I had to get myself psyched up for The Catalyst, because usually I don’t have the stamina to rock so hard for longer than about ten minutes. And their LP “Swallow Your Teeth” doesn’t allow for anything longer than a brief breath between tracks. Front to back, it’s a balls-out head-banger—nay, body
-banger, for you will probably find yourself convulsing on the floor before you get a chance to flip it to the B-side (if bangin’ to a record is your kind of fun, that is). “Swallow Your Teeth” is a weird, volatile blend of grunge, post-rock, hardcore, and then every now and then they surprise you with something a bit too elusive for definition. While I’m wary of anything that brushes up so close against the ‘hardcore’ tag, I can’t deny the certain fun-ness of “Swallow Your Teeth”, and of course The Catalyst keep things just fresh enough to elevate their sound above the usual boring appellations that go along with the hardcore scene.
The A-side starts off like an exploding abscess—a lot of noise and pain and me wondering, “what the hell’s going on here…”, and then finally with the pus all expelled, now I can think clearly enough to find something to wipe it up with. And then we’re already a track into it. The first few are pretty straightforward rock numbers with traces of hardcore mixed in, some stranger aspects that nod toward post-punk and sometimes they teeter so close to weirdness I’m almost wanting the band to get math-y and really blast off in a different direction. But they don’t really ever get too far off that path—maybe there’s too much discipline in the laws of rock’n’roll, to the point that it keeps the band from really exploring some uncharted lands. But wait, we blaze on to track four, “Incidental Music” (how apropos). This track stands out from the rest of the A-side—its lack of vocals and general unique sound compared to the rest of the songs so far is just that breather I was looking for. But it’s all-too-short, and then we’re back to a few more straight-forward numbers—rocking hard, albeit, but leaving me hungry for more weird instrumentals. Alright well perhaps I spoke too soon—the A-side’s last track, “Werewolves of Washington” serves as an epic adieu to the side: reverberating guitar solo with room to knock about, and plenty of sans-vocals expansion right before closing the track. So yeah, a good mix there on the A-side.
The B-side has The Catalyst blasting out of the gate once again—rocking hard as usual, but a none-too-interesting number. The next one, “Sterling is a Hole” begins with this gnarly string-bending riff, set to a kind of weird timing, but the rest of the song seems to be comprised of some less-inspired stuff—can I use the word ‘straightforward’ too much here? Don’t get me wrong, it does rock nicely, but I’m holding out for something altogether more unique and weird. The next track, “42012” does deliver. It opens with some radical delayed guitar riffs and then moves into a head-nodding jog. This one could’ve done without the lyrics at all, but as I can see The Catalyst are a band with a message, they probably don’t want to let any opportunity to pass by without saying something
. In any case, “42012” is another winner, and I daresay the champion of the B-side at this point. Alright I’ll skip to the last track, “A Goodbye Kiss from The Catalyst (You Dog)”. This one is another zone-grown piece, built slowly from what sound like post-rock ingredients. It’s still as heavy as anything else on the record, but floating above that heavy foundation is some superbly-tethered soloing. The vocals kind of bring things back down to the ground, almost burying the track alive. This could’ve been the
track of the album, but I feel it’s been deflated a bit by the vocals.
The Catalyst have somewhat kept me on my toes. “Swallow Your Teeth” is a not-so-subtle blend of hardcore, post-rock, and grunge. Really the only thing that sounds grungy to me about this album is the production—a bit thin in spots and I am now wondering how amazing it could sound after treatment by someone like Steve Albini. In any case, the post-rock elements are what push “Swallow Your Teeth” into a realm above the usual hardcore, post-punk, etc. The conundrum then is that I’m simply not finding enough elevation on the entire record. I’d like less (sigh) straightforward hardcore and more outer-limits guitar exploration. But all things considered, this album is a fun listen and definitely due for a few more spins before being shelved. What I’m unsure of is how likely I am to return to the album in the years to come. 6/10 -- Michael Jantz (28 October, 2009)