi Benton never fails to shred, decimate, and preposterously embarrass most other vocalists in the genre. Bassist/clean vocalist Ryan Neff has immensely approved on that token, because the singing verses and choruses on this record are by ten-fold stronger, more empowered, and more necessary than before. He now gives MMI an edge that many other bands in the genre lack: a strong clean vocalist. Neff, drummer Jerod Boyd, and guitarists B.J. Stead and Justin Aufdemkampe douse the record with splurges of metalcore fire, noodley and clean leads, thick and meaty bass lines, and ferocious drumming. They’ve got the flair, but how do these songs stand up?
Album opener “Hey Mister” kicks things off with a bombarding start, with one of the heaviest breakdowns the album has to offer right at the forefront. It showcases some of the better moments of the record in the beginning with its monster breakdowns, nearly perfect anthemic chorus, and thrashy but melodic energy. Most of the tracks follow the same format, just endlessly fast and brutal. “Opening Wounds” makes use of a strong sing-along type of chorus, heavy as hell but not in the sense of breakdowns. “Leech” and “Second to No One” are sure to be crowd favorites, because both play up on creative crowd involvement techniques: cement block breakdowns, catchy-as-hell chants, a circle pit based off of the beginning of the latter, and creative drumming that plays up lots of time for concert-goers to jump up and down. One thing this band is great at is creating songs made specifically for the live setting, and these won’t disappoint anyone. “Sirens Song” is one of the more creative songs on the record, displaying some of the best singing parts they’ve come up with thus far in their career.
One thing I must mention is that this record will take a little time to grow on you; give it a few weeks. Albeit not as catchy and “hook-filled” as previous efforts, there’s a lot to pay attention to here. “Day By Day” has one of the best gang-vocal moments, while “Bleeding Out” makes clever use of a phaser in the opening lead guitar riff and contains another one of their colossal breakdowns that’s sure to blow some hair back. “Road of the Lost” is more on the generic side, but still a solid track. “Found Our Way” takes the foot off the intensity for just a moment before delving into more melodic thrash territory. This song features in my opinion Neff’s best singing part on the record, on the very last note of the song as well as his various verses.
“Gold to Rust” returns to the real heavy with an absolutely crushing breakdown dueled with a nifty bass slide in the beginning, as well as at the end. This song sits near the top as one of the heaviest songs they’ve made thus far. “Live This Life” has the coolest guitar lead right in its introduction, although by this point it does start to feel a little stale, considering many songs like it have already surfaced. I feel this song is the most bland of the bunch by far. Thankfully, “Ballad of a Broken Man” not only redeems the former track, but also ends the record on an uplifting note. Benton leads it off with a rousing “This is goodbye!” right at the start, carrying the momentum until Neff really tears this song a new one with an emotional chorus. I feel this song really encapsulates what MMI are about: driving verses and choruses, ferocity quite unmatched in the scene, and plenty of talent to go around. They aren’t reinventing the wheel by any means, but they sure know how to grab it and drive in whatever direction they please.
Closing the record on a bright note, it shows how far they’ve come since their first release, and that word is definitely far. This record suffers from some accessibility issues, but not enough to derail it. I see them moving in a more progressive direction, growing more in-touch with the style that bands like Killswitch Engage and All That Remains dominated for years. If you’re a die-hard fan, you’ll find something to appreciate here. If you’re not a fan of the more American metal style of sound, you will be a bit disappointed with this release, but not so much that it should deter from you trying it out. Miss May I knows a thing or two about metal, and I don’t see anything impeding their progress into the more treasured ends of the genre anytime soon.