Memphis May Fire - This Light I Hold

Christian metal's claim to fame Memphis May Fire are back with their new record This Light I Hold. The band's known for their strong messages that come with their songs, but they seem to forget subtlety when it comes to delivering them. 

2014's Unconditional might have been the pinnacle of the band's lyricism. Powerful messages were backed by poetic words and intense instrumentals. This Light I Hold feels like a step back from all of that. The instrumentals are solid throughout the record, but vocals and lyrics struggle with maintaining appropriate delivery.

The album begins on a high, for what it's worth. It opens big with 'Out Of It,' a big riff accompanying giant screamed vocals. It proceeds through with urgency and intensity before kicking in the classic Memphis May Fire cleanly sung chorus and building bridge. The song has a distinctly evil sound, showing the bigger meaning of the album and the passion of the song itself. You feel like you're being swallowed by darkness, the light in you being drawn out by something evil.

Another standout track on the record is 'The Enemy.' It starts the trend of songs with building electronics and guitars. Matty Mullins nails the vocals and melodies on the track, with the guitars also powerfully carrying the track. The key of the song is its symphonic parts, though. When they kick in, the song takes on a whole new level of urgency and drama. The brooding darkness of the track's epic orchestras help give it that theatrical voicing. The bridge is quiet, cleanly reverberating guitars echoing as Mullins' voice slowly grows and the pounding beat comes in to recreate the drama. 

That's where a lot of the praises on the album come to an end. There are plenty of standard of songs, but also many very lacking tracks. Lead single 'Carry On' is one of the first that really lacks what the album needs: meaning. If you're a band founded on your lyrics and messages, you have to make the lyrics good. We reviewed the song upon its release, and the impact it had them hasn't really changed. The melodies and instrumental are solid, but when you listen the words, they really don't offer anything of worth. The bridge blatantly claims, "I will never be like you / I'm not a puppet on a string / I'm not one of your machines / I'm not doing this for you / I'm not doing this for me / It's bigger than what you choose to see," as if he's run out of things to say in a petty argument. The line "Don't be to preachy if you want to be loved" is pretty laughable too, considering the nature of the band's lyrics.

The clean third verse croons, "Sell your soul for platinum / Sell the truth for gold / You can be the next big thing / If you turn your back on what you know" in the most standard uplifting lyrics there have ever been. There's simply just no point to them besides what you can hear directly, and that's a problem with much of the record. There are a bunch of very boring tracks like 'Better Things' and 'The Antidote' that really don't have anything worth remembering about them, standard lyrics not helping their case.

The few guests spots on the record are a hit or miss. Jacoby Shaddix features on title track 'This Light I Hold,' but it really feels like he isn't necessary. The only vaguely Papa Roach element in the track is the slightly distorted harmony in the choruses that come straight from the band's latest record F.E.A.R. He's there just for being there, really. The instrumental has a lot of punch to it, making it one of the bigger tracks on the album, but I just can't understand why Shaddix had to be there. Larry Solimon features on 'Not Over Yet' to the actual benefit of the song. He unfortunately only features for a short portion of the bridge, but his voice is almost childish, the innocence contrasting the nature of the track.

This Light I Hold is a step in the opposite direction for Memphis May Fire. There's not much going on it besides what the band was already doing, and worse than what they're capable of, at that. There's so much potential on this album, but the lyrics didn't quite make it there, and that's always what defined the band. Disappointing isn't the right word, but it really just doesn't come off as what you would've expected.

Favorite Tracks: Out Of It, The Enemy, This Light I Hold

Least Favorite Tracks: Carry On, Better Things, Unashamed

Rating: 67 / 100

Memphis May Fire - 'Carry On'

Memphis May Fire are pretty much the good-boys of post-hardcore. That's not a bad thing, though. Their music always has a touch of God in it, often meaning very personal and uplifting messages come with it. With a new album on the horizon (details here), it's time to tap into what kind of sound the band will venture into next.

The first single from the next record (entitled This Light I Hold) is 'Carry On'. It's nothing special instrumentally, but it's a pretty rocking MMF track. It almost sounds like a lite-version of their previous effort's - 2014's Unconditional - 'No Ordinary Love', with the cleaner verses traded out with more brutal screaming but the downtuned riffs and blasting kick drums staying present. The chorus highlights vocalist Matty Mullins' aggressively clean vocals. The bridge takes a short reprieve, the instrumental fading to something quieter and Mullins delivering another motivational message. The song explodes once again into the final chorus with a more positive composure to it.

While everything may seem pristine on the surface, that really isn't the case with this track. It's not another version of Challenger (the main concern with their last record) but if this track indicates what the next album will hold, it's going to be a bit underwhelming. This track doesn't really have any meat to it. It's heavy to start with but it loses all of that momentum as it progresses. The third verse is almost cringey. The second verse is screamed and the lyrics are... passable, but then a quieter clean verse comes in with Mullins preaching about selling your values for profit: "Sell your soul for platinum / Sell the truth for gold / You can be the next big thing / If you turn your back on what you know.

The problem is that this song lacks any subtlety. It's very much to the point, without even trying to find a way around directly saying what the song means. The bridge blatantly says: "I will never be like you / I'm not a puppet on a string / I'm not one of your machines / I'm not doing this for you / I'm not doing this for me / It's bigger than what you choose to see." It literally sounds like he's in an exasperated argument with someone. Not in the way of an internal struggle or a falling out, but as in a petty couple of teenagers having an argument. The writing of this track really is almost laughable.

This Light I Hold isn't off to a hot start. 'Carry On' is a pretty underwhelming track written without any sense of metaphor or subtlety. If you're going to speak of religious teachings, you can't simply state what you want to get across. Memphis May Fire was good at this before, and even when things weren't subtle there were other elements of songs that would make it powerful. 'Cary On' is just so painfully standard - you can see the potential it could have and end up disappointed when it doesn't go anywhere. Let's hold the album holds out and is miles better than what the single reveals.

Rating: 59 / 100

Skillet - Unleashed

Christian rock's leading figures Skillet have just unleashed (pun intended) their next album. The band, known for their rigorous touring, is back with Unleashed, but it's not the big record you'd want from them.

For what it's worth, the record starts huge. 'Feel Invincible' starts epically with giant guitar paired with stinging synths, bringing the album in on a confident note. The chorus is absolutely massive, a big electronic banger with sweet duets by husband/wife duo John and Korey Cooper. 'Back From The Dead' follows through, the same big energy with a more pump-up vibe to it. The song is big and upfront, continuing the album on a strong note.

This is where the album starts falling apart. 'I Want To Live' is the last great track on the record, epic strings bringing the song in while duets serve as a highlight for the rest of the track, ending on a lovely note. The rest of the record just feels... uncertain. 'Stars' is what starts this trend, the song being clearly anthemic but wholly unfulfilling. This is a problem for nearly every other track on the album, especially the admittedly sweet 'Watching For Comets', as well as the constant internal struggle of trying to find a solid footing. 'Famous' has an odd dancey vibe amidst an album that was previously big and confronting, and 'Lions' follows this by sounding completely out of place, as if somewhere between these songs the album become a bad cross between 90s electronica and cheesy anthemic singing. 'Out Of Hell' has peppy vocals that absolutely don't fit the demanding instrumental.

Some songs seem to have lacked inspiration during their writing process, too. You can only listen to 'Undefeated' for so long before you say, "I get it." The chorus seems to be 75% of the song; you get sick of hearing "I know I can beat it... Fight for the love of the game, unstoppable / That's right, I'm unstoppable" by the time the song is reaching its end. 'Burn It Down' is one of the most boring tracks on the album; there's nothing remotely interesting about it. It's just an all around bad electronic rock song, which is unfortunate considering how well they were doing with the electronic influence early on with the record. 'Saviors Of The World' is almost preachy and completely cliché. 'The Resistance' is as off putting as the rest of the album, and the ending feels completely out of place. Even the band knew they needed something big to end the album, so they just stuck a random jam at the end of this track.

Skillet had an identity crisis with Unleashed. The album started off so promising, which is what makes this record so disappointing. Everything fell apart as the album got to its center, and nothing improved. There's no sense of identity in this album; it's disjointed and uninspired. There's still some hope, as evidenced by the first few tracks. Let's hope the next album isn't a flop, too.

Favorite Tracks: Feel Invincible, I Want To Live, Back From The Dead

Least Favorite Tracks: Lions, Famous, Burn It Down

Rating: 59 / 100