This is Miss May I’s third album, but it’s my first time hearing them. I never checked them out before because, based on their name, I expected something from the glammed-out Hot-Topic-goth-looking end of the modern metalcore scene. That seems to have been a mistake, for at least on their latest album, these guys are far heavier than I thought they’d be.
Miss May I – At Heart (Rise Records)
This is Miss May I’s third album, but it’s my first time hearing them. I never checked them out before because, based on their name, I expected something from the glammed-out Hot-Topic-goth-looking end of the modern metalcore scene. That seems to have been a mistake, for at least on their latest album, these guys are far heavier than I thought they’d be. Their mixture of heavy, midtempo riffing with complex leads that integrate melody lines and harmonic resonances is not necessarily breaking much new ground, but has a lot to recommend it for fans of the genre.
The album opens with a short intro, which leads into first single “Hey Mister.” This track’s pounding riffage could easily have drifted into monotony, as most of the song sticks with a single medium tempo. However, the verses deviate from the effective but overdone chugging-rhythm-guitar-riff-with-melodic-lead template established on the chorus by integrating more complex chord structures, which use minor keys and harmonies to add depth underneath vocalist Levi Benton’s screams. The song’s bridge features clean backing vocals from bassist Ryan Neff, but Benton always sticks with screamed vocals, which provide the same sort of intriguing contrast that Underoath used to great effect on many of their more memorable choruses. Miss May I’s heavier, chunkier riffing places them in a different stylistic subgenre than that of Underoath though. On the whole, their sound is more reminiscent of Wisconsin’s Misery Signals, who’ve also shown great aptitude at placing harsh, screamed vocals over riffs that retain their metallic feel but still mix in a great deal of melody.
The one issue I have with this album is that it tends at times to blend into the background. While its singles–the aforementioned “Hey Mister,” as well as “Day By Day” and “Ballad Of A Broken Man”–have significant melodic hooks which help them stand out, and other tracks, such as “Bleeding Out” and “Opening Wounds,” catch the ear with memorable heavy riffs, there are several songs here that do too little to distinguish themselves. Miss May I’s tendency to rely on medium tempos is probably at fault here–while it’s easy to write songs that generate intensity through extreme speed or brutal, crawling slowness, it can be much more difficult to maintain a listener’s attention over the course of a full-length album that is mainly midtempo. After a while, all the chunky riffs get a little numbing. I think a greater emphasis on melody than is seen on this album could really help the situation, and several of At Heart‘s tracks prove that Miss May I are capable of crafting excellent melodically-driven songs that still retain a fundamental heaviness. “Found Our Way,” inexplicably not released as a single, nonetheless deserves a mention here, as it veers from one of the most obviously melodic choruses on the album to one of its heaviest riffs, and is excellent throughout. Songs like this point the way forward for the band. It is just a shame that they’re offset by several tracks that are too unremarkable to retain the listener’s ear.
On the whole, however, At Heart is a solid album with significantly more gems than duds. Fans of modern metalcore will enjoy it thoroughly, and while it may not win over those with a fundamental aversion to the style, it certainly stands head and shoulders above many of the mediocre and generic examples that populate the endless festival tours that crisscross the country every summer. After all, these guys are able to headline those kinds of tours for a reason. If you’re only going to pay attention to one or two of the many metalcore bands out there, Miss May I is certainly one of the better ones to check out.
Miss May I will be performing at The Norva, located at 317 Monticello Ave. in Norfolk, on Tuesday, October 23 as the headlining act on the AP Tour Fall 2012. Also performing will be The Ghost Inside, Like Moths To Flames, The Amity Affliction, and Glass Cloud. Doors open at 6 PM. Tickets are $17.50 in advance, and can be ordered HERE.