Equal Vision Records was conceived in the early ‘90s, when Ray Cappo of Youth of Today needed a label to distribute his Krishna-core band, Shelter. The outfit soon expanded, featuring hardcore mainstays such as Converge along with a few ambitious acts who took an innovative and original approach to emotional hardcore—a genre which has since been chewed up and spit out by MTV and the corporate music Machine. I wish I could say that the Equal Vision is still on the forefront of the DIY music scene, churning out talented acts who vigorously attempt to resuscitate a moribund musical category. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
While Fear Before the March of Flames’ debut album delved into screamo, the band’s sophomore effort, Art Damage, was a lethal combination of grindcore and math rock. Now, with The Always Open Mouth, these Denver natives try a more mature, detailed approach to post-hardcore—leaving the abrasive, scathing sound behind for textured guitars and experimental synthetic devices. The dueling, call-and-response vocals still prevail, but these emotive shouts tend to lean more toward harmonizing than the band’s former method of juxtaposing scathing screams with clean crooning. Although a valiant effort, The Always Open Mouth is, more or less, an amalgam of separate ideas, none of which seem to pan out.
The album opens with an ambient, Gregorian-like chant of “everything will not be alright,” (take that Bob Marley). Then Fear Before explodes into “Drowning the Old Hag”, a pure grindcore scream fest that leaves you filled with anticipation for the remaining 13 tracks. Unfortunately, the album quickly changes pace, settling into a pattern of languid lyrics and predictable verse/chorus progressions. The album frequently regresses into some standard metalcore tactics while periodically wallowing into the realm of electronic space rock. Rather than emulating post-hardcore innovators such as the Blood Brothers or Equal Vision upstarts Converge, The Always Open Mouth sounds like a watered-down version of the Mars Volta. Instead of banging your head, the effort is more likely to leave you scratching it.
Needless to say, the emo branch of post-hardcore is desperately in need a fresh influx of talent to regain its momentum and salvage any remaining credibility it may have as a legitimate art form. Admittedly, this is a tall order for some 20-somethings from Colorado (or even for the EVR label, for that matter). But hey, this is what you guys signed up for. The Always Open Mouth will offer some pleasing ditties to pre-existing fans of the band, while undoubtedly garnering some attention from the At the Drive-In/Volta camp. Whether these songs offer anything worthy of attention from the rest of us, however, is another question.
In an interview with Skratch Magazine, guitarist/vocalist Adam Fisher described the meaning behind the album’s title. He mentioned the close-minded attitude so prevalent in today’s society. “I don’t disrespect anyone’s beliefs,” he tells the mag, “because I sure as hell have nothing figured out. I just feel the world could benefit from more people with an open-minded perspective on all things.” Bravo, Adam! We could all use a little more candor and open dialogue. I just hope he still feels this way after reading the reviews for this album.