REVIEW: TOOTHGRINDER – “Nocturnal Masquerade”
Dawn 'Mama Love' Brown
Progressive metal as a subgenre is an interesting beast. By loose definition, progressive metal contains various attributes that are intuitively perceived as progressive: unorthodox song structures, long songs, musical variety and technicality and use of non-standard time signatures. There are a myriad of bands, both classic and new, that continue to experiment with that which is labeled progressive. Bands have and will always push the boundaries of their comfort zones, from the early progressive supergroups of yesteryear like Yes and King Crimson, to more recent prog metal bands like TesseracT and Haken. There will never be a shortage of prog rock/metal from which to choose.
One up and coming prog metal band who is making a name for themselves is Toothgrinder, a group of guys out of Asbury Park, New Jersey. Formed in 2010, Toothgrinder has enjoyed moderate success, releasing two EPs and participating in several tours across the US. Their first full-length release, ‘Nocturnal Masquerade’, dropped at the end of January 2016 from Spinefarm Records and is quite a spirited foray into a progressive nirvana of characteristically odd time signatures and tempo changes, screeching, yet sometimes clean, vocals and impressively technical guitar work. All songs stand on their own and show a wide variety of influences from blues to traditional prog to speed metal. Many of the songs open with machinery-type sounds lending an industrial feel as well.
Right out of the gate, “The House (That Fear Built)” slams the listener with an onslaught of speed/prog metal, rife with tempo changes and lighter snippets with lots of sinister whispers and voices which seems to be a trend on this record. Following is “Lace and Anchor” which closes with a great solo interlude.
“I Lie in Rain” has all the epic qualities of a great prog metal song. With a rather subdued vibe, it lulls the listener with dark lyrics and a unique groove until the time signature change when it comes to life. “Nocturnal Masquerade” follows the same vein of epicness with an equally unique sound packed into one of the shortest songs on the record at 2:42. “Schizophrenic Jubilee” is an experimental enigma with a repeating chorus that repeats…and repeats and repeats. “Waltz of Madmen” is worthy of becoming a prog metal classic. The odd time signature adds to the overall darkness of the song and the chorus complements it perfectly.
On the side of constructive criticism, “The Hour Angle” tends to be quite busy which makes it confusing at times. “Dance of Damsels” has a riff that sounds eerily similar to one laid down by a classic prog rock band in the late 1970s. See if you can identify it. “Despondency Dejection” starts out with a low speaking vocal over an energetic riff which consumes the vocals at times, making them a bit difficult to discern.
In conclusion, this is a good outing for Toothgrinder. The more I listen to it, the more I like it. They sound tight, they’re creative and original. However, having seen these guys live previously, I sincerely hope they can tighten up their stage performance to match the quality of the studio recording.