Watching the increasingly tight and severe downward spiral of Memphis May Fire’s career has spanned a whole gamut of emotions, most notably starting at unfortunate and ending up at laughable. Given their current state, you’d hardly believe they started out as a southern hardcore act in the vein of He Is Legend or Maylene And The Sons Of Disaster, but a move to Rise Records and the increasing viability of squeaky-clean metalcore at the start of the 2010s would lead to a change in approach that would only get worse and worse with each passing release. A lot of that is entirely anachronistic – as far as Warped Tour metalcore goes, 2011’s The Hollow definitely stood tall back then even if it hasn’t aged well – but when they’ve come to embody all of the maudlin, overwrought sentiments that characterised metalcore of the time, not to mention playing it all completely straight, it’s hard not to see a husk of a band who’ve learned that spinning their wheels without any imagination is enough to rope in gullible kids who’ll actually buy this dreck.
As such, there’s a certain academic fascination that comes with Memphis May Fire and their graceless descent from the new hotness to metalcore’s equivalent to Imagine Dragons, a band who few will admit to actually liking but end up sticking around in some capacity. And that’s not a good position for any band to be in, regardless of genre – as truly awful as a band like The Amity Affliction are, they at least have a vocal, dedicated fanbase; Memphis May Fire, on the other hand, are running on fumes that barely amount to more than a puff of smoke. It’s not as if they can’t have noticed by now either, but if Broken proves anything, it’s exactly that, with an album that paints Memphis May Fire as completely oblivious of how irrelevant they are and sees them carrying on exactly as they left off.
It honestly wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to presume this album is a parody, crushing together as many Warped-core clichés as possible to highlight how dull and uninspired the bands who legitimately do this can be, but sadly it’s not, and Memphis May Fire are indeed one of those bands. This is melodic metalcore adopting the fashion over function mindset to its greatest degree, and when even that isn’t anywhere close to fashionable anymore, it just feels laughably dated and derivative. To really scramble for positives, there’s at least a hook or two that will lodge themselves in your head, and the fact that the guitars are actually audible at points with enough form to make up some solid riffs already puts it head and shoulders above The Amity Affliction’s last atrocity. But bear in mind that those moments are the minority; elsewhere, Broken is as over-polished, lightweight and devoid of anything meaningful as it gets. At its worst, it hits some painful patches of ennui with the lumpen drum thuds and buzzing synths of Sell My Soul or the cringeworthily syrupy ballad You And Me, but it’s not as if the less-objectionable moments are any better. The typical quality of filmy production to prevent anything from being too heavy is back in earnest, and while a track like Mark My Words could hit something resembling a nu-metal bounce with a bit more freedom, the fact that it’s as gated and castrated as it is is far more of a hindrance than anything else. At this point in time, when a gnarlier edge in metalcore is more accepted than it’s ever been, who Memphis May Fire think they’re appealing to by watering down their sound is a complete mystery, particularly when it’s hardly ever worked for anyone and does so even less now.
But apparently, that can all be pushed aside, as it’s the writing that’s Memphis May Fire’s big “appeal”, even though they’ve been the longstanding poster boys for how low this brand of metalcore can sink when it comes to shamelessly recycling themes. And look, maybe if this was a debut, this sort of mercenary looting of emotions might be acceptable, but Memphis May Fire are six albums in at this point, and when they’re yet to move away from lyrical touchstones like “a war inside” on Over It or “I’ve been broken, I’ve been beat down” on Live Another Day, there’s no hope that Broken is going to even encroach upon anything original. Hell, the title alone is enough of an indication of where this album goes lyrically, and the depths of banality it’s willing to plumb to reach the greatest number of people possible. Sure, having Matty Mullins stick to clean vocals most of the time as a means of highlighting emotional clarity is fair enough, but when he has nothing interesting or original to say, what’s the point of even trying? Far too often, Broken feels like an exercise to produce the most thinly-veiled “relatable” content possible, throwing broken relationships (You And Me), being an outcast (Heavy Is The Weight) and occasional moments of levity (Watch Out) into its melting pot, and exploring them just enough to wring some surface-level pandering out. But even among all of that, it’s telling that the only line that produces a stronger emotion than unshakable ambivalence is the chorus of Who I Am, where Mullins proclaims “It’s not fair of me to think you’d understand / The darkest part of me is part of who I am”, a lyric that should have been adorning T-shirts in garish, neon font back in 2008 instead of 2018, but is played so seriously and straight that it’s genuinely difficult to imagine that Memphis May Fire thought it was a good idea to put it to record.
Still, it’s hard to object to it being here though – it’s the solitary island of humour in this sea of unequivocal, white-paint-on-a-white-wall boredom. And let’s set the record straight with that – if this was an unknown band releasing this album, they would be mercilessly berated and ridiculed at every possible turn, and it should be no different when a band as established as this does the same thing. Broken is about as sterile and unimaginative as this genre notorious for being sterile and unimaginative gets, with barely a moment that will be remembered after just a few minutes of listening (well, remembered positively, anyway), and execution that simply offers nothing of value nowadays. Perhaps if this had been released a decade ago, it might have been looked upon more favourably, but that would undoubtedly lead to Memphis May Fire being the same wastes of time that they are not, and that’s an eventuality that would leave no one happy.
For fans of: The Amity Affliction, Like Moths To Flames, The Color Morale
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Broken’ by Memphis May Fire is released on 16th November on Rise Records.