No stranger to this trendy, oddball scene of death metal dependent on heavy use of dissonant harmonies, Baring Teeth smiles crooked once again. Gracing these halls not once but twice with commendable offerings, our own Kronos revealed that “Baring Teeth’s greatest strength is their peerlessness” and the Texas trio “shuns accessibility”—these veterans scream the nature of this high-brow form of technical death metal. Alien yet organic, obtuse yet hypnotic, the contradictions and shades of humanity that this boundary-agnostic act continues to find allow enough of a footing in an amorphous sound to drive a crowd from navel-gazing to circle-pitting at will. But now one step further down the tightrope of expression between experimental and tangible, does The Path Narrows continue to find enough space among the growing masses of skronk-minded death metallers?
In the five years since Transitive Surgery landed, this Texas three-piece has been largely quiet, a bold (or more likely frustrating) decision in a field that, in that same time frame, has exploded. For all that now exists in the dissonant-experimental-avant-ish death metal realm, Baring Teeth has maintained a quiet presence as an overdub-light, performance-ready act. Sunless comes to mind as a contender, similarly in overdub-light trio, but many other contemporary acts possess a greater density that makes decoding their intentionally scrambled messages more of a chore than an enjoyment. Baring Teeth has too played around with novel sound inclusions and effects, a fancifulness that can be heard in the laser-precise guitar screeches on “Obsolescence” or the guest synth layers on closer “Terminus.” But outside of that latter inclusion, The Path Narrows finds Baring Teeth biting at every distended melody and discernable rhythm they can muster.
Wielding a guitar like an incisor, Andrew Hawkins (Adharcáil) carves into reality each of the dominant identities that strut about The Path Narrows. If not immediately recognizable in horror-tinged opener “The Gate,” by the time the “Obsolescence” main refrain drills your brain, you will recognize that Hawkins’ snaking and repetitive string-statements anchor the improvisational nature of what occurs around them. On tracks that spill brutal prog weirdness akin to the near indigestible math-wanking of Behold… The Arctopus (“Rote Mimesis,” “Wreath”), Hawkins’ consistency allows bass rumbles to weave through tension to find proper counterpoint and drums, in turn, to establish a direction for the tumble. His lead becomes harder to recognize on numbers that lean on atmosphere (“Liminal Rite,” “Terminus”), but the discontent and discordant jangles that precede Baring Teeth’s trademark dissonant dance can only come from his resonating and revulsive six-string symphony.
The free-form nature of The Path Narrows presents with hooks that tease rather than tackle, which presents some issues in identifying precise location along the journey. To be clear, success in music doesn’t always need to come from being able to pin song names and moments to memory—hell, there’s a whole class of metal albums that are just one big song. But Baring Teeth has chosen to tread down a path of a textural, emotional experience aligned with post-death torchbearers Ulcerate (“Liminal Rite,” “Terminus”), a different kind of challenge. However, an unwillingness to leave behind entirely the grinding, bursting elements that keep Baring Teeth rooted in death metal, like the pop-slap-pummel of “Culled” or Gorguts-ian sprint of “Wreath,” makes the back-loaded placement of the longest, slowest excursions that much harder to endure. The massive brake-slam to ritual summoning on “Cadaver Synod,” and the approximate four minutes of recursive build that opens the closer “Terminus,” do not frustrate in isolation, but they do feel a few shades noticeably darker and moodier than what came before.
As a band who seems to sit always just a little more wild, a little more noisy, a little more abstract than their peers, Baring Teeth continues to prove a band who does little wrong, with The Path Narrows pushing a surprisingly reigned-in version of the identities that Baring Teeth has held over the years. By their side, the dutiful Colin Marston (Gorguts, Dysrhythmia, and more…), darling engineer of the dissonant scene, has helped this act achieve the most balanced presentation they’ve had since… well, the last time he did it. And though neither as fierce, nor hungry, nor abrasive as Baring Teeth has delivered before, The Path Narrows resonates with a practiced and pondered energy. Baring Teeth won’t be winning any awards for time of release consistency, but whatever they do drop continues to be worth the wait.