Of Mice & Men

Earth & Sky

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The California metalcore juggernaut's sixth full-length effort, Earth & Sky commences with a spectral solo violin melody before launching into the blazing "Gravedancer." Combative, combustive, and downcast, it's one of the heavier things that Of Mice & Men have unleashed in the years following the departure of vocalist Austin Carlile. The second go behind the mike for bassist Aaron Pauley, who can switch between tonsil-tearing apoplexy and icy, melodic grandeur with astonishing ease, the rest of the 11-track set follows suit, albeit with occasional forays into more commercial-grade hard rock such as "Meltdown," and to a lesser extent, the towering "Mountain." Scorched-earth breakdowns beget widescreen melodic choruses on the alternately searing and soaring "As We Suffocate" and "Taste of Regret," and the title cut takes both sonic predilections into more progressive territory with dizzying results. As per usual, the musicianship is top-notch, with Phil Manansala, in particular, delivering some of his best guitar work to date, administering layers of air-raid-siren feedback and tightly wound guitarmonies that draw as much from post-rock and power metal as they do crushing hardcore. 2018's Defy brought along with it the most vital aspects of the group's past without simply trying to replicate it, and proved that Pauley was just as solid a frontman as he was a bass player. Earth & Sky feels even more locked-in; an expertly crafted and undeniably hefty slab of grade-A melodic hardcore that plays fast and loose with genre tropes without losing any vitality in the process.

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