Memphis May Fire released their fifth studio album, This Light I Hold last week, and if you’re hoping I’ll tell you it’s better than anything they’ve done to date, you’re going to be sorely disappointed in me. You’ll just fall into one of three camps; This Light I Hold is better, worse, or as good as MMF has ever been. I’m in the third camp; this is the MMF I love, with honest lyrics, amazing Matty Mullins vocals, and inspired guitar work by Kellen McGregor. If you’re looking for Mullins’ lyrics to “evolve” to something more esoteric or obscure, more poetic or elevated, stop. Just stop. Mullins writes from where he lives, and he shares his pain, faith, and message candidly. If you’d rather someone pour some sugar on you, that’s cool. If you want someone to meet you where you are, and lead you out of the darkness, take my hand and let me walk you through This Light I Hold.
The first track is dark, perhaps one of the darkest MMF tunes to date, and at first listen seems an odd choice for the opening song (it all makes sense later). “Out Of It” delivers deep despair and unrelenting sadness, unapologetically. Mullins’ unclean vocals carry the first half of the song, growling over a driving score that is drum heavy and slightly synthesized, Kellen’s guitar fires frantic warning shots without restraint.
I get so deep inside. I don’t think I’ll be coming out alive. I tell myself that everything’s alright, but I can’t believe it when I know it’s a lie.
Guitar riffs explode in waves and the sweet anger in Mullins’ clean vocals crash against the break.
When I scream in my dreams no one hears me, and when I wake I’m still alone so I fall back asleep. When I bleed I start to feel but it leaves me empty. I start to believe there’s no saving me.
Finally, Mullins voice explodes in painful desperation.
My walls are caving in. I’m suffocating. Get me out.
If this first song is your intro to MMF, and you’re not a scream fan, stick it out a bit. There are more layers to this band. Unlike a lot of dirty vocals, Mullins delivers every word with absolute clarity, and some of his softest vocals carry the sharpest words.
The second song, “Carry On” is a bitter middle finger, held high with confidence, from a band that has seen their fair share of criticism inside the industry, even amongst their own peers. The message is simple: “I’m not doing this for you,” and anyone who has ever felt judged for driving their destiny can relate to this song.
Say I’m selfish. Say I’m changed. Say I abandoned what I set out to be. Say I’m different now. Say I’m lost. But I’ll stay true no matter what, because I’ll stand and fight for what I love and know is right. I’ll carry on till my days are gone.
I love angry songs. Let’s be honest; that fine line between love and hate is a barrier to some great music. I love that MMF jumped that wall and gave me the cathartic “Sever The Ties.” The lyrics aren’t over the top, and I don’t want them to be. When you’re this raw, words just get in the way, and an emotional delivery demands an uncluttered canvas.
While everyone is tuning into the second release from the CD, “This Light I Hold,” featuring Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach, the better collaboration on this CD is “Not Over Yet” featuring My American Heart’s Larry Soliman. In the middle of this driving, crying, screaming song, Soliman’s voice provides a precious, tear-inducing break. Pull the car over and just sob. I did.
“That’s Just Life” is another highlight. The instrumentation is dressed down to feature Mullins’ vocals and lyrics, which are painfully honest, and honestly familiar. It’s the manner in which MMF deals with chronic sorrow that moves their music beyond entertainment and into inspiration.
I’d be lying if I said that I was fine, because I feel pain sometimes that I cannot describe. So do I raise my fist and curse up at the sky, or do I close my eyes, and realize, that’s just life?
By the time I reach the end of “This Light I Hold” the lightbulb I hold above my head comes on. The abject sadness of the first track is a stark contrast to the last few infectiously hopeful tunes, “Better Things,” “Unashamed,” and “Live It Well.” In this CD, Memphis May Fire draws a road map from despair to peace. “This Light I Hold” takes us at our worst and walks us through the darkness to a place of coping and new beginnings. That’s the light Memphis May Fire holds, and oh, do they let it shine.