Toothgrinder - Nocturnal MasqueradeSometimes a live performance is the best way to hear a new band. Fortunately, this was just the way I first experienced New Jersey hardcore quartet Toothgrinder, during a concert with Revocation and Fallujah last winter (and headlined by the beachy progcore of The Contortionist, oddly enough). I was already interested prior to the show from reading about the wild on-stage antics of front man Justin Matthews, and he definitely delivered. With his fist-raising roars and a physically commanding presence, Matthews easily won the crowd, stomping around stage like a Jägerbomb-fueled King Kong and climbing atop amplifiers like the place was his personal jungle gym. The spectacle impressed me enough to check out 2014’s Schizophrenic Jubilee EP, a five-song racket of riotous, tech-y hardcore that retained enough instrumental prowess to still feel ‘metal.’ I wasn’t floored, but was intrigued enough to snatch up full-length debut Nocturnal Masquerade to see how well the group could continue channeling their Garden State fury.

The answer, fortunately, is pretty damn well. Not unlike a djentier and techier Every Time I Die, Masquerade combines a fuck-all attitude, tightly riveted melodies and rhythms, and a sense of abrasive aggression into a 42-minute package that feels like getting a piece of steel wool shoved down your throat—yet it remains hooky enough to wash it down with something sweet afterward. Take opener “The House (That Fear Built).” Moving from its quick and springy Eastern-sounding opening, the song bursts into a series of chunky, sharp hardcore riffs that climax with a set of wailing cleans delivered by bassist Matt Arensdorf. Later, “Despondency Dejection” features a simple main lick that builds tension like a screw being tightened into one’s skull, while the opening of “Coeur d’Alene” wouldn’t sound entirely out of place on a Periphery record, before a pounding gutpunch riff breaks in to remind one that this is still a hardcore album first and foremost.

The most surprising thing about Masquerade, however, is how much more accessible Toothgrinder have become. While Jubilee featured sparse clean vocals, here, they complement Matthews’ hardcore shouts on nearly all 12 tracks. Sometimes, it’s welcome, like the ascending vocal line in the verses of early highlight “Lace and Anchor,” or the repeated wailing of “saaaavvvvvvvve yourrrrrself” that beckons a melee of spitfire riffs and a ripping solo in the second half of “Schizophrenic Jubilee.” Other times, it sounds like the band can’t decide whether they want to be metal or radio rock. In the record’s middle third, songs like “I Lie in Rain,” “Diamonds for Gold,” and “Dance of Damsels” feature some vocal lines that veer way to close to awful 2000s alt-metal like Evans Blue or Theory of a Deadman for my liking. I lived through that shit once, that was more than enough.

Toothgrinder - 2016

The problem is exacerbated by the production. While the mix is keenly balanced and the guitars have a terrific amount of bite to them, everything just feels a tad too clean and safe, particularly with Arensdorf’s polished cleans. It’s especially disappointing because Jubilee’s sharp and raw production seemed to fit Toothgrinder’s style better, and several of my favorite tracks here are re-recordings from that EP. Fortunately, things have improved in the DR department, with a range just high enough to ensure moments like the silky leads that conclude aforementioned “Anchor” and the gang shouts of closer “Waltz of Madmen” aren’t lost in the shuffle.

Overall, Nocturnal Masquerade is an enjoyable and energetic record that I wish I could endorse more enthusiastically. Unfortunately, in addition to my aforementioned woes, the staccato vocal and riffing patterns get a bit repetitive by the end, and songs like the title track probably should have been left off altogether. In the future, I hope Toothgrinder dial back the rock influence and diversify their songwriting a bit, as it’s clear these guys have both the inspiration and the instrumental chops to pull off something mind-blowing. For now, we’re left with a record that’s passionate and unique in sound, but may have stretched itself a tad too far in trying to reach a broad audience. But hey, at least the live show kicks ass. And props to a front man who can even make lines like “I’m not a ghost or a saint, I’m a runaway train, and now I’m running right over your head” sound not just convincing, but actually pretty awesome.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Spinefarm Records
Releases Worldwide: January 29th, 2016

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  • HolyHorchatas

    I saw them on that tour as well, and they left me with such high hopes for this album, but I agree with your review. Still going to see them any time I get the chance though because fuck that was fun

  • Oscar Albretsen

    Band name: Toothgrinder

    Genre: Hardcore

    Yeah, I don’t think I need to hear these fellas to tell they’re not gonna be for me.

    • Pimpolho

      I dunno man… I would usually agree with you, but i really like the tracks they have put out so far.

  • Coeur d’Alene? Wha? Is there an Idahoan in this band?

  • You wot m8?

    I’m about 50/50 on a lot of hardcore. Some, I really, really like. Some, not so much. I’m certainly not in love with this, but it’s pretty good.

    • Pimpolho

      Could you recommend me a few albums? I have been trying to get into hardcore lately. No easy task for a doomster.

      • Kronos

        Converge. Pretty much all of their albums from Jane Doe forward are worth a listen, especially the most recent.
        Dillinger is worth your time as well and they seem incapable of releasing less than stellar albums.

        • Rob

          Good suggestions, although both lean toward the metallic most of the time. I’m out of touch with the “scene”, as it were, since probably 2003…but I still revisit my Madball, Snapcase, Ringworm, Terror, and early Earth Crisis (pre-Slither) albums. P.s. yes, Converge is kind of the shit. fuck the haters :)

          • Kronos

            I’d wager I’m not as well-versed in hardcore as I really should be to recommend hardcore to a reader; indeed, my interest in the genre is mostly with respect to where it intersects with metal.
            Here’s to hoping for some new Converge soon.

      • Alexandre Barata

        There’s no hardcore without The Exploited and Discharge. Real pure in your face hardcore. Try Troops of Tomorrow by The Exploited (“Fuck the USA” is one of the best hardcore songs ever).

      • Mark Z

        It seems like hardcore is tough to get into because it’s a broad genre and a lot of the subgenres/styles within it aren’t as clearly defined as they are in metal. That said, while I’m no aficionado, here are some of my favorite non-metallic hardcore albums (or albums I’ve seen described as hardcore, at least) that got me into in the genre: Ruiner – Hell is Empty, Life Long Tragedy – Destined for Anything, The Effort – Iconoclasm, Counterparts – The Difference Between Hell and Home, More Than Life – Love Let Me Go. If you like slower and more melodic stuff, It Prevails is a must as well. And seconding the Converge recommendation, of course.

      • You wot m8?

        Sorry, I really can’t. I take the time to judge any hardcore that comes my way [mostly via this blog, or just random stuff that pops up on YouTube], but I don’t actively seek it out. I’m just a massive Breach fanboy at heart, so whenever a hardcore band gives me the good ‘ol Breach feels, I’ll enjoy it. :D

    • Thatguy

      Yep. This is not my thing, but it’s well done and I could almost like it. I agree with Mark Z that these guys have the potential to grow into something a lot better than this.

    • Jm from nj

      I’m a melodic hardcore fan, ala Misery Signals. Actually, they are pretty much the only melodic hardcore band i listen to. Converge I definitely can get into, but more traditional hardcore has never been my thing.

  • Rob

    sounds a lot like Slipknot. I’ll just leave that riiiiiiight there.

    • AlphaBetaFoxface

      I listened to the embedded track and have to agree. The lyrics sound just as corny

      • Rob

        Also, not hardcore at all, I’m afraid.

    • Elton Chagas

      Their vocalist is like a Corey Taylor copy. And also I’m still looking for the hardcore parts in the embedded track, I mean, what I know as hardcore from bands like Agnostic Front, Madball, Sick of it All, etc…

      • Norfair Legend

        Youth of Today, Bold, Judge, Gorilla Biscuits, Slapshot…get off my darn lawn Toothgrinder.

  • Alexandre Barata

    I know I’ve listened to something quite similar to this some years ag, but I can’t recall what it was… This could have taken place in the metalcore/mathcore scene 10 years ago. Can’t say I’m in love with the embedded song, sounds to me rather plain. Also calling them Hardcore might be a stretch (although I admit I don’t make an idea of what Hardcore sounds nowadays, but if this was the way it went it lost the balls)

  • Innit Bartender

    Full-front, close-up animal faces are 2016 spheres?

  • lennymccall

    Immediately reminds me of Raised Fist. But yeah some Slipknot too. Meh, pass.

  • Robert Mróz

    Every Time I Die reference -> interest level increases by infinity.

  • Shawn Cypher

    I bought this album on a whim. I was buying the Abbath album on iTunes after reading your review here… and I saw the absolute ton of music that released on 1/29 and decided to preview a few.

    I played a few tracks off it, and thought “Eh, not bad” and then went on my merry way to preview others. Nothing really grabbed me, and I was about to go on a road trip for 5 hours to see Cradle of Filth in Atlanta. I went back to Toothgrinder and was thinking, “You know, this isn’t bad at all.. I.. think I may like it”

    Without getting too long winded here, I just want to say this is a really fantastic straight up “metal” album. I really like it, and am glad I decided to buy it. It takes a while, but it sunk it’s teeth in (pun intended) and really grew on me the more I listened to it.

    I suggest everyone give it a try, maybe preview some of their other songs on YouTube, there’s a few videos.

  • Shayne MacGregor

    Sounds like A Life Once Lost, Slipknot, and Mastodon had a baby.