The latest from Baltimore's Pulling Teeth sees the band complete the molting process from a straightforward fast hardcore band into a band capable of laying out a variety of superficially incompatible styles. Paranoid Delusions / Paradise Illusions is an exercise in conflicting ideas and works to separate the band from many of its contemporaries.
Pulling Teeth has always had an experimentalist tendency that belied their frantic hardcore base. Their previous releases have featured death metal bridges and shredding solos, so this mood-shifting five-song set shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to fans of their preceding efforts. The most obvious foreshadowed new trait is a more varied use of the guitar. Dialing back to a very natural distorted sound on the guitar, they seem to hit most every base of modern heavy guitar playing. There are the fast hardcore chord changes that start out "Bloodwolves" that ultimately give way to a surprisingly melodic and mid-range lead solo reminiscent of Integrity covering Metallica's "Orion." In addition, there are Slayer-styled spastic guitar solos and the opening on the first track "Ritual" sounds like a forgotten Black Sabbath riff complete with generous doubling and phrase-ending trills. Maybe they never were, but Pulling Teeth is nowhere near just a hardcore band anymore.
The production of the album is an example of another mix of seemingly conflicting ideas. For an album with so much variation and many grandiose moments of either melodic peaks or squalid noise, the production is very relaxed and organic, at first almost surprisingly so. There is not much of that modern over-compressed definition in the sound and this might make for a difficult listen to casual music listeners. Couple that with the vocalist's harsh higher-pitched yell being matched with a band that sometimes pulls way back, it can be a disarmingly obscure pairing at first. Ultimately, though, Paranoid Delusions / Paradise Illusions shows that conflicting sounds can work together to accomplish something.
Pulling Teeth's lyrics, for me, have never been the standout aspect of the band. Here, however, the lyrical approach is stepped up to match their higher artistic goals. "Ritual" features an exploration into the conflict between wanting the pull of adventurism ("I've seen these roads a thousand times, a million songs that sound the same, I love it all so much even though I can't explain why") and the desire for security ("and then there's you, and a comfort I've never known, and when I'm gone, I only think of coming home"). In just a few lines, they have managed to capture the pull of playing music and travelling, juxtaposed it with the ultimate futility of actually doing it and ultimately admitting that it's not the only thing in the world worth living for. Most bands that try the "song about being in a band" fail miserably, but I think it works here. Beyond the first track, the lyrics explore more worldly issues like war ("Bloodwolves"), politics ("Unsatisfied") and religion ("Paradise Illusions").
Ultimately, this release is a total exploration of contradictions. From the title and dual covers (done as an awesome shifting hologram for the LP release) to the lyrics and music they are set to, the clash of conflicting images, literal and metaphorical, seems to echo the conflicts of reality: life and death; rich and poor; and security and adventurism. The whole works to complete a large and satisfying artistic statement.