They say that if you’re not changing, you’re dying. It’s a saying that has rarely been more true than when applied to bands’ creative longevity. The challenge for established musical entities is how to change enough to thrive as creatives without leaving their longtime listeners behind. That is exactly the balance Memphis May Fire nails with Broken.
In the seven years since Rise Records debut The Hollow, Memphis May Fire has racked up accolade upon accolade, launching chart-topping singles and dominating the stage on tours like Warped. With the arrival of Broken, Memphis May Fire proves that not only can they climb to the top of the post-hardcore genre– they also have the wisdom and musical chops to innovate in order to stay at the top of that game.
As you can glean from the title, Broken is fueled by weighty themes, diving into the different ways we break (relationally, mentally, emotionally, spiritually) while holding the courage to claim the hope for healing. We caught a glimpse of this already with the lead single “The Old Me,” a moody rocker that longs to return to a time before anxiety and depression clouded daily life. “Sell My Soul” musically swaggers its way through towering guitar riffs from Kellen McGregor as it offers a scathing rejection of anyone who would try and force Memphis May Fire to shut up and sell out. “Heavy is the Weight” reinforces that declaration, incorporating a hip-hop interlude that pairs perfectly with the rhythmic structure of the song.
The frustration of relational betrayal and the dark places it can take us are a centerpiece conversation on this record, beginning with “Who I Am.” The ferocious verses give way to a melodic, confessional chorus: “it’s not fair for me to think you’d understand the darkest part of me is part of who I am.” The theme of exposed flaws ultimately severing a relationship is taken to the next level with “You And Me,” a piercingly poignant ballad sung from the place where two people realize it hurts more to stay than to leave. This track shows Matty Mullins’ prowess as a vocalist, emotional fragility resonating through the pitch perfect melody.
Musically, the band shows a clear progression towards a more melodic sound, but without ever sacrificing a thundering, heart rate raising power. “Over It” is a song fed up with stress, the frustration seemingly spit through grit teeth in the verses. “Fool” rides the steady pulse of Jake Garland’s drums while expressing the anguish of relational abandonment, also serving as one of the few songs that has a really strong presence of screamed vocals on the bridge.
That is the sound progression that is likely to surprise longtime listeners the most: although Broken does utilize the classic MMF rough-cut vocals as accents, it shies away from needing to use screams alone to create emotional intensity and weight. “Mark My Words” screams its way through transitions between verses and choruses, but overall its self-empowerment declaration against the negative forces trying to hold us back relies on tight lyrics and aggression built through instrumentation. The ability to be musically arresting (and heavy) with much less screaming is a tall order, but Memphis May Fire absolutely delivers, proving that they’re not losing momentum for an instant even as they creatively mature.
When all is said and done, the great plot twist of Broken is that yes, we might all be broken– but we’re also so much more than that. “Watch Out” is like a deep breath inhaled, centering in on confidence: “see the tables turn, feel the fire burn / once we get started, there’s no stopping us.” The album ends with “Live Another Day,” a track that summarizes the highs and lows of the songs that come before it while speaking assurance and courage directly to anyone who might be considering ending their life: “we were born to be great, don’t just throw it away / live another day.”
That call to live, no matter the pain (or the healing) it might lead you through, lies at the core of Memphis May Fire’s Broken. It asks a question worth considering: do any of us live fully before we’ve been broken?
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