Review: Miss May I - At Heart

File under unoriginal but meaningful.
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miss may iOhioan metal act Miss May I takes things personally with the aptly-titled At Heart. The band came out of Troy, Ohio, four years ago and debuted in 2009 with Apologies Are For The Weak. 2010’s Monument followed and this year’s At Heart builds on the legacy for a very energetic, very honest group.

Miss May I is comprised of vocalist Levi Benton, guitarists B.J. Stead and Justin Aufdemkampe, bassist and vocalist Ryan Neff, and drummer Jerod Boyd.

At Heart was produced by Machine (Lamb of God, Every Time I Die) in New Jersey. In this instance, the presence of the famed producer really made a difference to the final product and what the band was able to pull out of their sound. For the lads, Machine taught the value of feeling the music on a more delicate level.

“Sometimes he was really brutal with our songs,” says Benton. “We did the vocals on a handheld mic to get that live show feeling. His whole thing is feeling the song. ‘What are the lyrics? I want to feel the lyrics!’ He’s all about feeling the lyrics and that’s all I concentrate on when I’m playing live.”

Musically, Miss May I really isn’t breaking much new ground. The music tends to rely on the same genre tropes, sans breakdowns and dubstep influences, and At Heart is a pretty predictable record from a melodic perspective. The synthesis of vocals, with Neff bringing up the clean end of the bargain, isn’t enthralling.

Still, it’s hard to knock At Heart from an emotional standpoint. These dudes are passionate and skilled; it really feels like they’ve made the album they wanted to make. That can go a long way, even when the music doesn’t take many chances beyond the customary pit-stirring tones and rage-infused vocals.

It’s not all about the anger, though. “I feel like there are a lot of ways for a metal band to sound played-out,” says Benton. “One of the biggest ways is the whole ‘hate’ thing. It bums me out when I’m listening to a band I like and the lyrics are along the lines of ‘I hate you.’ They’re doing what every other metal band in the world are doing by cheesing it up like that.”

For Miss May I, speaking from the heart is crucial.

“Hey Mister” probes the concept of the truant father, speaking with noteworthy lucidity and familiarity. It is underlined by Aufdemkampe and Stead’s intertwining guitars, Benton’s adamant vocals and Neff’s candid questions.

Tracks like “Ballad of a Broken Man” and the philosophical “Found Our Way” continue the trend, delivering highly emotional lyrics with familiar but earnest musical backdrops.

At Heart is by no means the most original record on the market, but the genre isn’t exactly renowned for novelty these days. Miss May I is a band of honesty and integrity, however, and it shows through the songs and the band’s intense, heartfelt approach to the material.