“Challenger,” post-hardcore outfit Memphis May Fire’s latest full-length release, in many ways does everything right. The vocals of Matty Mullins (both clean and screamed) are spot on, the production quality is clear and tight, the album flows along nicely and there really isn’t a bad song on the entire album. So, what keeps “Challenger” from being the perfect release?
In short, Memphis May Fire hasn’t changed much from their previous albums. They’ve continued to ride their recent successes in the charts — for a post-hardcore act in the mainstream, reaching16th in the Billboard Top 20 is quite the achievement. However, in a genre that’s desperate for some sort of revolution in sound, Memphis May Fire isn’t going to change anyone’s mind and reach beyond fans of the genre that has been established behind bands like The Devil Wears Prada and A Day to Remember, both of which have held spots on the main stage of Warped Tour in recent years and popularized the genre.
However, I do not mean to imply that “Challenger” is by any means a sub-par album. In fact, it is far from it. The lyrical content of the album is strong and moving, providing messages ranging from being upset with “money-hungry cowards” (referring to particularly greedy record labels) in “Prove Me Right” to the heart-wrenching “Miles Away,” featuring the ever-wonderful Kellin Quinn of Sleeping with Sirens. I would be lying if “Miles Away” didn’t bring a tear quivering into the corner of my eye as Mullins and Quinn both sing of leaving their wives at home whenever they go out on the road to pursue their musical careers.
As far as the general musical content of the album, Memphis May Fire hangs out onto the general pattern of screaming for verses and singing for choruses (with exceptions, of course, but the general formula holds true for a solid chunk of the time of the album). Mullins’ voice, however, is good enough that I found myself not even caring that a good amount of the album is rather formulaic in nature. His screams are intense and powerful, and his singing is melodic and catchy. Really, there’s not much in the way of improvement that can be done here, as he nails everything he puts into the recordings.
That being said, the efforts from the rest of the band are beyond impressive. With insane guitar licks and bone-crushing drum patterns that demonstrate both extreme levels of talent from every single member and a clear understanding of what makes for excellent post-hardcore music, there’s no shortage of songs here that do nothing short of kick complete ass. Having seen the band live on several occasions, I can assure you that they do not disappoint, as their songs reflect the sheer energy that the band brings to their music.
Along with this energy, Memphis May Fire goes through lengths to bring an emotional level to their music as well, which is greatly appreciated. While bands that deal almost entirely with angry lyrics and in-your-face, beat-down style breakdowns and the like have their place on the shelves of most fans of the hardcore music scene, albums like “Challenger” are a great edition to the mix.
“Challenger” is a genuinely fantastic album that deserves every bit of praise that it has received thus far. It takes every convention of the genre, as well as executes them perfectly; however, it does falls just short for the same reason. I applaud the band for producing what amounts to be one of the best albums in the genre to date, and for paving the way for a bright future for themselves in the music world.