A band changing names can have both major causes and effects. For bands like Rival Choir (formerly Mouth of the South), the cause can be a hope to move on from a title that once was an apt definition who the members were, but now needs refinement to fit who they’ve become. It can be a risky move for a band to work hard to get their name out there only to turn around and make fans adjust to a new one. From hearing their second studio effort as a unit, though, it’s obvious that Rival Choir made the change at a good time, as the record is a strong progression of the group’s honest-at-all-costs metalcore sound that will soon have them playing alongside some of the better acts in the scene.
On I Believe, Help My Unbelief, the band draws upon the likes of Norma Jean and Being As An Ocean to craft their crunchy, hardcore-tinged sound. The riffs go hard right out of the gate, with the instrumentation not holding back one bit on “Poured Out” and “Beggar.” The brutal sonic vibe fits the brutal truth in the lyrics — in the latter track, a truth about being nothing but a “beggar” seeking out God in a broken world. Such a visceral thickness reminds of the way Cory Brandan and the gang use chaotic musicianship to reflect the intense, often dark themes hovering over their songs. What’s equally impressive as the message is that the perfect amount of melody is added to the mix, with high-pitched guitar and piano expertly offsetting the metal jabs. “Empty Words” follows track two with lines about struggling in darkness and songwriting that both roars and soars upon execution.
Heavy Underoath influence is present on “Quiet Life,” with vocalist Josiah Lyle channeling his inner Spencer Chamberlain as gritty musicianship takes the front seat. “Aftermath” is the album’s shortest song, pacing back and forth between fast, stealthy riffage and vibrant singing sections. The attitude in this song takes a sharp turn into a more angry, bitter honesty than the desperate, analytical honesty showcased in its predecessor, a five-plus-minute musing on the obstacles that get in the way of finding God. The reliance on themes about struggle places Rival Choir in a similar zone as Being As An Ocean, who writes many songs about confronting brokenness. Their melodic relief is also similar, as consoling keyboard and serene guitar tones bring a sense of heavenly richness to a metalcore sound that hits hard as hell.
The two biggest standouts in the second half, “Sojourn” and “Help My Unbelief,” infuse euphonic crunch and atmospheric instrumentation to create an emotive density thicker than anything else heard on the record. The closer utilizes ambient strumming effects and a vigorous build-up to remind listeners that God never gives up on us — and though blatantly a Christian motif, one that uses imagery of oceans to express a longing for love that anyone can relate to (“I want to feel the oceans tremble / I want to fall in love again”). For a band that’s taking a step forward from the baneful aggression found on their first release, Struggle Well, it’s great to see some outward movement and sophistication in a far-from-groundbreaking follow-up. Playing to 2000s metalcore influences and modern hardcore tendencies isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but continuing to refresh their identity and sonic breadth will help Rival Choir continue to improve as a unit.
It’s been a long journey for Rival Choir over the last eight-plus years as a band, and the high energy and spirit captured on their new release show that they’re determined to forge their own path. The music itself isn’t exactly anything new for the genres of metalcore and melodic hardcore, but I Believe, Help My Unbelief, is a definite step-up from the outfit’s previous effort under a different name. Name changes may be a tough thing to overcome, but the quality of material on the band’s first record as Rival Choir reflects their intent on taking over a more serious role: becoming one of the hardcore genre’s up-and-coming stars.
Metalcore/Hardcore | Facedown Records