If 1991 was the year that punk broke, then 2009 is most certainly shaping up to be the year that punk-goes-prog. Led by bands like Mind Eraser, Iron Age and most notably, Fucked Up, the face of hardcore has been changing over the past few years, embracing a new ideology, one that favors lengthy interludes, actual singing, thematic songwriting and epic push-pull crescendos over moshy breakdowns and gruff shouting; call it the school of The Mars Volta, if you will. Baltimore’s Pulling Teeth clearly prescribe to this aesthetic, and their third album, Paranoid Delusions Paradise Illusions is a kaleidoscopic conceptual journey that takes their modern slant on the hardcore idiom and refracts it through a distinctly Floydian lens.
True to its illusory title, nothing here is quite what it seems; songs begin life as serene paeans to the wonders of nature and like a surprise squall, abruptly, violently shift gears into brutish, swollen-guitar dirges that drag the listener into the seventh circle of hell. These wolves in sheep’s clothing abound throughout Paranoid/Paradise, take “Ritual”, with its massive dynamic shifts, like tectonic plates jutting out and then suddenly retracting beneath your feet, sending you plunging, helpless, into the icy waters below, or the furious lurch of “Bloodwolves”, which feels like being dragged across a field of glass and shrapnel at 200mph only to be unceremoniously flung into a soft meadow as its soaring guitar solo kicks in and sends the whole thing shuddering into a triumphant blaze of white light. But this is all but a funeral march to the immense, nearly 14-minute closing crush of the title-tracks; epic in both scope and duration, this is the album’s final journey, and like a clipper ship trapped in a maelstrom, it’s undulating rhythms, hyper-modulated Moog squelches and sky-whirl guitars are tumultuous, cathartic and rejuvenating, often in the span of a single verse.
By jettisoning the “traditional” hardcore formula they’ve undoubtedly cast themselves asunder. However, there’s also a liberation in the shedding of such arcane practices, and when all is said and done, it’s that freedom, of launching head-first into an unknown abyss, that makes Paranoid Delusions Paradise Illusions an unqualified and uncompromising success.