Full disclosure: I took this review on fully expecting to hate this album. Readers may remember I already felt lukewarm about Toothgrinder’s 2016 debut Nocturnal Masquerade, whose poppier and less technical take on The Dillinger Escape Plan was bogged down by repetitive ideas and too many generic radio rock choruses. As the New Jersey quintet’s sharp hardcore riffing seemed to be the best thing about Masquerade, I ultimately concluded the band needed to get heavier, slapped it with a 3.0, and went back to eating Chinese food and jerking off. Lo and behold, flash forward to a few weeks ago, when Phantom Amour’s even less heavy first single convinced me Toothgrinder were about to release something about as appealing as doing a Jersey turnpike shot while stuck in traffic on the actual Jersey turnpike. Lasers were charged, colorful adjectives were readied, and my inner angry metal guy was left rubbing his hands and hovering over the keyboard in anticipation.

Only I was wrong. If there’s anything sophomore full-length Phantom Amour proves, it’s that Toothgrinder never needed to be heavy at all. Opener “HVY” is anything but, sounding more like a Stabbing Westward song with its throbbing pseudo-industrial riffs, cleanly picked verses, and smoothly sung chorus that even your Balance and Composure-loving girlfriend will enjoy. Lest you think that’s just a fluke, direct your attention to “Let It Ride,” whose danceable hard rock groove would fit right in with Seether and whatever else is playing at your nearest Coyote Ugly.

Admittedly, there’s still some heavy stuff here. Frontman Justin Matthews occasionally works in some harsh roars amidst the crooning and slick guitars, while songs like “Futile” and early highlight “The Shadow” bounce along on beatdown hardcore verses that add some fierce aggression to the proceedings. Still, on the whole Amour takes far more influence from 00s alt rock than anything in the metal or hardcore world. As before drawing exact comparisons is tough – perhaps the closest would be a heavier and peppier version of Deftones or The Contortionist, with a bit of Periphery sprinkled in for good measure. What also sets them apart is how much is going on in the mix, with thrumming electronics, background screams, and other effects often materializing to make things busier and more interesting. Though the overall production is loud, the bass is thick and burly, the reverb-drenched guitars sound great, and the silky smooth singing couldn’t fit this style any better.

Most importantly, it works. One of the things I’ve always hated about rock is its fixation on singles – record two or three catchy tracks, throw in a bunch of filler, and call it a day. Not so with Amour. Nearly every one of these 13 songs has a damn good hook, and the band’s metallic roots mean the musicianship is far beyond what you’d find on your local 69 FM butt rock radio station. That’s not to say there aren’t negatives: some of the refains do sound quite similar, the verse-chorus songwriting gets a bit too formulaic at times, and a few of these tracks could have been left on the cutting room floor to shorten the 48 minute runtime and strengthen the overall package.

Yet all that aside, on the whole Amour is by far the best rock album I’ve come across this year1, with moments like the mathcore riffing of “Pieta” or the wailing chorus of “Vagabond” ensuring I’ll be spinning this for months to come. There’s great interplay between the harsh and clean vocals, more hooks than a tackle shop, and even some guitar solos and a fucking rap-rock section to make sure you don’t get too comfortable. As if to further cement the fact that lightening their sound was the right choice, look no further than “Jubilee,” which is both the softest and one of the best tracks here. Featuring a nimble acoustic guitar line and breathy heartfelt vocals, the song sounds like it could’ve been this decade’s version of Plain White T’s “Hey There Delilah” if rock still had any real relevance in the popular music sphere.

By the end it’s clear: Toothgrinder have proven me wrong. They never needed to become heavier or ‘more metal,’ and by following their own path they’ve become a far better band than they were just two years ago. Set your expectations accordingly and you may be left surprised.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Spinefarm Records
Website: facebook.com/toothgrinder.usa
Releases Worldwide: November 10th, 2017

Show 1 footnote

  1. Not that I’ve been looking very hard, but still.
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  • galtenberg

    Felt exactly the same way. Why be stuck as a somethingcore band with a mid-low ceiling, when you have an actual singer and straightforward song ideas – there used to be a lot of money in that, maybe there still is.

    This one hit me like He Is Legend meets Linkin Park meets later In Flames. Except I listened to this way more than twice, unlike any of those acts.

    I hate the Mastodon ripoff cover style, tho, gotta say. But then I listen to the title track again, and all is forgiven.

  • Kryopsis

    I feel that saying anything positive about this record will require me to turn in my TRVE KVLT card. But actually it’s a lot better than I expected…

    Incidentally I always loved your reviews, Mark Z, especially when it comes to Hardcore and Post-Hardcore stuff. The fact that this fairly positive review comes from the same contributor who praised Thranenkind (now King Apathy), Harakiri For the Sky and Astronoid is the reason I just loaded this Toothgrinder album on Spotify.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      I love all those albums. I’ll be checking this out too.

    • Mark Z

      Thanks! Glad you enjoy

  • Septic

    I love wet t-shirts… not a bunch of dudes in the ocean. This photo might sell more records.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    What kind of camel is that?

  • Christopher

    I saw these guys open for BTBAM on the Colors Tenth Anniversary Tour, and they were pretty good. I haven’t sought out their music, but I will now given this review.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    I love me some Bruxism rock.

  • welyyt

    I tried to listen to this when it came out, and I just can’t stomach it; there’s something about the overall aesthetic and the structure of the songs that puts me off, big time. Great review though Mark, but my favorite radio metal album of the year is the new Trivium.

  • Piet

    Yet another review on AMG that holds the exact opposite opinion of mine. I know tastes differ but….*sigh*

    • herrschobel

      bu hu ….:-P

  • Absolomb

    The direction Letlive should’ve taken before disbanding.

  • Thatguy

    Band Photometer says it would be a beautiful picture without the wet dudes in it.

    Likewise, it was a lovely morning until I heard this shit.

    • GrumpDumpus


  • gus rodrigues

    Gave this album a try, regreted deeply… if you are reviewing this kind of stuff, why not review the new cavalera conspiracy album? Much more solid than this ( I will not even get to the missing vulture industries review, which is my favorite album of the year so far). Nevertheless, the review was extremely well done, and was much better than this album deseved. For radio friendly metal, trivium is much better than this (completely agree with the other comment about this).

    • Septic

      The Cavalera album is a solid B- for sure…

    • Vaargoth

      Really surprised with the new Vulture’s. They improve in every single aspect from The Tower (which was a really good album). I don’t know if it’s my AofY, but it will enter my top 10 for sure.

      I really recommend to anyone to see this guys live, very well played and they add some theatrical vibe that made a very solid gig!

  • That Jers’ception line makes me cringe appropriately, and the bit about rock’s relevance in popular music raises an interesting idea: if rock finally goes backwards enough to become as “cool” as black metal was initially, could it finally stand a chance at becoming great again?

  • Solrac Avan

    Phantom Amour is something I would expect from a Coldplay album, but naming inconsistencies aside, while not awful, I think Linkin Park did it better (the whole metal-not metal, angsty kind of music), at least the first two records.

  • foreverAlfon

    This sounds like the deformed son of the unholy union between Nickelback and Mastodon. Im ashamed, but I kind of dig it.

  • herrschobel

    some folks on this site really need to loosen up a little … i like this very much .. thank you and good bye

    • GrumpDumpus


  • Sophocles

    Does chinese food improve jerking off? I am curious….

  • bustap949

    I am torn about the music but here’s what is for sure…they don’t earn the band name. If you want to hear music that lives up to their name, listen to TEETHGRINDER. They’ve earned it.

  • Bas

    Synthetic clean vox combined with frustrated shouting… Not for me.