Since their formation in 2009, Of Mice & Men have made a significant impact on the modern metal world. From working with metalcore supremo Joey Sturgis on their first two albums to clocking up four Warped Tours, they’re a fixture on the scene.
Their career hasn’t been smooth sailing, though. As well as a few line-up changes, vocalist and founding member Austin Carlile is a sufferer of Marfan Syndrome, meaning he’s often had to take time out from the band to take care of his health. In 2010, Austin was momentarily replaced as frontman by former Sky Eats Airplane leader Jerry Roush, while he recovered from a heart operation. Of Mice & Men has always been Austin’s vehicle, though, and he rejoined the following year.
The latest album Cold World sees Austin getting more personal about the pain his illness causes him, but where does it sit in terms of greatness among the band’s four studio albums? We’ve ranked them here.
4) The Flood (2011)
The second album is always a difficult one. Whether or not the first was a start-to-finish masterpiece or a collection of half-baked duds, the second still needs to be a progression. The Flood is more like a continuation of the sound Of Mice & Men established on their debut, and doesn’t build very high from the foundations.
Apart from opener O.G. Loko, Let Live and Purified, which all put melody and Shayley Bourget’s clean vocals centre stage, there’s little memorable on here. Even the better tracks are formulaic, with Austin and Shayley taking turns to scream and sing in clearly defined sections.
Polarising slowies like My Understandings and the CD-only bonus track When You Can’t Sleep At Night will bring a tear to some eyes and a roll to others – fans of their more brutal sound will no doubt find them off-putting. The four additional tracks on the deluxe reissue don’t add much, either; the lyrics are intended to be introspective but are immature in places and musically, there’s nothing to make the new tracks jump out from the rest of The Flood.
3) Of Mice & Men (2010)
The debut is heavier than later material, but slightly disjointed and samey in places. It is, though, the home of Second & Sebring, which is arguably the album’s most lyrically meaningful, and it’s still often used as a set-closer to this day. That and Westbound & Down are a glimmer of the chorus-driven crowd pleasers Of Mice & Men are capable of, but it wasn’t until Restoring Force, and to some extent Cold World, that they really harnessed this power and made it their own without sticking to a template. There’s a nice riffy intro to Farewell Shady Glade, too, making the debut a promising advertisement of Of Mice & Men’s capabilities.
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2) Cold World (2016)
Just as The Flood felt more like a continuation than a progression from their debut, Cold World doesn’t build enough on the successes of Restoring Force. It’s heavily reliant on Shayley Bourget’s replacement Aaron Pauley, and has a noticeably softer feel than what came before it.
There’s many a nod to nu-metal through the rhythms on Contagious, the sample-bothering intro on Real and Relentless’s rap, while The Hunger hints at experimentation with an almost proggy rhythm and a more flowery turn of phrase in the lyrics than we’re used to. Pain is undoubtedly the heaviest song on the album, and comes directly from a place of tangible anguish inside Austin, as he roars and spits his way through a track about the physical pain he endures every day.
Among the impressive moments, though, are ones that make little impact; Down The Road could easily have been a filler on Restoring Force. Cold World is easily the most experimental album (although it doesn’t stray too far from the familiar), but there aren’t enough memorable moments to push it to the top of the list.
1) Restoring Force (2014)
This is the record on which Of Mice & Men realised how to use a tried-and-tested formula to their advantage. Their first full length with Aaron Pauley, his clean vocals weave around Austin’s in far more creative ways than we’ve previously heard.
It’s packed full of anthems like Public Service Announcement, You’re Not Alone and Would You Still Be There, which are staples of their live show and often saved for mid- or late-set slots. It’s also the first album that they began exploring topics outside of love turned sour and inner struggles and began to look outside of themselves for lyrical inspiration: Space Enough To Grow, and its message of holding onto hope in dark times, is less specific than usual, and could be applied to a personal struggle or the state of the world at present.
Unlike the reissue of The Flood, which felt a bit needless, the deluxe edition of Restoring Force only serves to up the banger count. Broken Generation is another example of OM&M finding their creativity outside of the metalcore walls; its subtle nods to nu-metal means this is a song that’ll stand out in their catalogue for a while, and is proof the band are at their best when they look outside of their box.