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Iowa’s Former Thieves have been furiously touring since their inception in 2009, and now they arrive with their debut album. The band have just wrapped up a US tour with Defeater, and beginning a run of dates with The Carrier, two bands which blur the lines of what people expect of hardcore. Can Former Thieves do the same, and follow up on the furious statement of intent made with their self-released 2009 EP The Great And The Alleged Great? Read on traveller and see.
Now, the fact that the album was recorded with Chris Common, who has previously worked with Mastodon, is a telling little fact. While Former Thieves are ostensibly a hardcore band, listening to their output I’m reminded of bands such as Mastodon and Baroness who sit on the progressive edge of heavy music. That’s not to say that The Language That We Speak is as progressive as the previously mentioned acts, the things they have in common with Former Thieves is more to do with tone, vibe and the way the riffs seem to flow over one another and weave and duck around your ears. There is little musical pyrotechnics to be found here, but it’s definitely a fairly left of field release, which crosses into drone, sludge and doom territory.
The album is full of dissonant melodies and jarring riffs. It seems to me like the band have focused very closely on tone, vibe and the mood they create with each track, which is for the most part aggressively dark and brooding. When the band shifts gears to the minimalist interludes that are heard intermittently, the result is often quite creepy and haunting. The bass is very prominent in the mix, and like the guitars, has a very distinctive tone, namely fat and distorted. Now any doom / drone fans out there are probably licking their lips with that description, yet there is little to be found here that hasn’t been heard before. I can enjoy listening to this record, but often it makes me want to throw on records by other bands who make similiar sounds yet who are doing them better. The musicianship here is solid and convincing, yet it is hardly groundbreaking, and the songs tend to blend into one another without providing many memorable moments. I’ve no doubt that Former Thieves would be a formidable prospect live, yet on record they struggle to raise themselves above the hoards of other volume junkies who have populated the landscape since Tony Iommi discovered how much better a guitar sounds when it’s tuned down and heavily distorted.
Matt Schmitz has a nasty throat on him and provides an intense vocal performance. However, his harsh shouts rarely provide much variety and can become grating at times. The lyrics which are audible are generally intelligent, although as a rule the lyrics are quite difficult to decipher. His vocals sit well over the heavier sections although I can’t help but think the band would benefit from a vocal performance as dynamic as the music they create rather than a blunt force assault.
The production here is definitely a step up from their debut EP, and while the four-piece band makes one hell of a racket, the individual layers are reasonably discernible. The mix as a whole is somewhat scratchy and trebly, and the drums could have more punch, but these are not deal breakers by any means, the production overall is solid. The album flows well and while each track doesn’t necessarily grab you and demand your attention, one gets the impression the band wrote this album to be digested as a whole, and it’s true it works far better as something to just put on repeat and let it wash over you rather than cherry picking tunes for a quick fix.
Iowa’s Former Thieves arrive with their debut LP, and it’s a noisy affair. The Language That We Speak changes from fast, aggressive hardcore to droning, darkly melodic interludes with little warning. It’s an impressive debut, yet one gets the impression they are still finding their feet. Upon listening to one song you might find yourself intrigued, however the album doesn’t deliver the originality and focus the band hints that they are capable of. Pick this up if you appreciate stormy, dark hardcore but don’t expect your musical horizons to be blown apart.
1. Dead Horses are Turned into Glue
2. I Can’t Get There From Here
3. Brilliant Exceptions
4. Trust Fund Kids
5. First World Blues
6. Everything has a Price, Everything is Stolen
7. Pacemaker Trendsetter
8. What’s Real and What’s Not
9. Bad Friends
10. The Language That We Speak