It has been just under two years since Memphis May Fire’s last release, Challenger, hit the stores, and fresh from two years of touring which included playing two Warped Tours, their new release sees them capitalise on their meteoric rise into the ever-expanding metalcore scene.
The general style of Unconditional is very much similar to Challenger, with a reliance on their repertoire of heavy-hitting chugging breakdowns which make up the vast majority of their songs, the sense of theatrics and atmosphere that set the mood during the guitar interludes, and lead singer Matty Mullins’ rather unique unclean vocal style. Lyrically, the songs explore similar things to Challenger: self-improvement, recovering from low points, and expressing hidden feelings, lyrical themes that the band hope that their fans can relate to, an audience which admittedly is mainly mid-teens who show great loyalty to the bands they admire.
The album opens with ‘No Ordinary Love’, the song they first streamed on YouTube, which instantly kicks in with a catchy guitar riff and the serenity of Mullins’ clean vocals. The song typically sets the tone for the rest of the album, with the noticeable contrast between vocal styles which accompany the switches between clean and distorted guitar and the incorporation of synthesizers, vocal choruses and orchestral backing tracks. It is a heavy hitter of a track with a sing-a-long feel that will appeal to most fans at their live shows; it is clear to see why Memphis May Fire chose this as their first song release to promote the album as it really does incorporate all of their musical techniques that they are noted for.
It’s a shame then that after this, the album seems to become a blur. It is devoid of the grace and composure that exuded from their second album The Hollow – which is a metalcore masterpiece – and the heartfelt messages and music that encapsulated Challenger, and any sort of cohesion that stems from listening to the album in its entirety is only due to the fact that after a while it becomes increasingly difficult to tell when one song end and another begins, such is it’s lack of variety. Even the song ‘Sleepless Nights’, which they also pre-released before the the album dropped, is not exempt from this. It becomes apparent as the album becomes to tie up that is not a progression, or as Mullins described it, “more mature”, but an almost copycat cover of their previous work.
It is not until the end of the album where it springs back to life, and the atmosphere starts to pick back up. ‘Pharisees’ is a wonderful example of Memphis May Fire done right. It is heavy, fast-paced, melodic, mixes their sharp chugging verses with the heartily sung choruses that serve up a catchy tune you’d enjoy having stuck in your head. The use of synth in the song’s bridge links the breakdown with the rest of the song, which has power, chanting and imperatively sets the album up nicely for the final track, ‘Divinity’.
‘Divinity’ carries on the tradition of ending their albums on a track shipped out to the world to make everyone better people. It’s lyrics are softly sung, albeit seemingly lecturing, but that is the direction that the band has taken now. This track should be picked out to highlight a simply perfect ending to an album, it has an overbearing rock opera feel to it which just makes it more relatable and fun. The band were quick to point out that they have taken up a few new ideas with the album, notably the incorporation of orchestral parts, and whilst they’re not as evident within the unbridled mess that precedes the finale, in ‘Divinity’ they are truly sublime and make the song what it is.
To music lovers who have not listened to Memphis May Fire before, the album gives a good example of how the metalcore scene nowadays has evolved, and I can see any neutral fans seeing this album as a success. But to the long-standing fans who have listened to them since they joined Rise Records in 2011, the album may not be up to scratch. It seems rushed, unimaginative and even may make some believe that the band have become complacent in their work. It’s not that musically the album is bad (as this is most definitely not the case, they are a very talented band), it’s just that nearly everything sounds the same. There are tracks on the album that are classic Memphis May Fire: they demonstrate a desire to build on the stable roots that they have already sunk into a genre that they have shaken up in recent years, and if released as singles they can be wholly successful. However, they are dragged down by a majority of songs that seem like album ‘fillers’, which when taken into account, makes the album rather disappointing.
Ryan James Barley