By Jezy J. Gray
What if I told you that the most sonically adventurous outfit in DFW music is a death metal band? If you've ever caught a live performance from Baring Teeth, you wouldn't be surprised. Whether leveling cramped local DIY venues or opening for behemoths like Dillinger Escape Plan, the Dallas trio has stayed busy for the past few years refining their elegantly brutal aesthetic and sharpening their already-dangerous edges. What makes Baring Teeth so compelling, though -- and what makes their upcoming LP, Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins, poised for the broader audience it deserves -- is the dexterity with which the band remaps the perimeters of "heavy" music.
While not afraid to subvert expectations, Baring Teeth do what a great metal band ought to. Their music is intensely, unapologetically aggressive -- dizzyingly fast at times, punishingly slow and dissonant at others -- but they are a collective that bends rather than breaks under the weight of their large-scale ambitions. Those carefully tuned in to the local scene are eager to sing the band's praises, and many I've talked to are thoroughly baffled that more people aren't aware of them. Despite signing with respected Pennsylvania-based Willowtip Records in 2011 and performing relentlessly throughout the area in the years since their pristine debut, Atrophy, Baring Teeth remain largely unrecognized in the local press as one of the most exciting and excellent acts in the metroplex.
Baring Teeth formed in 2008 under the name Soviet, and released their first demos under their current moniker a year later. Singer and guitarist Andrew Hawkins got his start a few years earlier, playing guitar for Denton tech-metal outfit Man Is Mostly Water while working on his B.A. in English at the University of North Texas in the mid-2000s. Considering the depth and braininess of Baring Teeth's output, it's no surprise that Hawkins is widely read.
Explaining, perhaps, the eclectic influences that contribute to the band's singular sound -- fingerprints of outsider pioneers like Scott Walker are as evident as any "metallic" influence on Ghost Chorus -- Hawkins will happily talk at length about a range of disparate writers, from P.G. Wodehouse to J.G. Ballard. (If you're wondering, the title of the band's forthcoming album is an allusion to Cormac McCarthy's 1973 novel Child of God.)
"I feel like there's a tendency with a lot of metal bands to want everything in the mix at a thousand percent," Hawkins says of their recent recording strategy. "But I think we actually made a more aggressive album by sort of dialing some elements back and letting them play off each other."
Like McCarthy's prose, Ghost Chorus often circles around an image, giving texture to its various pieces before engaging the whole. Unlike the relentless spray of blast beats and dissonant notes that made Atrophy such a manic thrill, the band's new album is more prone to settle into an idea, letting it spin on its own momentum until it shatters. Blistering tracks like "The Great Unwashed" recall the breakneck assault of that first record -- and there are plenty of moments throughout where the three instruments tangle violently like a snarl of exposed nerves -- but here the band seems more focused on creating space for bigger, more dynamic ideas.
Slightly less gain on Hawkins' restless guitar, for example, carves a surprising amount of room for Jason Roe's rich, organic drum sound and the frantic spidering of Scott Addison's six-string bass. Whereas a number of death metal rhythm sections tick lifelessly in a persistent metallic chirp, Baring Teeth's is remarkably limber and rich. Listening to Ghost Chorus, you feel the give and take of a seasoned jazz trio as much as the blunt force of the album's spastic, pulverizing tantrums. So much sonic tension has been built, relieved and regenerated by these three players throughout the album's succinct 38-minute runtime that the closing title track carries the sensation of a severe mental breakdown. Instead of feeling like you've arrived at the other side of something, "Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins" feels like waking from one nightmare into another.
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But will this new album's creative and rewarding approach be enough to move the needle on Baring Teeth's exposure problem? Hawkins isn't worried. He talks about the band's future with the sobriety and discipline of an artist more concerned with meeting personal goals than with traditional benchmarks for success.
"We want to keep pushing ourselves and writing music that speaks to us," Hawkins says. "Trying to write with 'success' in mind would dilute our songs and make continuing with the band pointless. I doubt we'll ever reach a point where we feel like we don't have more room to explore within our sound."
You can set your watch to a degree of public handwringing over the state of local music, but the DFW metal scene has been quietly producing some of the most intrepid and unique projects to come out of the metroplex in years. Along with Baring Teeth, a number of similarly audacious bands like Unconscious Collective and Akkolyte -- let's just say it: anything Aaron and Stefan González have a hand in -- stand as some of the most fearless acts in local music today.
If you want to do your part in helping this dynamic community of artists thrive, a good starting place is August 16, when Baring Teeth will be supporting Unconscious Collective for the latter's LP release show at Taquería Pedritos. And, of course, keep an eye out for Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins, out this fall on Willowtip Records. If you're not paying attention yet, now's the time.