Levi Benton stands center stage looking like Simba overlooking Pride Rock as he stares at his fans in the audience before him. The frontman of the melodic metalcore band, Miss May I, has an almost goofy expression of awe in his face as the first guitar riff comes in and he holds up the devil horns with his hand above the crowd. Suddenly that hint of adolescent goof becomes an intense snarl as his hair whips around like a lion’s mane, head banging to the beat before he roars out the first lyric of his set—All rise.
Though they draw heavily from the sounds of the giants, Miss May I is not Metallica. They aren't Pantera. They aren't Sabbath. Miss May I isn't trying to copy that classic metal sound. Instead they’re an Ohio-based band of early twenty-somethings writing a style influenced by the greats, but made their own, opening the doors to new and old metal heads alike. “I feel like we come with more of a real approach to things,” says guitarist Justin Aufdemkampe. “A lot of bands nowadays are falling into being the same as every other band and I think we’re really trying to stick out. We genuinely listen to old school thrash bands and stuff like that and I think a lot of people, our age especially, don’t really get into knowing what those bands pretty much gave them.”
“We all grew up listening to really thrashy, heavy bands,” explains Benton. “Our thing was that we wanted to be that metal band that sort of keeps it alive.” As their sound has matured and evolved, Miss May I’s overall aesthetic has stayed loyal to their roots, hence their motto “Stay Metal.” They bring catchy choruses reminiscent of '70s arena metal with clean vocals from bass player Ryan Neff on tracks like "Hey Mister,” real throwbacks to old school thrash in "Forgive and Forget" and "Our Kings," and a more modern post-hardcore groove with singles like “Echoes.” “We all kind of listen to music that’s a little bit before our time,” explains Aufdemkampe, “so staying metal is kind of like ‘just be true,’ if you would to what you really love about music.”
"We wanted to show that we're not a one trick breakdown pony,” adds Benton. “We can actually be a diverse metal band and we learn more and more every time a new album comes out or we go on tour."
Miss May I’s growing diversity shone through with the release and overwhelmingly positive reception of their fourth studio album, Rise of the Lion. “When we were talking about the album cover,” explains drummer Jerod Boyd, “we thought to ourselves, ‘What’s the most metal thing you could put on an album cover?’ And after brainstorming we decided that a giant tattoo of our logo on a fan’s back would be the best.” So Miss May I held a competition to give one lucky fan the tattoo of a lifetime, inked by the illustrative wizard, London Reese. “We’ve been huge fans of Reese’s work for a long time,” continues Boyd. “We wanted to make sure that whatever fan that we chose for the tattoo got the best and most professional experience.” Not only did the tattoo become the cover of Rise of the Lion, the entire tattooing process was also the base footage for the album’s first music video, “Gone."
Since the release of Rise of the Lion, there has been a surge in MMI lion logo tattoos from fans throughout the various metal communities. “I wouldn’t consider us a band with a cult following by any means,” notes Aufdemkampe, “but it’s kind of cool when you see people posting things on Instagram and Twitter tagging you with ‘I just got the lion tattooed on me!’ I’m not going to lie, I really want to get it tattooed on me, too.” Fans have been posting their tattoos featuring everything from standard renditions of the lion tattoo to more elaborate pieces incorporating band lyrics and imagery all over social media since the record dropped. “The cool thing for us is that our name really doesn’t mean anything,” explains Benton, “so we really wanted a symbol. The lion actually means more to the band than the actual name, so that’s why I’m happy that it’s actually taken off and people are caring about it.”
Many fans posting these lion logo tattoos are around the same ages as the guys in Miss May I when they first started out in high school. Now with almost eight years together and a steady footing in the hard rock community, Miss May I represents a band keeping the metal aesthetic alive by embracing the classic metal groove of the old school generation before them while also inspiring the rising metal heads with their thrashy new school twists and turns.
Check out the gallery below for more on Miss May I and catch them on tour this winter with August Burns Red. Find tickets near you here.