Review Summary: Memphis May Fire proves with every record they put out that they are the undeniable masters of the modern metalcore formula. Whether that's a good or a bad thing, is ultimately up to the listener.
Memphis May Fire’s 2011 effort ‘The Hollow’ was the perfect example of modern metalcore done right. Three years and two albums later, enter the group’s newest production ‘Unconditional’. With the band’s tried-and true song formula from the last two evidently in place from the start of the album’s opener, ‘No Ordinary Love’, it’s apparent that not much has changed. But is that necessarily a bad thing for fans of Mullins & Co.? Probably not.
Memphis May Fire’s lyrics have always been one of the higher points in their music - even if some of the same lyrical themes have been repeated a few times over. One thing is now more obvious than it was in their previous works; vocalist Matty Mullins’ stronger, more profound faith in Christianity. Delivering the line “I know you’re here; I shiver as you whisper in my ear, ‘Child, have no fear’” just two minutes into the album, Matty wastes no time in letting the listener learn of his faith, proclaiming “I tried to save myself, but I failed!” (See the entire track 'Pharisees', as well)
They’ve even jumped on the self-help bandwagon that so many others have, on the track ‘Beneath The Skin’. “She dreams of a day when she won’t have to cry herself to sleep! Is our generation too blind to see true beauty lies beneath the skin? So ignorant!” While the lyrical themes may not be new, or exactly what everyone wants to hear, it’s apparent that this is Mullins’ most genuine effort yet, in terms of singing about how he truly feels. Lyrical content aside, on nearly every track Mullins delivers an extremely catchy chorus or hook, as only can be expected by now. The chorus of ‘Sleepless Nights’ is one of the best he’s written.
The guitarists are back to their dual assault of heavy riffing and chugging on ‘Unconditional’. While there’s not anything in particular that stands out enough to write home about, the guitars on this album are simple, effective, and very accessible and appropriate. There’s a couple times during the album in which the direction the guitars take almost feels out of place, and at some points, the listener can’t help but wish they did something more, something different. This is a metalcore album, after all.
The drumming of Memphis May Fire has never really drawn much attention to itself in the band's previous works. They were very appropriate and worked very well in ‘The Hollow’ and ‘Challenger’. That changes this time. ‘Unconditional’'s drumwork grabs you by the collar and forces the listener to stop and notice just how expertly Jake Garland smashes the skins. Riddled throughout the record are hard, fast, and heavy grooves and air-drum worthy fills.
The stand-out track of the album is ‘Speechless’. In a word; it’s "beautiful". A song about Matty’s love for his wife, the track showcases the band’s softer, more heartfelt side, and offers a very different and sincere contrast to the heavier assaults of tracks like ‘Sleepless Nights’ and ‘The Rose’.
Overall, there is nothing new to be found on ‘Unconditional’. Nothing outstanding, nothing inherently bad. That fact, however is a double-edged sword. Fans of the band’s previous works will love the new album. At the same time there’s nothing here to convince those who don’t like MMF’s previous attempts to change their minds. 'Unconditional' is a great album, but it may leave some feeling a hole where there’s something more to be desired.