[Artwork by Timo Ketola]
As anyone with a pulse can confirm, evil lurks around many a corner. It has to be there, really, because the universe demands balance, both in everyday life and stretched across aeons, and cosmic duality will always endure. Thankfully, in many cases this lurking evil is fairly benign, probably because a large portion of humans lead squishy lives where the great unknown simply has to figure out a suitable way to offset the joy of suddenly discovering a twenty-dollar bill tucked in the pocket of a forgotten jacket. Enjoy those wet socks later this afternoon, pardner. Pretty easy way to pay the piper.
But what if…
Everyone loves a juicy what if, no?
What if this, ahem, “wondrous gift of life” so many of us squander by staring at a computer screen 10 hours a day and streaming shows about serial killers actually is some strange cosmic curiosity / fortuitous phenomenon that comes with a terrible and inevitable price? A Petri dish in a small pocket of the universe where living creatures are miraculously afforded a relatively brief window to run mostly unchecked with “the pursuit of happiness” and “paradise” across a global scale at an arm’s-length away if we’d only sincerely work together, and the universe—be it governed by a single god, gods, sentient androids, or even just some great “nothing”—either observes or ignores as we continually struggle with blatant obstacles and retreat ever inward into smaller and smaller cliques before our inescapable deathbed tolls that dreadful bell. Then, as soon as the last bit of lifeforce blinks away from our extraordinarily realized existence, our energy hurtles back into a lawless shitstorm where chaos bends natural law over the railing—a true formless pandemonium that would cause out hearts to detonate if our primitive eyes suddenly caught a glimpse of it transpiring outside our little galaxy.
The Baneful Choir is noise—the sort of noise a bystander would likely attribute to a terrifically defective furnace if it were calling up from the basement, because Hell isn’t real and it’s unlikely that a portal leading to it just formed in the same place where worn deck furniture is stored. Lord Jesus, why does the Teitanblood 2000e™ furnace sound like a doorway to Hell.
To fans of metal, however, The Baneful Choir is… Well, it’s still noise. This is absolute noise that an underground metal fan would likely attribute to a terrifically violent collision between Angelcorpse and Katharsis in the midst of a level 8 earthquake. And hey, that’s a beautiful thing if you like the idea of death metal being played by saint-burning dragons in the midst of the capital “A” Apocalypse.
Teitanblood adhere to their own style of tumultuous death with each subsequent release, but there ain’t a ton of rules inside that specific realm. Some songs are 15-minutes long, others barely crack the 3-minute mark; releases feature heavily in interludes and obscure, disturbed speeches; and doomed choirs howl one second while colossal iron plates grate over endless walls of feedback the next. Ruling over it all, however, is a near constant presence of depraved riffs, loose thunder-drumming, and pestilential vocals that spit loathsome lyrics like a soured priest denouncing his faith.
With The Baneful Choir, the rule-bending arrives immediately with an extended atmospheric intro (“Rapture Below”) that leads directly into a slogging, staggeringly heavy song (“Black Vertebrae”) that actually sounds like another intro in and of itself. Confusing matters more, there are two directly related interludes, “Insight” (1:44) and “…of the Mad Men” (1:11) that occur simultaneously in the middle of the album—a conundrum that’s solved the moment you realize the album is ideally consumed in LP format, with the former closing side A and the latter kicking off side B.
There are leads here, too. That’s not at all rare for Teitanblood, but in the past (and present) they’ve sporadically wriggled to the surface and waggled like monstrous maggots struck by lightning, and there are two here (1:45 into “Black Vertebrae” and 3:45 into “Verdict of the Dead”) that actually sound…almost pretty? That’s the most surprising addition to the 2019 version of the band, even if their combined effect lasts less than a minute.
The rest of what gets forced through the threshold is just pure mayhemic madness. “Leprous Fire” burns like your undercarriage colliding directly with the sun, “Ungodly Others” unzips thee fucking riff, “Inhuman Utterings” kills with a nuclear-powered jackhammer, and the title track creeps into your marrow and rots your bones from the inside out. And as appalling and satisfying as that all sounds, the closing 15-minutes provided by “Sunken Stars,” “Verdict of the Dead” and “Charnel Above” ends all life with a corrupted form of Bolt Thrower’s Realm of Chaos that’s capped with Teitanblood’s signature Choir of the Condemned conclusion.
Anyone who considers themselves a devotee of caustic underground metal has more than a few records that could theoretically put them in jeopardy with a benevolent supreme authority looking for prizewinners to shuffle off to the next-level shangri-la. The Baneful Choir will deteriorate these matters further by virtue of producing the sort of miserable symphonies tailor-made for those destined to fester at the very back of that blessed line. It remains to be seen whether this record will eventually top the damn-near perfect horror that was 2014’s Death, but this noisy slice of hopelessness will definitely do the trick if you cherish the thought of meeting a terrifically violent, godlike chaotic fume head-on.
Get your fucking ducks in a row.