Recent years have seen a trend with progressive-minded bands adding more atmospheric elements to their sound. What’s more, the past three years have seen bands along this vein reducing the overall aggression of their songs, embracing ambience and melody over extensive technicality. The latest group to make this move is TOOTHGRINDER. The New Jersey quintet has completely revamped their brand with their sophomore effort, Phantom Amour, out now on Spinefarm Records.
I’ve always likened components of TOOTHGRINDER’s sound to that of THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN, and now that comparison is taken further. Whereas before, the comparable element involved the frenetic and spastic nature of their aggression, this new record drives closer to the more eerie, melancholy songs found amongst the chaos of latter DEP albums. And while this may seem a hasty transition to experiment so early in their career, this new direction fits the group incredibly well; further, it is delivered with precision and makes sense when taking all of their releases into account. While their EP Vibration/Color/Frequency was all aggression, each subsequent release has seen more expansion into other territories, primarily the gradual inclusion of clean vocal.
Since Schizophrenic Jubilee, there have been nuances of singing, which was brought further forward on their debut LP Nocturnal Masquerade, an album that featured many clean sung choruses as well as a cameo by none other than PERIPHERY’s Spencer Sotelo. Phantom Amour takes a great leap forward on this ideal, by presenting a clean-vocal-first approach, as exemplified by transitioning clean duties from their bass player to their frontman. This offered the group freedom to experiment with more stripped down packaging, bringing acoustic guitars on “Jubilee” and “Facing East from a Western Shore”.
But as I have focused on the cleaner aspects of the album, I must point out that there is still a great deal of aggression left for those who prefer that side of their sound. There are plenty of sporadic and angular guitars to be found throughout. The best example is “Pietá”, a ripping, fast paced jaunt infused with all of the crushing sonic elements of their earlier work; whereas, “Red” provides counterbalance of the more brutal technicalities with dashes of the more expanded clean vocal sound.
Coming to a close, let’s get down to brass tax. Let’s get brutally honest. The group took a huge risk here, making the record they wanted to make and experimenting with various influences. This is always a jump that may alienate fans; so it deserves due respect. However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there were songs that fell flat in my ears, namely album opener “HVY” and “Let It Ride”. But this is a matter of personal preference, and not something lacking from actual songwriting. Overall, TOOTHGRINDER have moved into a new echelon of sound, and much like the change in direction seen by THE CONTORTIONIST, it’s not going to be a hit for everyone. Still, Phantom Amour brings plenty of solid tracks and deserves a listen.
STANDOUT TRACKS: All but “HVY” and “Let It Ride”