Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins is the last album out this year that I expect to give a shit about, and what a loose, worm-riddled mass that shit is. Baring Teeth‘s first offering, Atrophy, is a must for those who want to understand the future of death metal – discordant, abstract, disturbing and forward-thinking as a Rodin sculpture strapped to a freight train. The Texan group’s morbid grooves and daring experiments made for one of 2011’s best and most tragically overlooked releases, Atrophy, which, if there is any justice in this world, should be a classic in ten years’ time. Now, the growing popularity of more abstract death metal like that of Gorguts, Ulcerate, and Portal has Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins set up to receive all of the attention that its predecessor deserved.
For the uninitiated, there is no substitute for experience. It’s impossible to totally prepare for the pensive anti-music Baring Teeth traffic in, but “An Illusion of Multiple Voices” drones in to sickeningly to refuse, its gradual and hypnotic aural scouring punctuated by a few sporadic plunges into the chaos lurking beyond this introduction. “Visitant” is an early landmark, opening with a relatively melodic groove and capitalizing on simple but extremely dissonant and unpredictable guitar work. Its outro then pits the guitar and bass against each other in a cold war of atonality before the fury of “The Great Unwashed.”
The album’s less busy moments are no less remarkable – the confused melody that begins the percussion-dominated “The Unwilling” and the bustling noise capping “Mountain” see the band continuing their experiments with less technical approaches to horror. Sadly, neither is quite as effective as the unforgettable “Distilled in Fire”/ “Vestigal Birth” transition from Atrophy, but these softer moments get the job done, compartmentalizing the songs without losing the album’s sense of suspense.
It becomes clear early in Ghost Chorus that the trio has grown since Atrophy. Technicality is more persistent now, and each member handles his role expertly, never pushing the others to the side and creating a very organic sound, which is well captured in the recording. Of special note here is the quality of Jason Roe’s drumming. While it’s not as technically demanding or complex as that of his kiwi peer Jamie St. Merat, he’s still able to capture the incessant creativity and fluidity of Ulcerate‘s drumming while using a completely different palette of sounds, focusing on tom-led, crash punctuated grooves rather than blast beats and constant cymbal flourishes. This sort of percussion is truly essential to both of the bands; it plays with expectations and spurns traditional patterning, forcing the rhythms further down into the music rather than punctuating them as a drummer traditionally would. The confluence of percussion and strings keeps each phrase novel, just beyond your powers of prediction – see “Dripping Sun” for one of the album’s most rhythmically puzzling compositions.
Though Ghost Chorus is for the most part incredibly successful, there are a few issues worth mentioning. Foremost are the guitar and bass tones, which are decidedly more dense and less resonant than that of Atrophy. The album seems to lose some texture because of this, although I’ll have to wait until I can compare the two albums in lossless to confirm that this isn’t because of a compressed format. What the format can’t change, however, is homogeneity, which is an occasional problem for this release. The songs and riffs just aren’t as diverse as the ones Atrophy had to offer.
Despite these flaws, the album is without a doubt one of this year’s best and most perplexing releases. Musically, Baring Teeth are comparable to few artists – primarily Gorguts, but in terms of aesthetics they find common ground in literature. Throughout Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins there exists the feeling of a frantic melancholy, the need to twist one’s head after half-seen specters. It’s not morbid but moribund, a cloak draped across an invisible threshold whose folds and wrinkles shift as unseen forces perturb them. The album is a musical ghost story, compelled by doubt and creeping fear of the unknown that artistically holds more in common with Edgar Allen Poe or Ambrose Bierce than Morbid Angel or Spawn of Posession. Baring Teeth‘s greatest strength is their peerlessness, how utterly unlike anyone else they are, and Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins is not about to change that.