Review Summary: The best of today's hardcore justifies even the worst of cities
There’s no getting around it, Baltimore, MD is an ugly city-- a shi
thole, even, as it was described to me recently. Still, between the rainbow-painted bridge adjacent to Penn Station, hovering near Soundgarden Records, underneath the pomp and pretension at Johns Hopkins, or within Miss Shirley’s Cafe, there’s a certain charm to Charm City. I think Baltimore-based Pulling Teeth must recognize this. Not unlike the tattered, disgusting benches strewn throughout the city with the misnomer “Best City in America” written upon them, the now-pretty-well-known hardcore band has a certain grime to them, a wonderfully rich history not unlike Baltimore, and they throw in some refined sophistication as well. Darlings from Deathwish, they grew to underground prominence with Vicious Skin
and Martyr Immortal
. Their 2009 record, Paranoid Delusions/Paradise Illusions
sounded like the full-realization of the band’s potential, in many ways. It reconstructed the thrash and extreme-metal influences used in the band’s two first, bringing their
sound into fruition. Pulling Teeth’s latest exhibits the band ripping apart these self-set boundaries and birthing yet another record that bends lines between hardcore and metal, exceeding expectations along the way.
The most striking aspect about Funerary
is its ability to blend influences fluidly without any awkward chunks floating around. Where past records have displayed the band’s influences in a more pronounced fashion, this takes obvious cues from a repertoire of worthy influences, but hides them beneath layers of Pulling Teeth’s own personality. And a little unique personality never hurts a record. Consider the opener: “From Birth” it begins with a blistering Slayer-esque solo, but the real meat of the song is Riley’s throat-scorching screams taking ahold of the track soon after before it descends into dizzyingly frenetic territory. The song touches on the bleak subject of having mixed feelings about bringing a child into this fu
cked up world-- spurred by the arrival of a son for the guitarist. Often achingly personal and singeing, there’s no shortage of hatred for Pulling Teeth.
At the heart of Pulling Teeth’s records are the lyrics, unexpectedly, and Funerary
is no exception. Frontman Mike Riley is up-front about the significance of his lyrics in their latest, especially (detailed explanations of each song’s lyrics can be found at an interview with Riley, here: http://linebreakerzine.com/2011/05/03/pulling-teeth-funerary/). They add a nice touch to the album, reminding the listener that Pulling Teeth is more than unadulterated ardor, ire, and an eccentric frontman, that they are some of current hardcore’s most sophisticated. It’s not merely a resonant assault on poor ears with relentless aggression, Funerary
is that plus cohesiveness, fluidity, and a welcome concentration on songwriting and thematics.
Unfortunately, this concentration on the dark themes of Funerary
gets Pulling Teeth into a bit of trouble late in the record. At the advent of the 10-minute title-track, the band hits a wall. Slowing down the pace for the hollow, doom-influenced track, Pulling Teeth lose considerable momentum. Granted, the genre-bending and skilled composition of “Funerary” make it impressive in its own right, but it’s not worth sacrificing the velocity that had been steadily building. Drooling to a sludgy slow, the remaining songs exhibit the band’s wide array of influences and technical capabilities better than any other streak on the album (i.e. the phenomenal solo on “Whispers”), but that doesn’t change the fact that it feels utterly detached from the rest of Funerary
Besides getting a tad caught up in their own experimentation at a singular point on the album, Funerary
is a dynamic tour de force that is sure to swallow expectations whole. Paranoid Delusions/Paradise Illusions
was the band discovering their sound, and this is Pulling Teeth breaking free from those self-set barriers. From the pop-punk-esque gang vocals of “Waiting,” to the Riley’s even more exacerbated vocal style, to the inclusion of Pianos Become The Teeth’s vocalist on highlight “At Peace” (that works surprisingly well), there’s more than enough novelty on Funerary
for old fans to be astounded with... again. So while Baltimore may not be the “Best City in America” as its benches like to boast, kindred like Pulling Teeth prove once again that Baltimore is worth keeping around, if only for its indispensable hardcore music scene.