Toothgrinder’s Nocturnal Masquerade Expertly Weaves Fury and Melody Together to Dizzying Results

  • Kip Wingerschmidt

By now you’ve likely hoid of smelly New Jersey’s fantastic progressive metal outfit Toothgrinder. The band has popped up on several killer tours (in support of The Faceless, After The Burial, and The Contortionist, among others) over the last handful of years, and there’s great reason for the ongoing inclusion — Toothgrinder perfectly straddles the dynamic line between punishing, meaty, powerful riffage/breakdowns/force and unfathomably hooky melodic choruses that you will recognize immediately upon second listen.

Now we talk aplenty ’round these parts about the strength of an undeniably catchy hook, but at the end of the day (or more accurately, year) there are only a small handful of albums annually that actually deliver said stuck-in-brain-ness and can stand the test of time. Naturally we shall see, but I firmly believe that come December Toothgrinder’s new album Nocturnal Masquerade will be one of the offerings that holds up umpteen listens in. Classic recording that the next generation will laud as sacrosanct? Difficult to say at this moment, but we are absolutely dealing with something quite special here.

First track “The House (That Fear Built)” comes on like a powerhouse groove-laden steamroller, although there are effective supporting melodic vocals underneath the chorus. Second song “Lace and Anchor” takes a similar approach, but this time around the melodic vocal lines in the choruses take center stage more, for a solid moment at least. The rest of the time the band is destroying us with perfect metalcore, up until the heady wailing guitar solo outro.

Third track “Coeur d’Alene” gets substantially aggressive, and when we reach the “Nursery rhymes/Cursery lines” part, you will most assuredly be dunzo. By the fourth track we’ve been given ample face-punching and, ahem, tooth-grinding, so when the mellower vibe of this tune — and especially the melodic turnaround of the chorus — sets in, it’s a welcome valley to contrast all the mighty peaks thus far.

Head-bopping, Meshuggah-esque “Blue” delivers the goods with another groovy verse and hooky melodic-yet-aggressive chorus, which seems to be a common theme on this album. Although the following track “The Hour Angle” is a bit more relentless, holding back on the melodies in favor of massive fury — as exemplified by the vocal break at the very end that simply exclaims “FUCK!!!!” in a burst of frustration before jumping right into the next song.

But this only paves the way for one of the most memorable choruses on Nocturnal Masquerade — “Dance Of Damsels” manages to elevate above simple hook; this moment really captures a vibrant moment that sets in with a warranted authority that will undoubtedly make people want to sing along.

“Diamonds For Gold” (featuring guest vocals from Periphery frontman Spencer Sotelo) is a bit of a slow burner, starting out at a deliberate pace and again erupting into a fantastic melodic chorus that almost approaches the territory of cheese but exercises both restraint and confidence at just the right time, in the right way, to feel rather anthemic.

Now in the home stretch of a killer release, Toothgrinder would be hard pressed to mess this up in the final third. The album’s title track effectively utilizes some spoken-word moments (as is also employed in a handful of other spots throughout Nocturnal Masquerade), remaining more subdued than the majority of the other songs. Once the sheer force of “Despondency Dejection” sets in, we are reminded of the unbridled yet focused animal we have let out of its cage. This track goes right into the wicked next one, “Schizophrenic Jubilee”, which makes them feel pretty connected, but the latter gives us yet another melodic hook that is a challenge not to at least hum along to, especially when the vocal harmonies make themselves known.

Unsurprisingly, the band goes above and beyond for a big, fierce finish. Final track “Waltz Of Madmen” somehow manages to tie the whole damn thing together with a deep blend of br00tal heaviness and gorgeous lyrical melody that in a way could serve as a microcosm of the band’s approach, but since each song has its own character there isn’t too much of a structural formula throughout.

Whether you come for the fury and stay for the melody or vice versa, this diverse, commanding album will certainly satisfy discerning listeners who subscribe to either camp. Given that we are merely one month into 2016, it’s pretty easy to call this the best album of the year so far, but I’d be shocked if Nocturnal Masquerade doesn’t resurface on several year-end lists. Feel free to make a note now, but chances are you’ll keep this badboy on rotation all year long as I expect to.

Toothgrinder’s Nocturnal Masquerade is out on Spinefarm. You can stream the track “The Houe (That Fear Built)” here; purchase physical copies of the album here and digital copies here.

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