December 3, 2021 Of Mice & Men – Echo (Album Review)
The gold-selling Metalcore titans Of Mice & Men have managed to tempt our ears throughout the past year thanks to a series of singles and two EP releases, and now they are back with their seventh full-length, Echo, which arrives on Friday, December 3, 2021, thanks to SharpTone Records.
‘Prolific’ is a word that one can use to describe the four musicians—Vocalist/Bassist Aaron Pauley, Guitarists Phil Manansala and Alan Ashby, and Drummer Valentino Arteaga—who collectively call themselves Of Mice & Men. Throughout the past twelve years, these Southern Californians have managed to deliver a plethora of music; first gaining attention with their eponymous 2010 debut and, most recently, winning over new fans with 2019’s EARTHANDSKY.
Then came a global pandemic and a gigantic pause on touring. Refusing to lose time to quarantine, they came together remotely via Zoom and Twitch to inspire one another’s creativity. And thanks to file-sharing and determination, the group self-produced two 3-song EPs that were mixed and mastered by the multi-talented Pauley.
Culling together these offerings with the unreleased Ad Infinitum EP—which is slated to arrive on vinyl in April 2022—Of Mice & Men has managed to successfully take their Metalcore sound to new heights. The 10-song Echo is one of the quartet’s best works to date; one that remains solidly entrenched in their roots as it continues to grow the seeds that were initially planted on 2018’s Defy. “Echo is a snapshot of the last year-and-a-half of our lives,“ the band sums up the album perfectly. “It covers loss and growth, life and impermanence, love, and the infinite — how the most wonderful and most tragic parts of the human experience are deeply intertwined.“
It all begins with the opening notes of “Timeless,” a serious introduction to 2021 Of Mice & Men; one that entices us to look closer. A shedding of the skin, the track touches on our modern “life through wires,” while offering a double-edged crumb of hope via the impermanence of all situations. It is much like humanity and this album: a hurricane of complicated emotions that cannot be easily defined and, instead, must be felt by each individual.
Seemingly to balance its catchy approach to songwriting, the melancholic “Obsolete” serves as a staunch reminder of the band’s ability to craft a brutally honest banger—but one that is capped off with choruses meant for sing-alongs. Listeners who appreciate this genre-defiance are apt to take to the atmospheric synths and heavy bass of “Anchor,” where, trying to shake the weight of depression, Pauley rips open his chest to prepare for the torrential rains of “Levee.”
These teardrops from Heaven appear to anticipate the loss of “Bloom,” a track that explores the loss of something cherished—be it a family member, lover, or favorite flower. Yet another observation of the fickleness of time, it’s frustration at loss and gratitude for what is given serves as the perfect example of Echo’s lyrical dichotomies: melancholy and hope, pessimism and optimism in the face of both personal and global struggles. Lyrically, it is the perfect reaction to the past two years: offering deeply emotional self-reflection that speaks beyond the pandemic, harnessing the universality of surviving stormy seas.
On another level, Echo is a testament to Pauley’s evolving ‘clean’ vocal abilities, which shine on tracks like the banger “Pulling Teeth.” Then there’s “Mosaic,” where he asks his listeners to consider the hefty “Can we carry the weight of our humanity and find a remedy for our misguided misanthropy?” Capped off with Biblical references, the track is one of the album’s heaviest and, somewhat ironically, apt to earn a few concertgoers some black-and-blues in the pit. (To joyfully err will forever be human, right?)
As they begin to wind toward the album’s conclusion, the foursome takes a dramatic turn with the quasi-ballad “Fighting Gravity.” Combining the darkness and light of Echo into a singular offering, its glittering synths back a matured outfit that is willing to tackle a broader spectrum of soundscapes in order to emphasize each poetic word. Taking it a step further, their final tracks embrace this proud eclecticism and genre-defiance with the titular “Echo” before the LP culminates in a surprising cover of Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s “Helplessly Hoping,” a beautifully minimalist addition to an already powerful collection.
An existential composition that is meant to be explored deep within the chambers of the heart; Echo is one of the band’s finest studio offerings to date. Intelligent, emotional, reflective of the times that influenced its creation, it shows a growth for the Californians who are willing to pour out their own personal agony in the name of catharsis—for themselves and their listeners.
The only pitfall to the collection is that most fans have already heard the bulk of these tracks. So, what might have crushed like Godzilla terrorizing the streets of Tokyo instead lands with a tamer, but no less impressive, oomph. Still very much a welcome addition to any Of Mice & Men fan’s collection, their latest promises that whatever is next from the quartet, it is bound to be superb! For this, Cryptic Rock gives Echo 4.5 of 5 stars.