Memphis May Fire debuted with a decent album in Sleepwalking, but really gained widespread recognition in the post-hardcore/screamo world with their dark and sensational follow-up album, The Hollow. Challenger doesn’t quite live up to its phenomenal sophomore counterpart, if only because the band’s sophomore album was amazingly engaging from start to finish, with no letdowns or weaker tracks to bring it down from the incredibly high pedestal it deserved to be put upon. Lead vocalist Matty Mullins is as impressive as ever in the band’s third outing, once again displaying versatility and talent in covering both the clean and unclean vocals while Jake Garland pounds away at his drums with a fervor that lends to the album’s upbeat but overall heavy feel. Memphis May Fire’s third album doesn’t build up the dramatic and dark atmosphere of their second record, but competing with The Hollow was next-to-impossible task; with that in mind, Challenger is a success because it stays true to the band’s sound and proves itself to be a worthy follow-up at the very least.
“Alive In The Lights” really opens the action up for Challenger after a quick intro song gets the blood pumping, giving the listener their first impression of the new album. And although it’s the exact same style as The Hollow, it certainly doesn’t disappoint with aggressive, in-your-face verses filled with Mullins’ guttural screams, heavy guitar riffs from Kellen McGregor and Anthony Sepe and bass from Cory Elder. The typical hardcore element is there, but it’s balanced well with lighter choruses that are a bit easier on the ears due to Mullins’ uncanny ability to belt out high-pitched, clean vocals in addition to the screams. And, as is customary in Memphis May Fire’s post-hardcore style, the electronica element also makes a brief appearance here as it does for the remainder of the album.
“Vices” easily takes the title of best song on the album with an absolutely flawless vocal performance from Mullins. As if being able to transition effortlessly from gut-wrenching screaming to sweet and smooth clean vocals wasn’t impressive enough, Mullins throws in numerous high notes on a whim, making this one of the catchiest and most engaging songs in the band’s catalogue. Its heavy verses are intense and some of the most aggressive on the album while its lighter chorus makes it truly enjoyable and single-worthy. This track combines the desperation of one’s vices with the hope in trying to turn things around, which is a common and more positive theme of the album shown best by Mullins’ chorus of “I’ve been thinking this could be the end of me / Who is this person in the mirror I see?” Anyone looking for proof of what this band can look to “Vices” as a prime example of Memphis May Fire at its best.
“Miles Away” is unique for two reasons: the first is that Kellin Quinn, the lead singer of Sleeping With Sirens, makes an appearance with guest vocals that really lend to the song’s appeal. The second is that this song is unlike any that Memphis May Fire have created before. In fact, there is no screaming here, which may worry some fans that the band is taking a softer approach. But that doesn’t stop “Miles Away” from being one of the stronger tracks of Challenger, with poignant lyrics about the pains of leaving home and loved ones to put his talents to use, best shown when Mullins asks, “How am I supposed to be / Everything they expect me to be / When I feel so alone / Because I left my heart at home? / She needs me / But I know they need me too / so God give me the strength to do / What you created me to do.” This ballad may turn some hardcore purists off, but it’s too heartfelt and the calming guitars are too well done to ignore “Miles Away” as one of the standout tracks on the album.
In the end, Memphis May Fire’s newest album is a great entry in the band’s discography, even if it doesn’t quite live up to the extraordinarily high level set by The Hollow. Fans of bands like Jamie’s Elsewhere, Woe, Is Me, We Came As Romans, Attack Attack!, Of Mice & Men, Asking Alexandria, Sleeping With Sirens, Like Moths To Flames, Hands Like Houses, I See Stars, Our Last Night and Blessthefall will all find something to enjoy with Challenger, because even though it doesn’t push the boundaries of post-hardcore/screamo genre, it certainly strengthens it. A guest appearance from Danny Worsnop of Asking Alexandria is another welcome addition to the album and is a testament to how fast this band is ascending up the post-hardcore food chain. Memphis May Fire didn’t surpass their phenomenal sophomore counterpart with Challenger, but certainly strengthened the notion that this new album is a force to be reckoned with, from the opening build-up track to the arresting and hauntingly fitting instrumental closer, “Vessels” (which is much like the “The Burden” from The Hollow in its simple yet attention-grabbing nature). The hope and positive message behind the lyrics this time around prevents the newest album from achieving the same moody atmosphere as The Hollow, but Challenger definitely has its darker moments to complement the hopeful ones to make for a very strong album. There aren’t as many big moments to be had here as The Hollow (the explosion of guitars following the sound of a gun cocking during Mullins’ proclamation of “Heads will roll!” in the song “The Commanded” remains one of the coolest moments in post-hardcore history), but Challenger proves to be a capable successor and shouldn’t inspire anything less than optimism and excitement about this talented band’s promising future.
Final Score: 7.8/10
Rank: 2nd (three total albums)
- Without Walls
- Alive In The Lights
- Prove Me Right
- Red In Tooth & Claw
- Miles Away (Feat. Kellin Quinn)
- Losing Sight (Feat. Danny Worsnop)
- Generation: Hate