In the late 1880s, a man named Herman Webster Mudgett moved to Chicago and obtained a position at a pharmacy. Under his better-known alias of H.H. Holmes, he eventually bought the pharmacy, as well as a vacant lot across the street. Holmes then constructed a large hotel on the property with the intention of housing guests of the World’s Fair of 1893, which was held in Chicago. This hotel, a giant, squatting structure known as “the castle” by nearby residents, was much more sinister than its exterior suggested. Holmes repeatedly changed builders during its construction, which yielded a final product that only he understood. Above the ground floor that housed the newly-located pharmacy and various shops, there were twisted, oddly-angled hallways, doors that opened to brick walls, stairs that led to nowhere, secret passageways, doors that only opened from the outside, and rooms hooked up to gas lines. In short, this was Holmes’ personal murder playground. He would bring his victims to the hotel, torture and kill them, dump the bodies down a chute that led to the basement, then cremate or dissolve the remains. At the time of his eventual execution, he had confessed to nine murders, with another 18 confirmed to be his. However, final estimates range as high as 200, based on missing persons reports and possible remains found in the “Murder Castle.”
Like this hulking, labyrinthine structure, metal is a world filled with bizarre twists, sinister sounding turns, and endless mystery. If one can ignore the association of the notorious serial killer, this building can serve as a fitting metaphor: there is perfectly fine, yet entry-level material on the ground floor, but a deeper look only reveals an amorphous maze that proves nearly impossible to navigate. Taking up residence in one of the back hallways that spawned off a secret passageway and a crooked staircase is a brand of death metal that resists precise classification. Lurking around these parts you’ll find Gorguts, Ulcerate, Zealotry, Artificial Brain, and, in the darker shadows, Ævangelist. With their sophomore effort, Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins, the Dallas, TX trio Baring Teeth have firmly staked out their own corner in this sinister area.
To be sure, we aren’t dealing with an album that charts new territory, or one that is found slinking in an undiscovered new hallway of our proverbial madhouse. What Baring Teeth manages to do, however, is pay their respects to the forefathers of weird, nasty death metal while simultaneously staying fresh. This particular subgenre simply cannot be played with an arsenal of riffs to anchor the odd format of each song, and riffs abound in this album. The intro to the title track rips through a mélange of dissonance that stretches itself over a few octaves, hulking and heaving through odd-time jumpiness without feeling unglued. I had to go back and listen to the first two minutes several times, and each time I gained a deeper appreciation for the way the chaotic, frenetic energy compounded until settling into a furious blast (not to mention the clever nod to “The Mountain” that shows up in a fragmented quote amidst the chaos). The latter half is devoted to a more stripped down idea, a slowly crushing steamroller riff that contrasts excellently with the volatile opening.
That element of contrast is on fine-tuned display throughout the album. That seems like an odd statement; we usually associate contrast in metal with clean guitars, clean singing, and extended instrumentation, and there is none to be found here. However, Baring Teeth show their knack for effective pacing through juxtaposition of flashy, technical madness against bone crushing space. The overall arc of “The Unwilling” matches the framework of sonata form, slowly punching through the beginning to a blasting middle, then back down to a crawl, ending with a timbral curiosity of extended bass trills backed by splashy cymbal rolls. The unhinged madness of “Dripping Sun” has a Dillinger-like wildness to the first half before settling into an almost droning blast section.
While they aren’t partner tracks, I don’t feel like I can listen to “Visitant” without letting the curious, slow fade out run right into “The Great Unwashed.” The focused, drum-driven opening of the former bores its way into a groove of sorts before completely unleashing into a firestorm of dense, upper register chords and raw, nasty energy. Then it settles into a thick, boiling, and slowly churning whirlpool that slows into a simmering sludge that, well, just sort of fades out. As a standalone song it may lack the compositional cohesion of other tracks, but “The Great Unwashed” seems to stir it back to life before diving in and thrashing about in the dense, muddy ooze. The second half of this track is where Baring Teeth really shows off their talent for technicality, space, and firmly anchoring the listener. The riffs are built from feverish themes that rise again and again while the material in between mixes and develops, resulting in repetition that doesn’t feel repetitive. Grooving, simplistic sections break up the fury and stick in your brain for a brilliantly paced song that finishes an idea started all the way back at “Visitant” (I don’t particularly need to find out whether that pairing was intentional or accidental, I’m just going to enjoy the songs).
I’m no sound and production expert, but I have no issues with this record. The superb guitar and bass work from Andrew Hawkins and Scott Addison is absolutely on point throughout the album, and I love how every riff comes through with a highly discernable, yet appropriately edgy clarity. The warm, rounded bass tone is a perfect counterpart to the brilliantly nasty guitar work. Additionally, I really appreciate the fact that you can hear variations in the snare sound and dynamics, meaning there wasn’t a blanket pasting over with some digital snare sample. It also helps that Jason Roe is clearly a monster drummer with a knack for keeping things interesting. The one drawback to be found here, depending on the listener’s taste, is a lack of vocal variety. The chosen style absolutely fits the overall dissonant chaos, but when I heard the strained, anguished character near the end of “Dripping Sun,” I couldn’t help but think how that could rear its heinous head at other points on the album.
In closing, pay close attention to this band. While influences of Gorguts and Ulcerate are clearly heard in their foundation, Baring Teeth is firmly stepping into their own monstrous, shadowy corner of this Murder Castle with Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins. Stylish pacing, frenzied technicality, heated dissonance, and crushing heaviness mark this ripper of an album, and also make my top ten list even more difficult. Thanks a lot, Baring Teeth.