THE BELTON, TEXAS quintet Flyleaf sold their debut under the premise of stripped down, garage-recorded metal. But if Focus on the Family’s Plugged In boasts that your album “rocks with incendiary authority,” there’s a good chance you’re not going to appeal to anti-establishment types. (But little brothers get your CD for their birthdays, and that pushes units if nothing else will.) The self-titled debut didn’t earn points for originality in anyone’s book, but might have stuck around in my car for a few spins on the highway.

The individuals in Flyleaf are clearly not cut out to be superstars. Lead vocalist Lacey Moseley’s melancholy is less charming than even the overwrought Amy Lee, and the band’s primary guitarist just plays power chords offset by more power chords. Flyleaf, are quite simply a collective of musicians and songwriters whose creations barely cross the three-minute mark and whose idea of variety is vacillation between hush and roar.

Lead single “Again” pulses predictably into a fun climax; Moseley sings with herself as the hook trails off, while guitar riffs offer a combination of piercing intonations and the usual chugga-chugga. But it’s one of the only tracks with much conviction.

“Chasm” dies at the hands of a minor-key melody and patience-testing vocals. Moseley’s discourse by way of a megaphone filter and endless repetition of “drink this living water” behind a traditional hard rock riff is surreal in a cover-your-mouth-with-embarrassment kind of way. Religious constructs shrivel when stretched over an unsuitable canvas, and I’ve even heard better Jesus-metal this year. It’s hard to marry pop culture and spiritualism when you, at best, don’t fully understand the former and only articulate broad, un-nuanced portions of the latter. Creed, anyone?

“The Kind” is a bright spot in the carnage, with an off-kilter intro and strange melody—one of the band’s strongest—that shows off what Flyleaf do best: make noise. If they got anything right on Memento Mori it is this track, with its odd lyricism and a beginning that doesn’t immediately crack out the marching guitar riffs and 4/4 percussion count-offs. It’s not so much a promise as it is a delivery: these five were made for obvious, crunching, and altogether safe music while nursing grandiose aspirations. Those obviously aren’t going to happen, but penning an occasional decent good song? Might be a possibility.

Memento Mori hardly needs analysis because it is a piece of merchandise, pure and simple. Poetry is sparse and obvious, instrumentation is strictly utilitarian, and the occasional hook is delivered by serviceable female vocals that only infrequently succeed at sounding frail or angry. This is the ugly child of pop culture’s shallow hype machine, and the perfect picture of a band that went from “Next Big Thing” to “Remember When?” before seeing the release of their second album.

Correction, Nov. 17, 2009: Due to an editing error, this article originally misspelled the title of the album.

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Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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