Of Mice and Men are a rare breed of band whose reputation exceeds their music. Even if you’ve never heard a song from them, you’ve probably heard something about them. Like the controversy surrounding frontman Austin Carlile’s temporary exit from the band to have open-heart surgery that lead to the band replacing him completely with current Glass Cloud frontman Jerry Rousch. Or Carlile’s awkward reunion with the band that ushered Rousch out of the picture and eventually spelled the end for clean vocalist Shayley Bourget. This was caused by the entrance of guitar player Alan Ashby, whose insertion into the band’s lineup was one of the conditions of Carlile’s return. Each of these moves saw its fair share of twitter bickering, rumors, and hearsay, but out of it came the band’s second full-length The Flood. Bourget left shortly after the album was released, and the band enlisted former Jamie’s Elsewhere vocalist Aaron Pauley to play bass and provide clean vocals. The Flood was wildly successful, scoring the band consecutive runs on Warped Tour (where they drew some of the biggest crowds), the second of which being on the main stage. Commercial successes aside, The Flood was wrought with your typical Rise-core cliches, featuring a barrage of breakdowns introduced by Carlile’s mosh calls, but like the band’s self-titled debut before it, there were flashes that the band could become more than that.
The band’s third full-length, Restoring Force, is another attempt to cash in on some of the hype and potential the band have accrued through their tumultuous journey to the top of the scene. Opening track “Public Service Announcement” finds only Carlile providing vocals, swithing between his signature high-pitched screams and the growling yells he experimented with on the deluxe-edition EP of The Flood. Carlile’s anger towards those who hate on his band are the theme here, as he reminds the listneners that what he does offstage is “none of their business,” among other abrasive assertions throughout the song. Second track “Feels Like Forever” is Pauley’s official introduction to the band, and he immediately proves his meddle, powerfully delivering the chorus and bridge. The chorus is pretty gigantic, along with the riffs provided by Ashby and Phil Manansala, and shows a bit more polish than listeners will be expecting from the band.
Though Pauley’s contributions on the album are mostly positive, the issue of balancing his voice with Carlile’s presents itself at times. Any band who chooses to utilize screams and clean vocals will encounter this issue, and the rate of success has always been relatively low. Of Mice and Men certainly make a solid attempt to keep things even, but in doing so, the album loses some of its momentum. There are quite a few of examples where the band’s attempts at balance results in predictability, specifically on “Another You,” “Identity Disorder,” and album-closer “Space Enough to Grow.” This predictability is softened by the band’s improved musicianship, and can be chalked up as growing pains as the band are clearly working towards a more mainstream rock radio sound.
That sound is achieved wonderfully on “Would You Still Be There,” as Pauley dominates the track with Carlile providing screams that bolster the impact of the track. Ashby and Manansala power this track as well, thanks to a well-placed solo after a well-executed bridge. The band have another radio-ready single towards the end of the album in “You’re Not Alone,” which features Carlile channeling Slipknot’s Corey Taylor on the verses, Pauley’s uplifting delivery of the song’s arena-ready chorus (loaded with gang chants!), and powerful drumming provided by the band’s backbone of a drummer, Valentino Arteaga.
The crown jewel of Restoring Force, however, is the third track, “Bones Exposed.”It’s Carlile’s musing on what his newfound fame has brought him (other than a friendship with skateboarder/MTV reality star Ryan Sheckler), and gives us a glimpse of the aggressive side Of Mice and Men made their name on in their first two albums with the nu-metal-minded approach the band experimented with on the deluxe edition of The Flood. The result is a crushing track that will have fans moshing just as passionately as they sing the chorus back to Aaron Pauley at their concerts.
Like the two albums that came before it, Restoring Force will be a very polarizing album, and the trenches of both opinions of the band will be dug deeper. Fans of the band will have more reasons to worship Carlile, while the band’s detractors will see a band that’s trying to cash in on its frontman’s star power to break through to the mainstream. The truth lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, as the album showcases a band that has begun to refine its craft, explore their talents more, and develop and mature in a way that they didn’t seem to between the self-titled effort and The Flood. Of Mice and Men are only going to get bigger thanks to Restoring Force, but with the improvements they’ve made in both musicianship and maturity, they’re also beginning to realize some of their potential.