Fear Factor

Scream come true

It's got to be a bitch being a young band called March Against Fear. You'll inevitably be mistaken for Denver's Fear Before the March of Flames, which has a record deal with Equal Vision Records and boasts almost 27,000 friends on MySpace.com. And you might end up with some very disappointed fans at your show.

"I've not played a show where they got our name right," singer/screamer Nate Butcher admits to me. "It's just frustrating that a couple words pull us into that. What pisses me off is there's so many 'dying' bands right now, and 'bleeding' bands," he adds. Chalk it up to the genre -- locals March Against Fear play the sort of screamo-prog-metalcore that the kids are digging these days, with a barrage of guitars and shrieking/screeching/yelling vocals that are bound to evoke violence.

I first ran into March Against Fear -- which takes its name from a 1966 civil rights protest in the South -- one night at the Emergenza "Festival" at the Clubhouse Music Venue in Tempe. Emergenza is a European import that purports to be a democratic showcase for bands, using empirical elimination to eventually crown a worldwide winner across the pond; in actuality it's a battle-of-the-bands Ponzi scheme where any band with $70 can be a part of the charade and attempt to get its fans to choke up $10 for a ticket so they can see a slate of unsigned, unheard-of bands play for 25 minutes each.

I wasn't terribly impressed with March Against Fear until I listened to the band's upcoming EP, Open Your Eyes, some time after the Emergenza show. Ordinarily, the opposite is true for me -- a band's live set overshadows what it can put down in the studio. So I thought I ought to give the six-piece another chance, and went to see them play at the Big Fish Pub a couple of weekends ago.

March Against Fear consists of Butcher, 26; drummer Brian Fitzgerald, 26; bassist Kyle Bastian, 21; keyboardist Angel Martinez, 22; guitarist Kevin Chao, 26; and guitarist Robbie Hollingsworth, 26. Together now since October of 2004, the band is just starting to come into its own musically, and it has the new EP Open Your Eyes, due out in April, to herald its arrival.

Recorded by local impresario Larry Elyea of Minds Eye Recording, the EP is a satisfying, if a touch earnest, collection of six songs that oscillate between screamo and metalcore, with a strong melodic foundation. The first track, "Not Missing You," which the band members tell me they wrote on their second day of practicing together, opens with a cascading series of riffs over Fitzgerald and Bastian's precise rhythm section. Butcher's singing, which strives to be endearing until it folds to desperation close to the chorus, later emerges as a scream, which foreshadows what the rest of the EP has to offer.

Personally, when it comes to screamo, I prefer the singer and the screamer to be two separate individuals -- I've not taken "Philosophy of Screamo 101," but I think the two vocal styles are supposed to represent a duality that gets smudged when one person is handling both. But that's just me.

The second track, "Fair Weather Friend," is more compelling than "Not Missing You," likely because it was written later, when the band had matured. Over a nearly pop-punk melody, Butcher begins by singing, "This is the last time that I'm going to save you/I'm sick of watching you throwing your life away."

It's immediately obvious that it's a rant aimed at someone with a tidy little addiction, which slightly annoys me because it belies a lack of empathy, and because I don't like to be preached to. The complexity of the track compensates for that, however -- clearly a great deal of thought went into the composition, with its multitudinous bridges and interludes. With only two of the songs clocking in under five minutes, this sort of rhythmic trickery is something that March Against Fear puts to good use.

On "The Opening," things get a little schizophrenic, with Butcher emitting a metallic roar after the cloyingly slow intro. Soon after, his singing is vocoderized into a Maynard James Keenan-esque apathetic purr. It's a pleasant switch-up on the CD, demonstrating the breadth of the band's abilities.

Finally, once you reach the sixth and last song, "Letting Go," you're rewarded with March Against Fear's strongest track. It starts with Butcher screaming over Fitzgerald's manic drumming, and Hollingsworth and Chao's guitars churning like a machine. It's a constantly accelerating exercise, with a pensive breakdown a little more than halfway through the song.

Unfortunately, what I admire about March Against Fear on its recording was overwhelmed by Butcher's stage theatrics when I saw the group live. I'm loath to pick on a band that's so young and has so much potential, but it's best the band members know this while they're still developing. Both times I saw them live, I couldn't get beyond my annoyance at Butcher's posturing -- punching the air, clapping along to his own beats, holding the microphone above his head like it was a bottle of beer, and grasping and shaking it like it was trying to get away from him.

Stage presence is one thing -- the show ought to be exciting -- but feign a little bit of indifference, please. It marginalizes the band's talents when the non-instrumentalist is strutting about the stage like it's a screamo version of Riverdance. That said, when April hits, I definitely recommend you grab the band's EP, and give it a shot live; you just might dig it more than I did.

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