Review Summary: Thanks for nothing.
If you look at Of Virtue's discography, the overwhelming impression I get is one of angst, of a mind trapped between suffering and enlightenment. Their fusion of Being as an Ocean-esque melodic hardcore and Misery Signals-esque proggy metalcore pinned them as a more contemplative The Ghost Inside, and while not terribly original, it still left a mark in its honed dynamics and moments of contemplation and destruction. 2011's "Heartsounds" established this brew, while 2014's "Salvation" tightened the loose ends and amplified all the strengths. Half a decade later, we are introduced to "What Defines You," which, if we're looking at it mathematically, should be the absolute pinnacle, right?
The biggest change from previous efforts is that Nikolas Maltby's heartwrenching roars are replaced by new vocalist Tyler Ennis' barks, drummer Shon Allen's plods are replaced by Kyle Pruehs' energetic drumming style, and guitarist Damon Tate takes more of a prominent role in background and clean vocal duties. The result is an almost complete departure from the former sound in favor of a more Octane Radio-friendly metalcore romp, which ultimately very much misses the exit to Hittown and takes up residence in Missville.
To his credit, the change in sound has little to do with the vocals except for the fact that it is just different. Tyler Ennis' vocals are more than capable, varying between a Sam Carter-inspired vocal fry style and a Chris Motionless-esque gravelly tenor clean style, while Damon Tate injects a more soulful tone that previous efforts. Previously released tracks "Alone" and "Thanks for Nothing" and "I Won't Break" are solid tracks that make up for their unoriginality with pure energy and crunchy breakdowns that are amplified with solid bottom-heavy mixing and crunchy production. Highlights "Alone," "Pictures of You," and portions of closer "Confide in Me" feature melodic plucking that hints at former glory, while the latter feature showstopping guest vocals from Kalie Wolfe of "dark pop" band RIVALS. The Of Virtue project is at its best when it recalls former hints or creates tracks with relentless punch.
While Of Virtue benefits from the energy they can display, their real downfall lies in the complete departure from their previous sound: lack of dynamics. While songs can be catchy and fun, ultimately "What Defines You" feels more like something Disturbed or Motionless in White would have released lately. Given the depth of their former sound, this feels like a sellout. Virtually every song follows roughly the same pattern: crunchy intro, screamed verse, clean chorus, screamed verse 2, clean chorus, etc., with only minor variation. There is no variety to their structure, and with the monotony in dynamics, the album is painfully forgettable. While each member is competent, their performances are nowhere near as memorable as they could have been. As such, beside isolated moments of clarity or catchiness, most tracks sound identical.
I hope that Of Virtue can regain their former glory, but maybe they are aiming for Octane Radio. If that's the case, sincerely, more power to 'em. However, with "What Defines You," while it does feel fun at times, it is caught in an hard rock mimicry territory. With "Heartsounds" and "Salvation," I felt heard during difficulty and empowered through struggle; with "What Defines You," I only feel disappointed.