Review Summary: Memphis May Fire moves away from metalcore; results may vary.
While it could be said that the drop-off in this band’s popularity in the mainstream was caused by the band’s music supposedly declining in quality, I’m not sure that’s the case. Memphis May Fire suffered the same fate as plenty other bands in the “scene” demographic, ala Sleeping With Sirens, in that they had a proverbial boom and then fell off shortly after. Unconditional
was very successful, peaking at #4 on the Billboard 200 despite being seen as a downgrade from their predecessor. Its follow-up on the other hand, peaked at #42. This falls in line with the trend of “scene bands” having a sort of boom-bust cycle, evidenced by Asking Alexandria, Escape the Fate to an extent, and the aforementioned Sleeping With Sirens; Bring Me the Horizon seems to be the only one that bucked that trend. I predict Broken
to continue in the direction as its predecessor when the Billboard metrics come in; it may even fall below the dreaded #200 position. Bands like this typically have an expiration date, so their options are to either change their style to keep up with the trends or keep on the same old beaten path until they fade into obscurity; with their latest outing, Mullins and co. opted for the former of the two.
seems to signal a new direction for the band, sounding much closer to the likes of Red or Skillet than anything from The Hollow.
Opener and lead single “The Old Me” starts off with a riff that wouldn’t feel out of place on a pre-Dark Before Dawn
Breaking Benjamin album, tracks like “Watch Out”, “Over It”, and “Mark My Words” follow in the opener’s direction, and ballad “You and Me” easily feels like it could have been released on a Red album and it would’ve fit perfectly. As enjoyable as the music is, most of it feels like emulation, not innovation; to be fair, this band has never been that inventive, so that’s to be expected. Matty Mullins’ vocals are as tuneful as ever, as he channels his faith-driven passion as he did on his last solo album, Unstoppable.
Screaming is scarce, only appearing in small instances throughout, such as on “Sell My Soul”. “Heavy Is the Weight” features an introspective rap verse from hip-hop artist Andy Mineo. As unexpected as this felt, it worked surprisingly well, shifting the dynamic of the record if but a tad; other recent albums like last year’s Asking Alexandria
hadn’t quite hit the mark with their features. The aforementioned “You and Me” is another standout moment, detailing the struggles of letting go of a love he fought so fervently to keep together.
This album frequently resorts to the usual Christian rock cliché of “I was once lost, now I am found”, but unlike Matty’s solo work or even Unconditional,
he doesn’t specifically name or reference who the “you” in the writing is. Instead, he masks his religious imagery under a veil of ambiguity, which very well could allow the message he seeks to express on Broken
to be more easily digestible for a secular audience. Because of this more vague style of lyricism, it’s also in the realm of possibility that not everything on display is an outright praise of his Savior. Despite the increased ambiguity, Mullins does little to distinguish himself from the rest of the pack; he could have ghost-wrote for the last Skillet album and it would’ve probably worked as well if not better. That being said, the generic nature of Mullins’ lyrics isn’t a major flaw, as it’s tough to separate yourself artistically without also
alienating the audience to whom Mullins is attempting to cater, now that the fangirl wave has waned. Not to mention, his vocal performances largely excuse the uninteresting platitudes that are present. If you’re not a fan of the typical Christian rock clichés that defined albums like Red’s Release the Panic
or the latter half of Skillet’s discography, little here will strike a chord with you on a lyrical level, aside from maybe
“You and Me”, at least if you’re in need of a ballad about letting go of someone you held dear.
As a full release, Broken
is enjoyable, but imperfect. Those seeking a return to the style of The Hollow
will be disappointed, as Memphis May Fire run away from their previous metalcore sound. At a mere 31 minutes, this is their shortest full-length, so one thing that you will not be able to say is that it overstays its welcome; despite some weaker tracks like “Fool” or “Watch Out”, those are among the shortest outings on record. It’s arguable that this shift in direction is a way to cash in on the year’s trends; after all, This Light I Hold
didn’t chart particularly well in relation to Unconditional,
so it’s possible that they’re changing here to fix that. In other words, this stylistic shift could just be a calculated business move. Regardless, the writing here is executed well enough that it still feels like a fairly natural progression. Imperfect and flawed as it is, Broken
is still decent as a standalone despite the relative disappointment it may generate. In the words of Tyler Joseph of Twenty One Pilots, “don't trust a perfect person and don't trust a song that’s flawless.”