Review Summary: Seeming to be more of a response to cries of long time fans than anything new from this band, Challenger is a solid, but safe album to be enjoyed by both veterans, and newcomers alike.
It was in early 2007 when I happened to stumble across a budding, but seemingly solid band from Texas with a few songs posted on their Purevolume (Anyone out there remember Purevolume?); At first listen, I was hooked. The combination of light, airy post-hardcore instrumentation peppered with a healthy amount of "southern twang" accompanied by dual vocal efforts of Chase Ryan and Kellen McGregor struck a unique note. Fast forward to 2012 and we're introduced to a whole new Memphis May Fire with a rapidly increasing fan base, a well-definied sound, and the backing of arguably the most notorious- for better or worse- record labels in the metal genre with which MMF
have released their latest effort, Challenger
Now, for a wavering fan still clinging to the days of that oh-so often forgotten EP, I was righteously appalled at the first few runs through this album. Since the release of The Hollow
, Memphis May Fire seemed to have lost most- if not all of the song writing, the technicality, and the very backbone of what made this band great in Self-titled EP
(in this reviewer's opinion, their Magnum Opus), and to a lesser extent Between the Lies
. The Hollow
saw the darkest hour of Memphis' wake with chugged guitars, standard verse/chorus/verse/breakdown, random synth, and far too much of that god awful vocal chopping replacing actual transitions. Lyrically, the album was by no means Wooden heart
, or ...Between Vega and Altair
, but it was easily relatable to the average joe.
Still obviously embittered by that begrudgingly accepted shortcoming, I went into Challenger
with diminished hopes. Though at it's core, it's little more than retribution for that last release, the album surprisingly placates the tyrannous cries of fans new and old. Challenger
starts off on the wrong foot however, with a stereotypical group chant written with the sole purpose of giving their less intelligent fans a few words to remember at a show. However, at the 0:51 mark, Mullins' guttural screams come in while simultaneously McGregor and Sepe's guitars resurrect a Memphis I thought to be long gone, instantly filling me with pride in "my" band seeing the errors of their ways and returning home. Captivating on the nostalgia, Memphis stay on the right track with "Alive in the Lights", another page out of Mullins' diary lyrically- and I mean in that in the best possible way- while the combined guitar work and decent, but somewhat forgettable drumming of Jake Garland, show a maturer Memphis featuring a meeeeeeean solo, a head bang-inducing breakdown, a catchy chorus, some good transitions, and very few gimmicks.
The album continues in the same light, with "Prove Me Right", and "Red in Tooth & Claw", but unfortunately, therein lies one of the underlying problems of Challenger. Though Memphis have placated their fans' combined cries of southern rock satiation, they seem to have lost a bit of versatility that was present in previous releases (save The Hollow
, obviously). Songs are for the most part structured far too blandly, too similarly, with each song having somewhat standout segments, but for the most part, meshing together. This is due partly to the band's reliance on an already accepted sound instead of playing it a bit less safe. Though "Miles Away" defies that theory, showing a beefed up version of the ambient electronic-infused side of Memphis combined with southern riffs and heartfelt vocals by Mullins, McGregor (i'm assuming), and one of the album's guest appearances, Kellin Quinn.
Lyrically, Mullins does a fantastic job of still being relatable while reading the pages of his subconscious. Though they fall short of any poetic recognition, they touch subjects fairly familiar to listeners. Whether it's telling problems of self-control in "Vices", where he sings, "I take another sip, the dark room that I'm in becomes dimly lit, this can't be all there is.", or defying the human need for oxygen while belting out "All dressed up in purple & pink, she'll do whatever it takes to get to VIP. She thinks everyone wants to see her down on her knees, but what she doesn't know is everyone just wants her to leave." in "Jezebel". Simple, but conveyed in a way that reminds us of times where we've been or known someone in that predicament.
The album certainly has it's moments of greatness- within the ceiling of a Rise band that is- and there are quite a few of them namely in "Jezebel", "Prove Me Right", and "Red in Tooth & Claw". Kellen does a great job of bringing back the twang, but not so much as to alienate new fans while stepping up the electronic aspect too. Mullins' vocal prowess is at times unbelievable, his lyricism angst-ridden and honest. Garland's drumming falls flat, but, is appropriate I suppose. Also, Cory Elder plays bass sometimes. With a few guest appearances to boost sales, a couple of standout tracks, and the return of the "Southerncore" we all know and love, this album is if anything, a solid entry in the MMF discography and to be embraced by any fan of what's being churned out by the major metal labels today.