It has been a tumultuous few years for Of Mice & Men. The California metalcore band's 2014 effort, Restoring Force, reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200. 2016's Cold World didn't do as well, only climbing to No. 20. But frontman Austin Carlile had struggled with health issues for years, and eventually ended up leaving the band in 2016.

That left the band at a crossroads. Instead of folding their tent or replacing Carlile, bassist Aaron Pauley assumed lead vocal duties, and Of Mice & Men consolidated to a quartet. As Pauley explains, their latest album Defy was more about refining than rebuilding.

“Change won’t define us. We’re going to define ourselves. We didn’t want to become a new band; we just wanted to be Of Mice & Men.”

Defy delivers the sound fans have come to expect (big hooks, monster grooves and singalong melodies) while still breaking some new ground. That's evident from the aggressive opening title track and its anthemic chorus.

The album slides between reserved yet urgent songs like “Sunflower” and darker, more extreme tracks such as the pummeling “Warzone.” The vocals on the album are solid throughout, with emotional harsh yells and screams along with smooth melodic singing.

While there are plenty of pit-worthy songs on Defy, there's some variety there: “Vertigo” features all melodic singing, and “How Will You Live” sounds like a radio hit (which makes sense: the album was produced by Howard Benson, who has produced Kelly Clarkson, along with harder acts like Halestorm and Papa Roach). I'm not sure the world needed a metalcore cover of Pink Floyd's “Money,” but if it exposes younger fans to the classic band it could be worthwhile.

The most poignant song on the record is the acoustic closer “If We Were Ghosts,” inspired by the death of one of rock's biggest stars, who also happened to be a friend. “We were all together when we got the news that Chester Bennington had taken his life,” he reveals. “We toured with Linkin Park, and his music affected my life. He was somebody I would text at one in the morning when I saw something funny or ask for advice about my voice or what to do when touring gets hard. We all broke down crying. It details missing somebody. If we were both ghosts, we could do so much together, but I have to wait until I get to the other side. I never did get to say goodbye.”

Bottom line: Of Mice & Men don't miss a beat with Pauley as the frontman, and the songs on Defy are some of their strongest yet.

Of Mice & Men Discuss Moving On Without Austin Carlile

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