Review Summary: Metalcore deserves a better portrait than Miss May I give to fans with this record. Music in general deserves better to be quite honest.
Metalcore is one of the harder genres to fully embrace after jumping into music head-on. Most metal fans that I have encountered in life start out with the genre and move on from it within a decade. It can be likened to marijuana in the sense that metalcore is a gateway drug towards black, death, and heavier forms of the vast genre. At least that has been my experience as most metalcore bands have faded away from my must-listen list year after year. Miss May I have been a guilty pleasure for a long while but the five piece band out of Ohio make some of the more nostalgic and simplistic metal sounds despite deep vocal issues. Rise of the Lion may be the jump off point for anyone who have been on the fence over the last few albums.
Miss May I are at their worst sonic qualities throughout this new record. The guitar work is passable but nothing really shines throughout. This problem is more related to the sound mixing than the actual musicianship. Most tracks on the album portray the guitars as second fiddle to the overblown vocals. The drums are almost non-existent to the mixing, even though there are some moments where the beats drive through. The vocals are the real force on Rise of the Lion, which is a major mistake. Very few tracks actually feature compelling lead vocals and most are just awful in every sense of the word. This record features some of the most horrific sounding screams I have ever heard in the genre. The chorus work is no better, being too weak and unconvincing melodically to really convey any message whatsoever. It's quite disappointing that Terry Date could not mix these elements a bit better to make the record at least a bit more appealing.
There aren't any truly good songs on the album but a few songs are manageable for a few listens. Gone is a messy track with the bad mixing present throughout, but the guitar work is compelling enough to carry the short sprint. Hero With No Name is far from solid but it does feature the best mixing present, making for a strong backing instrumental that meshes well with the more-controlled lead vocals. Saints, Sinners, and Greats makes for an average but better closing track to the album. The writing, especially the chorus is a mess but the overall sound is good for the most part. This track features the best breakdown of the album, even if it fails to be anything more than an average Atreyu-esque song.
The disappointing songs vastly outweigh the interesting ones. The cheesy lyrics sprinkled throughout Rise of the Lion are about as expected as anything in the genre. There is plenty of tough guy machismo prevalent throughout, and the whole concept of writing an album based around unanswered fan mail is a pretty horrendous idea. The process makes for more awkward song structuring and hollow life lessons than tangible ideas and thoughtful meanings. The opener, Refuse to Believe is one of the worst openers of the year. The lyrics are a bit better than most here, but the lead vocals make the track ear splitting. Echoes is also ruined by tired vocal performances on both parts, even though the guitar work tries to save what little is available. Darker Days is the worst example of everything wrong with the album though. It features some of the worst sound mixing throughout, especially the saturated vocals and guitars that are pushed back too far. The drums get more play here but they sound off in many ways, and the solid melodic guitar solo near the end barely marks a presence.
Miss May I have undoubtedly released one of the worst albums of 2014, which is disappointing considering their past that seemed to point toward a positive future. Despite a few passable tracks and guitar work that tries to save the messy album, there are just too many problems to account for. The sound mixing is horrendous from beginning to end, vocals are made to be a focal point despite being the biggest issue, and there is little in the compelling lyrics department to boot.