Fear Before The March Of Flames' songwriting chops have always been wretched, but therein lies the group's charm: Somewhere between post-hardcore and post-music, this young Denver group creates one of the most jarring walls of noise in American post-hardcore. Unfortunately, age, road miles, and press attention can do strange things to a developing band, and with its third album, The Always Open Mouth, Fear Before has embraced its inner art student, hired an unlikely producer (Bobby Darling, guitarist for Pacific Northwest indie-rock crew Gatsbys American Dream), and "matured." The results, naturally, are a total mess—but this time, there's little of the reckless abandon that made 2004's Art Damage a train-wreck worth following.
Mouth starts off daring and full of promise, with the drop-tuned guitar counterpoint and bare-fanged screams of "Drowning The Old Hag" giving way to "Mouth"'s unsettling atmospheric riffs. But within seconds of the latter's chorus—a misguided screamo sing-along that could've come from any faceless second-stage act on the Vans Warped Tour—the album officially goes off the rails. From the effects-laden Faith No More knockoff "Ten Seconds In Los Angeles" to the industrialized Nine Inch Nails posturing of "High As A Horse," Mouth finds FBTMOF mistaking eclecticism for creativity, and effects pedals for songwriting tools. "A Gift For Fiction," one song away from the album's 15th (and mercifully, last) cut, picks up where the opening tracks left off, with the sound again reduced to its basics: a dazzling, down-tuned guitar assault offset by dueling vocals. It's among the album's only links to the band's past glories, and one of too few tracks that actually sound hungry.