Opener Gravedancer starts things off ominously; vast in scope but searing in its delivery, it’s the perfect way in which to usher in this era of this band. Mushroom Cloud ramps things up even more, with its galvanising ‘Three-two-one boom!’ refrain sure to make it a live favourite. But it belies the seriousness of a track that sees Aaron honestly address personal struggles (‘And do you really know just what it’s like to never fucking sleep?’) and a feeling of imminent self-destruction (‘I know I’m spiralling, I’m just waiting to detonate’). This rising sense of tension pervades throughout EARTHANDSKY, but the sense of negativity isn’t delivered by a band wallowing in self-pity, but rather dogged survivors wrestling with their experiences to teach others what it takes to forge onwards. It’s a mentality that’s most explicitly illustrated by thunderous closer How To Survive, which finds Aaron bluntly telling the listener, ‘I’ll show you how to survive / In a world that teaches an eye for an eye’.
If all of this sounds like heavy stuff, it is. Of Mice & Men have delivered perhaps their heaviest work here, both in terms of themes and feeling, and in the weighty chugs upon which these songs are built. But it’s also buoyed by the hope that comes with making an excellent album that shows our travails may not have an end, but they can always be overcome. There’s a sense of light in its many melodic moments, too, which confirm Aaron’s vocal prowess across both ends of the spectrum. And as dark as the sentiments expressed in As We Suffocate (‘We’re drunk on death’) and Meltdown (‘Just know I’ll either make amends or I will raise the dead’) may be, they’re laced with some of the most intoxicating hooks the band have ever put their name to, which give them an uplifting, almost vital quality.
Whichever facet of Of Mice & Men first appealed to fans, they’re catered for even more ably on EARTHANDSKY than on its predecessor. It is an album as epic as its title, and proves that, although this is a band who have had to traverse more trouble than some, they will not be defeated by them.