Rise Records signs more than a few bands that sound alike. It introduces new groups of twenty-somethings producing music structurally described as “risecore” — a play on the genre’s roots in metalcore — and critically described in even poorer fashion every month. Most of the music that slides out of the assembly line of rubbery, auto-tuned vocals and caffeine-induced synths, finds an audience drunk on the familiar formula.
That formula, predictably switching between clean and screamed vocals, backed by thick-headed bouts of palm-muted guitars, saturates entire albums. Every 3-4 minutes, someone is lyrically angry about something, and instrumentally stuck in perpetual motion. None of it saying anything interesting about the human condition.
What looks depressing for our society’s musical taste, and looks like a business strategy to Rise Records, is all the attention people are willing to throw away for a guilty pleasure. Every lazily, hammered together “lyric video” relishes in thousands of YouTube views as Codie replays them during his bedroom workout.
Rise Records doesn’t sell music, it simulates anarchy so you don’t have to. It’s an excuse to feel hardcore while you sit sheepishly on the bus home from school. It satisfies those juvenile, attention-deficit thoughts, however frequently they occur. Then you grow up, and realize you deserve more, and you’ll spend your whole life searching.
Enter Memphis May Fire, a symbol of hope for the post-hardcore, metalcore, or any other convoluted genre title you have. Somewhere in the rulebook it says if you hear a twang you can add southern to your Facebook bio. That was enough to turn heads with 2009’s Sleepwalking, however their descent from southern, post-hardcore, to post-hardcore, to full-on risecore only took 3 years.
Challenger, released under the beloved Rise Records, logically concludes the direction 2011’s The Hollow was headed in. Lead vocalist Matty Mullins brings the precise amount of bipolar disorder you’d expect in his role as Beauty and the Beast. Behind him, the guitar-shaped gears grind the album forward, coming up for air only when required. When combined with a drum performance best described as standard, Challenger rings mindlessly anthemic.
While Mullins shouts about being misunderstood, the album grows increasingly familiar. Each song begins with the insults and ends with the world’s smallest, self-deprecating violin. Throw in a breakdown or two, and you have the entirety of Challenger’s ambitions.
Though structurally rote, “Prove Me Right,” digs deep enough to feel vulnerable as Mullins shifts into soliloquy with “Ignorance had me by the throat / From the day I learned how to sing!” Lyrics like that give weight to his otherwise empty arguments. “Prove Me Right,” like all the tracks, has a clear message, but what it says about the band’s relationship with their previous label separates it from the rest of the album’s check list of angst.
“Jezebel,” another stand out, although, admittedly, without strong competition, walks across a bouncy tempo and finds a quiet moment during the second half. Flavor to wake you up from the rust of everything else spilling out of your speakers. It’s hard not to find humor in how Mullin’s verbally berates the female subject of “Jezebel,” calling her a “one track mind,” exact words incredibly tough to avoid using as I write this.
The remaining thirty-four minutes fly by like a stampede of elephants, loud and aimless. With surprises like 2 breakdowns instead of 1, Challenger has nothing more to offer. It aligns itself directly with the anarchic themes and dull configuration of risecore, becoming somewhat counter-productive in its message, ultimately ruining any hope Memphis May Fire would be the ones to mature a genre drooling all over itself.