So, does anyone remember that Of Mice & Men released an album in 2021? Probably not—it came out in December and was basically just a collection of the EPs they’d released in the months prior (plus a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young cover, for some reason). But while the argument could be made that general nonplussed energy around Echo marks a real stalling-out period for Of Mice & Men, the truth is that it’s been going for years now. The successes of the Aaron Pauley-fronted era have been predominantly thanks to inertia, shown by the fairly significant disinterest in them that appears to be ongoing. Pinpointing that can’t be difficult, though—it’s not like there’s a shortage of nu-metal / radio-metal bands clogging up the US airwaves, and an act with formerly much more to offer jumping ship into those waters doesn’t present a vision of longevity. The early adopters clearly aren’t as ferally dedicated anymore, seeing how much duller and more forgettable their mere existence has become, let along their albums. Even with the likely ‘best’ of them, 2019’s EARTHANDSKY, it’s not like that’s sustained in public memory.
At this point, the fifteenth minute feels fast approaching, and Of Mice & Men seem petrified by that fact. It’s presumably the only reason they hopped on the ill-fated micro-trend of piecemeal album releases via separate EPs, and even that backfired on them. Back in their earlier incarnations, they were the metalcore band that everyone else strived to be like; now, they’re a featureless face in a crowd filled with featureless faces. But, y’know…here’s Tether, as an attempt to maybe pull something back. If they’re exceedingly lucky. And if everyone else on the planet immediately decides to stop releasing music.
Should Of Mice & Men wish to keep some kind of prominence, this is not the way to do it, as they continue to wipe away the scant remains of that now-blank visage. In other words, the greatest praise that can plied onto Tether is how ostensibly adequate at its job it is. Self-production means this can be decently heavy with little compunction to an obvious crossover, albeit without moving the needle outside the prerequisite radio-metal range. This is still evidently Of Mice & Men’s comfort zone, as shown by how they’re yet to change or branch out too much. If you’ve been keeping a bead on Of Mice & Men for, like, the last decade, there’s not a single decision made on Tether that’ll surprise in any capacity.
And maybe that’s fine to an extent, but with the amount of degradation in good will towards an approach like this, this can feel remarkable disposable. When they slide into metalcore on Warpaint or Eternal Heft, the onus is put squarely on bludgeoning heft without any flavour. On the other end of the scale, there are more atmospheric synths and strings placed in the title track and Zephyros, though only to fill any instance of empty space (particularly on the former, which would feel so flat and flimsy without them). And then, with everything that falls in between, it meshes together into a dull mush bereft of real vibrancy. There’s clearly supposed to be scale and stakes, but it’s frequently too plodding and flabby to achieve anything of the sort.
At least Pauley is on hand to rescue things a bit, if only in relative terms. Despite a power-over-personality approach that’s always afflicted him (and was a lot less noticeable when he was relegated to just choruses), he does enough to conceivably fit as the ‘star’ of this show. If nothing else, his chops on a hook are still solid, as Into The Sun, Castaway and the title track find themselves propped up more by Of Mice & Men’s venerable desire to be big. It’s not that much of a consolation, though; a slightly more workable instance of Tether’s size doesn’t make it significantly more interesting to listen to. Because at the end of the day, this is all pretty basic stuff, built around broad metaphors of togetherness and solace among others that are fed through the metalcore meat-grinder with extreme prejudice. Even if it’s not the worst example of that (it’s probably not even in the top bracket, to be honest), it’s the kind of thing that Of Mice & Men should be way past by now.
Well, they should, but whether the format they’re in allows for that is a different matter entirely. It has been for a long time, such is the reason that Of Mice & Men seem to be spinning their wheels as regularly as they are. They’re stuck in an immovable mid-range that’s so difficult for them to break out of, and despite efforts to front as though they’re far bigger and more impactful, it’s amazing how easily all of that falls apart. Tether is simply the latest in a line of hard-to-love exercises in maintaining rank from Of Mice & Men, which is possibly the most damning indictment you could level at it. It’s clearly supposed to be more—maybe a saving grace to keep them in modern metal’s good graces—but if that’s how far this is supposed to go…well, let’s just say this particular tether is rather slack.
For fans of: Korn, Five Finger Death Punch, Cane Hill
‘Tether’ by Of Mice & Men is released on 6th October on Sharptone Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall