ALBUM REVIEW – “Unconditional” by Memphis May Fire

AC/DC. Slayer. Disturbed. Huge bands, all, each consistently sticking to their guns and enjoying immense commercial success and massive, hugely dedicated fanbases. Critics of such bands deride them for forgoing musical experimentation and releasing the same album again and again; those who love them do so because they don’t take unnecessary risks, or change into something unrecognisable. Memphis May Fire (the interesting but inconsistent Sleepwalking debut album aside) fall very much into the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” camp, and up to now their songs’ anthemic qualities and the clear care and attention to detail they give them means this hasn’t been a problem. Latest album Unconditional, though, has two major flaws that prevent it from reaching the strong standard the band have already set themselves.

The first is that it follows the Memphis May Fire template almost to the letter, but lacks the aforementioned main reasons for why the template worked. Hooks fail to hit the mark more often than not, particularly in Unconditional’s bland first half. Matty Mullins’ clean singing is as crystal clear as ever but his melodies are lacking (his screams on the other hand have noticeably deteriorated). Even worse is the muddy production. Memphis May Fire have always sounded clinical to the point of being robotic but here they sound downright hollow (no pun intended), the aural assaults of ‘Sleepless Nights’ and ‘Possibilities” robbed of all impact.

Most divisive, though, will be the lyrical content. The band has never been shy about their Christian beliefs, but has always previously been careful not to let them overwhelm their songs. Much of Unconditional forgets all their typical subtlety, and those who aren’t believers may well find ‘No Ordinary Love’, ‘The Answer’, ‘Divinity’ and other tunes difficult to enjoy. To criticise the group for their conviction would be unfair, but it’s nonetheless a point that’s already been raised by many as something that will polarise the Memphis May Fire fanbase. On the other hand, the less said about the anomalous appeal to Tumblr fangirls on ‘Beneath the Skin’ the better…

Clear problems aside, the album does feature a hugely strong run of tracks in ‘Speechless’ through to ‘Pharisees’ (the latter possibly the angriest track the band have put their name to.) Both ‘Speechless’ and the beautiful ‘Need to Be’ replicate the balladry of ‘Miles Away’ from 2012’s Challenger, with enough distinction on each to avoid them being described as mere clones. ‘The Rose’ and ‘Not Enough’ are packed with the hooks that the rest of the album lacks and stand as its highlights because of this, providing a tantalising insight to the excellent record that could have been.

A considerable proportion of the Memphis May Fire fanbase will probably find much to love about Unconditional, but it does sadly lack the consistency and stardust that made their last two records benchmarks of modern metalcore. Lack of hooks, cluttered production and lack of lyrical subtlety tarnish what’s always worked well before the band. The sad truth is that this is the same album that the band has put out twice before, but this time it’s an inferior version of what’s come before. More will be needed if Memphis May Fire are to be mentioned in the same breath as AC/DC, Slayer or Disturbed in the future.

Rating: 5/10

[Michael Bird]

‘No Ordinary Love’

‘The Rose’


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One Comment on “ALBUM REVIEW – “Unconditional” by Memphis May Fire”

  1. Brett March 25, 2014 at 2:04 pm #

    I 100% disagree. This is Matty’s most forward album in which he stated in interviews that he was going to make this album more “transparent” than others before. This album is also coming after a time that Matty struggled with depression among other things, and that is why he focuses on the positive messages so much; to encourage those that he can now relate to (also stated in interviews).

    Some of the screams may not be as heavy at times, but I think the rifts can be heavier at points than they were in other albums. I think this album actually has a better balance of lighter and heavier songs. Not to mention that regardless of what song it is, every second of it is packed with passion.

    As for people taking an issue with the inspiration of the album? I am sick of people talking about it already. The fact that people would discriminate an artist they like because he draws his inspiration from God is absolutely disappointing. People don’t question the moral or inspirational motive of almost any other band on the scene, so why does it matter when one equally good band happens to draw their passion from the unconditional love they find in God? Those that don’t want to listen to this album because they know why the singer is singing a positive message instead of a message consisting of sexual or angry stories need to re-evaluate why they’re listening.

    I would argue that because of the passion and obvious deep thought that was put into this album, along with some of the fantastic harmonies, screams, and breakdowns that accompany it, this is their best work to date.

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