Review Summary: Fear Before change once again, this time for the worst.
In the modern pantheon of scene bands, few have been heralded as "ever-changing" as much as Fear Before, who shortened their name from Fear Before the March of Flames earlier this year. It may have seemed like a great idea at the time - the name change did lend a bit of hype to the album - but in hindsight it seems ill-advised. The band asserted that the name change was meant to reflect yet another change in sound, this time a concise, hard-hitting self-titled album meant to counteract the sometimes heavy-handed concept of The Always Open Mouth. It's somewhat ironic that the sound they crafted on this album seems to merit an even longer name because of all the unnecessary elements they included.
The Always Open Mouth had a great balance of new and old Fear Before; it seemed to have just the right amount of straight-forward hardcore and experimentation. It was a dissonant romp through a dystopian future, the sound perfectly complementing the concept. Instead of building off of that sound, Fear Before have dropped a lot of what made them so original in the first place, opting for an album that is based around gimmicks and camp. Opener "Treeman" is frankly embarrassing, with lyrics so ridiculous that it's almost impossible to take the song seriously, such as "There's nothing stranger than a stranger, strangely stranger than a stranger." The bridge has that burlesque, circus feel that so many bands are employing these days, all somehow thinking that they're the first to implement that gimmick. The vocals are also a weak point; the verses' spoken word style has no merits whatsoever, and the song's chorus is neither catchy nor interesting. The riffs are good, but the guitar tone is fairly weak and lacks any real power. The bottom line is that "Tree Man" exemplifies all that is wrong with today's scene music. It's campy and gimmicky and no matter how self-aware Fear Before may be, it doesn't make up for songs like this.
The album gets better once "Tree Man" ends, but the sour taste it leaves never really fades away. "I'm Fine Today" redeems the record vocally, with David Marion and Adam Fisher employing the style heard on their previous albums, which leaves us to ask the age old question, "If it isn't broke, why try to fix it?" There has never been anything wrong with Fear Before's previous sounds, yet they chose to change them from album to album. Granted, it worked incredibly well for them before, especially from Art Damage to The Always Open Mouth, but Fear Before have shown that there is a such thing as trying too hard to progress. Their attempts at differentiation come off as forced and predictable, especially when they shoot themselves in the collective foot by adding too many elements into a song. "Jabberwocky" is built around an odd staccato vocal sample of "This shi
t life" that seems to serve no real purpose at all. It's an unnecessary addition to what would otherwise be one of the album's top tracks. It's similar in structure to The Always Open Mouth's "My (Fu
cking) Deer Hunter" in that it is based around buildup and release, but it could stand to have had thirty seconds or so shaved off and Marion's vocals are too theatrical for their own good at times.
Fear Before do get it right a few times though. "Fear Before Don't Listen to People Who Don't Like Them" lives up to the band's promise of "hard-hitting and concise" while still hearkening back to the atmosphere of The Always Open Mouth. It's musically impressive, especially the drums which completely steal the show from the rest of the band, and the vocals are inspired and intense, unlike other tracks where they feel lazy and bored. "Review Our Lives (Epic)" is a throwback to Fear Before's Art Damage and Odd How People Shake days, showcasing spastic riffs and screams and even a somewhat unlikely time signature in its latter half. The last thirty seconds of the song almost makes up for the record's worst moments, as it is a very strong climax, but ultimately the album's cons outweigh its pros.
Fear Before's self-titled album is supremely disappointing, as they were once one of the most original bands in hardcore. It's sad to see them making a "progression" that includes conforming to trends and reducing their signature sound to a series of gimmicks. It doesn't help that their attitude is one of arrogance and high-mindedness, shown best in the title of "Fear Before Doesn't Listen to People Who Don't Like Them." No matter how self aware the title is and no matter how tongue-in-cheek it's supposed to be, it ends up being a fitting analysis of the band's philosophy. It's good that Fear Before are making music for themselves and no one else, but on this self-titled album their musical whims have proven to be their downfall.