Breaking Into the Mainstream Doesn’t Always Mean “Selling Out”

By Trevor Laliberte, ’16

Of Mice & Men – Restoring Force
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Of Mice & Men latest album, "Restoring Force," has led to accusations of selling out.

Of Mice & Men latest album, “Restoring Force,” has led to accusations of selling out.

Of Mice & Men, one of the more successful metalcore bands, released their third album, “Restoring Force,” on Jan. 28. The album quickly peaked at number four on the Billboard charts, an unusual success for the metal scene.

The first single off of Restoring Force, “You’re Not Alone”, immediately broke away from anything the band had done before. It was clear with that first song that the group hadn’t written a sequel to 2011’s “The Flood.” “You’re Not Alone” abandoned the intricate breakdowns, aggressive in-your-face vocals, and complex structures of its predecessors. The song is a heavy-hitting hard rock arena anthem. It’s structurally a simple song, with a chorus that will be sung by crowds in sold-out venues all over the world.

The song isn’t exactly a representation of the whole album though. Of course the first single will be one of the more simplistic, memorable songs on the album. That’s how the music business works, when a band releases an album, they usually put out a single prior to the album’s release, and that song is typically catchy and radio friendly. This should be clear to most people, but if you’ve ever visited YouTube’s “comment” section (you poor soul), you would be led to believe differently.
With the band’s shift from Warped Tour Parking Lot Gods to Radio Rock Superstars, the controversy was inevitable. I don’t understand why controversy over a band’s style of music happens, but there is rarely a time when it doesn’t. It’s so common that it’s usually not even addressed. There are plenty of hipsters whining about Of Mice’s new album, usually before even giving it a chance past the first single. These are the hipsters that expect them to write another “Second and Sebring” or “O.G. Loko” and complain about how they’ve “sold out” because of the album’s success. Normally, the right thing to do would be to ignore it, but this band put way too much effort and emotion into the album to be considered sellouts, and their work is clear when you listen to the album. They deserve the success.
Everything about the music is honest. Nothing sounds overproduced, it sounds like you’re listening to a real band and not perfectly quantized computers, and the listening to the lyrics feels like having a deep conversation with the recovering vocalist/songwriter Austin Carlile. His personal life has been over-publicized for the last few years, whether it be involving his previous band Attack! Attack!, his fallout with former Of Mice & Men singer/bassist Shaylee Bourget, or his recent legal disputes. Carlile is not perfect, he’s fighting his own battles like the rest of the world, and he has a message in the first track, “Public Service Announcement” for the media and everyone trying to start drama about his life and his mistakes. His message? Go away.
Carlile doesn’t linger on being spiteful and angry though, a majority of the songs on the album are very positive and motivational. It’s a very personal album for him, lyrically. It addresses his issues and his imperfections, but it focuses on getting better and always having hope. He could be talking to himself, or his fans and supporters going through similar problems, probably both, but however it’s interpreted, his message is good. “You’re Not Alone” is the perfect example of that in the title alone and in the lyrics. “When it feels like all is lost and there’s no guide left to prove it, take a look inside, cherish your life, and live before you lose it.”
Another key song contributing to the positivity of the album, “Glass Hearts” could be the life story of anyone struggling in high school, considering the first line is “These are the hardest four years of my life.” The song could be a cry for help from anyone dealing with high school, and it could also be Carlile talking about his own problems with school. However you take it, at the end, he answers himself in probably one of the most inspiring lines in the music of this decade. “I know what you’ve been through, for hell was my life. You have to keep pushing, I’ve seen through your eyes. Your days are like pages, the chapters unread. You have to keep turning, your book has no end.”
Musically, “Restoring Force” is the most dynamic album the band has released yet, and they make it work. The radio rock sing-alongs (“Would You Still Be There”, “Another You”, “Feels Like Forever”, “You’re Not Alone”) blend well with their heavier songs similar to their metalcore roots (“Public Service Announcement”, “Bones Exposed”, “Glass Hearts”, “You Make Me Sick”). A good majority of the album also sounds heavily influenced by the “nü metal” bands of the late 90s/early 2000s, such as Sevendust, Deftones, Slipknot, Linkin Park, and Korn. Of Mice & Men aren’t the first to revive this sound though. Other Rise Records band My Ticket Home put out an album recently, titled “Strangers Only”. The album had a very similar sound to the bands mentioned above, and really sounded like it could’ve been released in 2001. Could this mean that “nü metal” is coming back?
“Restoring Force” wraps up nicely with the last track, the ballad of the album, “Space Enough To Grow”. The band tried to do the same thing on their sophomore album “The Flood” with “When You Can’t Sleep At Night”, and while that was a beautiful song, the instrumentation was so different from every other song that it felt very out of place. On “Restoring Force”, nothing is the same, so “Space Enough To Grow” worked a lot better to end the album and wrap up the chaos.
The band’s new bassist/singer Aaron Pauley brought a lot more to the table on the new album than I was expecting. His voice, while not as unique and memorable as Bourget’s, works very well for the style they seem to be going for. Him and Carlile switch off gracefully throughout the album, some songs feature one vocalist or the other, but overall there’s a great blend of vocal parts. I was really impressed with his work in the studio, but the real deciding factor will be how he sounds live.
Overall, the guys in Of Mice & Men deserve the recognition and success they’ve been getting with the release of “Restoring Force”. With heartfelt lyrics and solid music, the album is a huge transition for them, but they did it really well, and they’re still the same band. If you’re doubtful, give it a couple listens all the way through. Don’t just put it on as background music for studying or driving though. Actively listen to the instruments and the words. It’ll be worth your time.

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