I Believe, Help My Unbelief

An Album By

Rival Choir

Review by

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Artists should do what it takes for them to produce their best possible work. The demands of the journey beget tough decisions, and you make the one most valuable to the work. This is where Rival Choir was born. In late 2015, in anticipation of I Believe, Help My Unbelief, the band formerly known as Mouth of the South announced their presence to the world with “Aftermath,” and it came with the explicit directive that, from both a “musical and missional” perspective, a rebranding of the band was needed.

After listening to I Believe…, the reason for the name change isn’t the sole result of a new musical direction. The band has grown, there’s no doubt, but it’s not so different they needed a new band name. It’s evolution. They achieved a stellar release by doing what the best artists always do: Edit. They’ve pared down the songs. They left the meat, trashed the excess. That’s the very definition of maturity in songwriting: having the ability to reflect on something you created, cherry pick the best bits and learn how to bury the superfluous. As a result, what Rival Choir spit out for us to consume, surely, are the diamonds from the pressure of not just one album as Rival Choir, but also from two albums as Mouth of the South — the combination of three releases of lessons learned, music written and experiences had, regardless of the name on the album cover.

But maybe that’s why they did change their name. To them, a switch might have flipped. Maybe the Texas-based quartet knew they needed to start with calling the band something different, that it would force them into the exact mindset they needed to get the best from their work. Maybe they needed to change the energy behind the creation of the album. Musically, an album that clearly shows a tightened, leaner, mature band coming into their own may actually be the result of this line in the sand the band felt they had to draw. As in, this is more for us than it is for you. Over here, we were but kids. On this side, we’ve survived our rites, and we are no longer the same entity.

Rival Choir spit out the diamonds from the pressure of not just one album as Rival Choir, but also from two albums as Mouth of the South — the combination of three releases of lessons learned, music written and experiences had, regardless of the name on the album cover.

In the very act of assuming a new name, Rival Choir has forced the listener to reevaluate them as a band. In previous releases, vocalist Josiah Lyle spouted slam poetry amid his aching screams, like the delicate footwork a boxer needs to accompany his left hook. It garnered lazy comparisons to Being as an Ocean and Cartel, but the way Lyle then delivered his lyrics was a cornerstone of his artistic approach to world. He had a lot to say, and even the words on words on words among the heaviness of the music sometimes didn’t seem like enough. But here onĀ I Believe…, the dancing on the boxing mat is gone, and Lyle is full-throttle to the face. He doesn’t wax poetic or play with vocal depth. He still hits melody, but he does it inconspicuously behind his growl. Lyle’s vocals are now the embodiment of the band’s new mission: It’s to the point, contemplative and direct. He questions a number of religious and philosophical pillars, but he’s doing it with exact words, chosen words, writing only what’s necessary, letting the echoes hang in the air instead of talking through the outro.

The instrumentation follows-suit. The guitar tone has abandoned the deep chug of metalcore run through eight distortion pedals; now, it’s got almost a Telecaster twang to it. It’s a throwback to when you took the the guitar you could afford, ran it through the amp’s distortion, fiddled with the tone knobs — and loved it because it was what you had. In those days, that was all you needed. And, just like Lyle’s new approach to vocals, Rival Choir is carrying with them only that which follows the lean suit of their new approach — that’s all they need. Compared to Mouth of the South’s layered walls of sound, Rival Choir’s new aural aesthetic becomes part of the statement. It separates them from the common sound of the genre. There are less deliberate breakdowns-for-breakdowns-sake, less empty air in which to breathe. The focus is on the mature growl of Lyle, the solidarity of the one guitar, and the punishing drive of the rhythm section. They’re coming after you.

If Mouth of the South was more “mouth,” Rival Choir is the fight in “rival.” In leaving behind the singularity of one mouth, the band has learned they’re going to gain the ultimate prize: a choir of voices, a dedicated group of fans that listened to them. And they needed to do whatever it took to get them there, regardless of the name of the cover.

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