The Catalyst - Swallow Your Teeth
Record Label: The Perpetual Motion Machine
Release Date: August 3, 2009
The Catalyst are a self-proclaimed hardcore/grunge/psychedelic four-piece from Richmond, VA (though psychedelic seems to only refer to their prolific drug use). The phrase “swallow your teeth” carries a certain connotation and lends itself to a lot of awful puns that I could make when reviewing this album. So, when you name your album Swallow Your Teeth you are inviting the listener to make certain assumptions, or perhaps preparing the listener for what’s to come. Couple this with the album art and you pretty much know what to expect, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the listen.
Swallow Your Teeth plays out much like most hardcore records. It begins with a lot of distortion and then a whole lot of screaming. Eric Smith screams and occasionally half-sings, half-yells, and it works well. The first track “I Hate the Future” is a solid hardcore track. Everything is present, chugging guitar riffs provided by Smith and an innocuous bass line provided by Michael Backus who also lends his throat while Kevin Broderick pounds away on the drums and Jamie Faulstich tends to the finer points of guitar work. The song is loud and fast and earns the grunge title The Catalyst were looking for. The songs on “Swallow Your Teeth” are power chord and distortion heavy, no surprise there, and the production is rather lo-fi, a sound that I’m sure lends itself much better to live performance.
Smith’s lyrics run the gamut from puddles of piss and bile, to zombies, disease, and stabbing. The Catalyst are not catering to Facebook status messages and I don’t think they were too hung up on their lyrical message. The most surprising track on the album is “Incidental Music.” After the opening three tracks I had settled into a rhythm and “Incidental Music” shakes that up in an unexpected way. True to its namesake “Incidental Music” is, well, just music. An instrumental track on a hardcore album seems largely out of place but surprisingly it serves as a pallet cleanser. There’s nothing terribly instrumentally proficient here but, surprisingly, it works. It’s loud and dirty and grungy. As soon as it's over, though, we kick right back into the screaming, but this time we see Smith reaching the higher registers of his voice and the just-over-two minute “Small Town, Big Mouth” is quite the kick in the face (insert swallow your teeth joke here) and pushes us right back into the album. The seven minute “Werewolves of Washington” sees Smith take a backseat to the instruments and his voice is interspersed through a plethora of intricate guitar work. Two tracks later we get “42012.” Over three minutes into this track and I’m astonished that there might be another instrumental track. One instrumental track on a hardcore album is enough of a surprise, but two? Luckily, the last 30 seconds or so Smith screams unintelligibly at me and everything is right again.
Swallow Your Teeth rounds itself out with “A Goodbye Kiss From the Catalyst (You Dog)” and, gasp, there isn’t much distortion. In fact the track starts with near-ambient instrumentation. Not to worry though, dear reader; Smith’s voice kicks in and the distortion picks back up and the track serves as a fitting endpoint to the album. I’ll leave you with the sage words of my girlfriend who, not pleased at my choice to review this album, said “It’s hardcore. There’s your review. Can we listen to something else now?” Surprisingly, I don’t think The Catalyst would mind that review. So, instead of this prolix review I can sum it up in this tl:dr review: It’s hardcore.