Many of Of Mice & Men‘s fans were surprised when clean vocalist Aaron Pauley confirmed he would be taking on lead vocal duties alongside the release of first single Unbreakable, but Defy takes on a blend of the sounds of Of Mice & Men‘s older material and Pauley’s former band Jamie’s Elsewhere during his vocal tenure.
Defy is kicked off with the title track which again shocked a large portion of the fanbase when it was released. A return to heavy riffs and crushing vocals is evident as soon as the song kicks in with screams and chugging guitars dominating all of the space on the recording. Come the chorus, these somewhat make way for a wide, sweeping gang vocal that demonstrates the incorporation of Restoring Force ideas for what seems like the first time since it was released. The heaviest breakdown since at least 2011’s The Flood hits around halfway through the track, bookended by the choruses that ground the track safely in the band’s style. A very promising start.
Following up the opener comes what is arguably the best song on the album – titled Instincts. The sheer power of the guitar work is sure to be enough to make many sit in awe of the tone crafted throughout, and backed up by the cymbal-filled drum wrap-around created by Tino and the producers that cuts through the chunky guitar-bass hybrid. The wah-riddled solo from Phil sounds dystopian in sections and is just plain technical in others – this is a lead guitarist who has his confidence and ability on display now more than ever before. It’s not all heavy and crazy though – lighter songs including pre-release single Back To Me are sure to keep fans of the newer eras of the band with the catchy choruses and more middle-of-the-road rock sound they have crafted.
Vocally throughout, Aaron sounds very much in practice as if he never slowed up his screaming at all. Forever YDG’n is written somewhat as a tribute to the first two albums of the band, and the vocal work throughout the tune does it justice entirely. Slightly contrasting the nostalgia is Sunflower which brings a new dual-scream dynamic with Pauley providing harsh growls alongside higher screams to create a wonderful blend that matches the feeling of the instrumentals perfectly.
The elephant in the room must be addressed though: yes, the track titled Money really is a cover of that Pink Floyd song. Was it expected? Not at all. Does it work? Honestly, it does in its own strange way. Taken as a single, the cover seems to be a rather strange rendition and outside the comfort zone of Of Mice & Men as a band, but when woven into the fabric of the album as a whole the placement of the song and the themes within the lyrics work to slot in seamlessly.
Overall, Defy is a fantastic return to form for a band that seemed to lose their way with their last release. Losing the spearhead figure of your band often crushes all morale and demands dramatic reinvention. As Robert Burns said in his poem from which the band’s name originated, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley” – Of Mice & Men had the perfect solution to Defy all expectations.