Fear Before - The Always Open Mouth (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Fear Before

The Always Open Mouth (2006)

Equal Vision

Eschew, eschew -- from one album to the next, this is what Fear Before the March of Flames do.

The first of these transitions brought mixed results. The Aurora, CO outfit left behind many a comparison to their more Northern, similarly art damaged hardcore brethren in the Blood Brothers -- instead, seemingly recycling a collection of Botch riffs and in turn producing an array of mostly passing white noise -- on 2004's Art Damage, which followed their noisy, delightfully structureless debut by just a year. With two years between Damage and the new effort, The Always Open Mouth, Fear Before show the time served them well, with their ambitions having grown admirably to create an album that carefully erases borders and spreads curious foundations across, a "heavy music" album that calls for inspiration from a number of angles.

What's key to The Always Open Mouth is experimentation, dynamics and the wide breadth of influences from which the band draws. Frontman David Marion's screaming voice has taken on a gravelly, expressive grumbling sort of tone -- he seems to take much from Coalesce, notably in "Drowning the Old Hag," a song throbbing with wailing, angular guitars that set the scene of wild flames at work. However, there's often an eerie, melodic counterpart to his growl, sung in an offsetting high pitch. This creates a consistently unnatural feel throughout the album's course, as it often delves into dark electronics and methodical, paced guitars. "The Waiting Makes Me Curious" commences with slightly droning, softly pounding instruments in a post-rock, Pelican-like fashion. "High as a Horse" finds Marion singing in a muttered styling in the verses that brings to mind Dennis Lyxzén at his most hushed moments in Refused, yet it's set aside for dual, pleading screams in the chorus. "My (Fucking) Deer Hunter" is pure haunt on the verses with strange, unsettling and punctual industrial pinches but a huge, bold, and yearning chorus expressed, awash in atmospheric guitars. Marion's apathetic repetitions of "[...] what's best for me tonight [...]" in the last minute of "Lycanthropy" brings to mind Short Bus-era Filter channeling Nine Inch Nails. The lazy group vocal chant of "everything will not be made right" in Mouth's closer, "Absolute Past," is a light stomp of a hook that'll last in your head for days.

For all these curious moments however, that's Mouth's biggest fault -- rarely do they actually coalesce enough to create a linear, great song. Surely, the album keeps your attention through its duration, but not often does a particular track stand out, only a flash of time. This gets to be quite obvious by the tenth track or so.

This detraction however is not enough to regard The Always Open Mouth as anything but a relatively enjoyable and drastic improvement over its predecessor. Far more ambitious and with an ever-reaching arm, Fear Before the March of Flames proves there's a stock of creativity in their bodies that's entirely more earnest and honorable than most of their active peers they'll be associated with from this point on.

Drowning the Old Hag