Vocalist Levi Benton, bassist/vocalist Ryan Neff, guitarist BJ Stead, guitarist Justin Aufdemkampe, and drummer Jerod Boyd formed Miss May I ten years ago when they were just teenagers. Drawing inspiration from groups like Pantera, Lamb Of God, and Underoath, the group has a diverse sound, embracing a vast array of metal and hardcore elements. Miss May I’s new record Shadows Inside will be the seventh in their repertoire, following 2015 release Deathless.
Shadows Inside is the band’s first record for SharpTone Records, co-produced by Nick Sampson and Drew Fulk. Sampson, who has done notable work with Asking Alexandria, Born Of Osiris, and In Fear and Faith, produced all the instrumentals in Michigan. Meanwhile, Fulk, whose credits include Motionless In White, Emmure, and Crown The Empire, worked with lead singer Levi Benton in California. Benton recently spoke with us a little about the record, explaining that:
“The lyrics for Shadows Inside really developed around the changes the band was going through internally and as a band. We got out of a huge management deal and moved on. I moved to the other side of the country and Ryan got out of a 7-year relationship. So all across the board, there was a lot happening. The lyrics had no direction at first and then sort of naturally blended itself around being about changes. The newest topic for this record is a lot of self-doubts we were going through because of the team we were with and now that we are clear of that we see everything in a new way so we decided to write some tunes about it.”
The album is an achievement for the group, but something a little different for the metalcore genre. It is loaded with self-motivated power, fiery immediacy, and surprisingly clean execution. Despite slight pop influences and smooth production, Miss May I still bares their rough edges on Shadows Inside. It will be interesting to see how audiences receive this record because of the diverse elements used, but it shows an expansion of their sound and a forward movement as they hit the all-important ten-year mark.
As the record opens with title track “Shadows Inside” a fast-paced imminence is established, thanks to a rapid-fire assault from drummer Jerod Boyd. Melodic vocals chanted on the hook and a catchy, alternative radio friendly chorus bring this record’s signature balance to light. This contrast between radio friendly and more aggressive elements might isolate fans who are more loyal to one end of the spectrum or the other. It is a successful choice though; it brings structure and diversity to their sound. It is still distinctly Miss May I – from vivid guitar solos to imagery-filled lyrics like “caught in the flames, there’s nowhere to hide.” Levi Benton explains that the title “Shadows Inside,” “came from the idea of the record being about the past. Everyone has a shadow inside them which represents what they have gone through whether it’s good or bad. These are our shadows.”
Miss May I embraces a huge range of influences, and they all make their way onto this record. As “Underfire” begins there is a movement reminiscent of eighties legends that influence the band, like Pantera. Benton’s growling vocals are heavy and visceral but you can still hear the lyrics through the way he delivers them. He has mastered his scream but still is successful on harmonious elements of the album. This will be highly effective live, making for smooth transitions from singalongs to headbanging pit explosions. Benton finds that his crowds worldwide love “circle pits and a lot of fist and chants” as well as “jumping and crowd surfing” and this music facilitates both.
Some of the choruses on the album are almost too pop inspired and too clean on the vocal. The production was almost like what we hear from 30 Seconds to Mars at times and it is almost too much contrast to their otherwise aggressive sound. However other hardcore acts like Underoath embraced synthy pop elements and stayed heavy. Guitarists BJ Stead and Justin Aufdemkampe’s solos and metalcore breakdowns are still present and on point. These elements come together to make songs memorable but brutally honest.
“Never Let Me Stay” is dark but not too obvious, balanced with European metal and American hardcore nods. Haunting choruses with synthed out faraway sounds are a reminder of the group’s intention that the record feels like it exists in the past. Powerful, repetitive hooks and rebellious lyrics bring a fresh punk energy that keeps things from getting dragged down by darkness. Driving lyrics on “My Destruction” like “say what you want, I’m not ashamed” and “cut all you want, I’ll never bleed” promote individualism and reject critics. There is an intensity and necessity to Benton’s words that is hardcore, metal, and punk, wrapped up in a surprisingly approachable package.
“Casualties” is another song with a heavy, classic metal intro. The lyrics deal with facing reality and mortality and vocals are clean, even the screams. Levi Benton’s tone is excellent and has developed over Miss May I’s career. You can hear that Benton cares for his voice. Instrumentality, patterns, and synchronicity are played with to create a sense of organized chaos and different pacing conveys different stories as things progress.
Benton’s surprising range is a highlight of the record. Deeper tones bring a more goth European sound, while higher pitches are more appealing to younger US crowds. Lyrically, there is a confrontational reality present. A range of topics and feelings are dealt with through deliberate and relentless intensity.
“Swallow Your Teeth” has the brashest punk spirit and is another highlight. It is not overdramatic but lyrics like “I will not obey,” “I’m not your slave,” and “there’s no controlling me” have a direct and pissed off energy. As MMI brings punk and pop elements to metal, the emotion of the record transcends one relationship or life experience.
Despite such catchy refrains on this record, these are still not tracks we will hear on most radio stations. It is more of an expansion of their sound. “We felt something special was happening when going into this record,” Benton explained. There is a widespread message directed to a widespread audience that is not too introspective or personal. The message “we’re hopeless, not helpless” in “Lost in the Grey” makes one thing clear – that anger, insecurity, or other emotions do not equate to weakness.
“My Sorrow” closes the record, a track that Benton says is “about no one knowing about what you are going through as an individual and no one will ever know.” The approach to this record makes it thematic but not too topical. It is not like other records that are directly about breakups or leaving labels. Instead, it is about every feeling and experience that comes from those moments.
On Shadows Inside, Miss May I has not lost their edge, but they have diversified their sound. Instrumentally, it plays with sounds both heavy and light, from classic metal drive to synthed out production. It is confrontational and direct, with the potential to appeal to a vast range of audiences. “We love giving back to our fans. I know every band says that but it really is true,” says Benton. The potential to connect with people that this record has is endless. With their past three records in the Top 5 of Billboard’s Hard Music chart, it will be no surprise if this record lands in the top spot.
To purchase Shadows Inside, click here!
Miss May I will be performing at the legendary Whisky A Go Go on the Sunset Strip tomorrow evening, June 3rd. For tickets, click here!
Read our in-depth interview with lead vocalist Levi Benton!
Miss May I Tour Dates:
06/03 – West Hollywood, CA @ The Whiskey
06/04 – Fresno, CA @ Strummer’s
06/07 – Salt Lake City, UT @ In The Venue
06/08 – Denver, CO @ Marquis Theater
06/09 – Merriam, KS @ Aftershock
06/10 – Green Bay, WI @ The Sandlot
06/11 – Minneapolis, MN @ Cabooze
06/13 – Berwyn, IL @ The Wire
06/14 – St. Louis, MO @ Fubar
06/15 – Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade
06/16 – Greensboro, NC @ The Blind Tiger
06/17 – Baltimore, MD @ Baltimore Soundstage
06/18 – Howell, NJ @ Gamechanger World
06/20 – New York, NY @ Marlin Room At Webster Hall
06/21 – Allentown, PA @ Gamechanger World
06/22 – Hartford, CT @ Webster Underground
06/23 – Worcester, MA @ The Palladium (Upstairs)
06/24 – Webster, NY @ Harmony House
06/25 – Buffalo, NY @ The Waiting Room
06/27 – Detroit, MI @ The Magic Stick
06/28 – Cleveland, OH @ Agora Ballroom
06/29 – Pittsburgh, PA @ The Rex Theater
06/30 – Columbus, OH @ Park Street Saloon