“Rock is dead” is a tired geezer quote if ever I’ve heard one. Sure, I’ve bitched about the state of modern rock before, but in reality there’s plenty of substance lurking around. There’s rock that progs, and prog that rocks, while the incestuous bloodlines of the stoner, doom, and sludge scene are often tied to rock featuring plenty of quality bands. The mighty Clutch keep on truckin’, Royal Thunder stand tall, while stalwarts Mastodon and Baroness shed their metal roots for big, bold rock songs with progressive flourishes and skyscraper hooks. Meanwhile, the brilliant Mutoid Man skew rock into madcap realms of genre splicing awesomeness. Yet I admit, finding hungry and interesting bands that rock hard enough to appeal to the average metalhead can be challenging. Enter New York’s up and coming Moon Tooth, who created buzz with their Freaks EP and 2016’s Chromaparagon debut. The latter was a recent discovery and exciting, if scattershot album, whipping gritty and melodic heavy rock with metal and prog, shaping the combo into a colorful batch of potent tunes. Despite lacking some cohesion, the album impressed and established Moon Tooth as an energetic and original band to watch.
Crux sounds like the logical next step in the Moon Tooth evolution, finding the band streamlining their sound into more accessible territory and retaining their knack for crafting addictive and dynamic tunes. The aggression has been slightly curtailed from the debut but it isn’t detrimental to Crux. Here the songwriting is far more concise and cohesive, while the accessibility doesn’t feel like a blatant stab at mainstream recognition, but an authentic and necessary embracing of their freewheeling, colorful rock and knack for hooky songcraft. Soaring choruses, catchy riffs and bright melodies lend the album its infectious streak, yet the heavy rock and often hard-hitting delivery brings the necessary grunt and firepower to proceedings. Crux‘s sturdy modern rock core, etched with progressive and metallic tendencies, is harnessed with increased deftness and focus.
Explosive opener “Trust” kicks the door down to build immediate impact and momentum. The song showcases tight and propulsive rhythms, slick guitar work, and the powerful pipes of frontman John Carbone, climaxing with a ripping solo and funky, saxophone-laced jam. Crux delivers tune after tune of fiery, addictive rock goodness; muscular, emotive, and inventive. It’s a refreshingly diverse experience, featuring the requisite smoothness of a well oiled machine, bolstered by turbocharged engines. Whether mixing brooding balladry with stomping climaxes (“Through Ash,” “Crux”), moody prog with bluesy vocals (“Motionless in Sky”), or feisty rockers, such as the groovy and aggressive turns of “Thumb Spike,” or fabulously infectious and slightly offbeat hooks of “Awe at All Angles,” Moon Tooth largely nail the landing at every turn. A couple of songs don’t resonate as strongly as others, but overall Crux remains a consistently strong listen.
Skilled guitarist Nick Lee delivers a bevy of technically proficient, melodic and crunchy rock riffs, delightfully soulful and shreddy solos, and tasty embellishments in between. It’s a highly impressive performance, backed by the accomplished rhythm section. Carbone’s vocals inevitably may not suit all tastes but remain a vital dual focal point alongside Lee’s sparkling work. His emotive and varied delivery range from smooth melodic croons to ballsier turns and rougher, bluesy swagger. The biggest downside of Crux boils down to the crushed mastering job (a disappointing DR4). Although the instruments are bolstered by crisp, robust tones, the everything cranked to 11 loudness detracts from the album’s subtleties and dynamics. Fortunately, the band provided a vinyl master for comparison. Despite not offering the night and day difference I was hoping for (DR6), the vinyl master is a notable improvement over its digital counterpart. Less ear fatiguing, it sounds more spacious, providing much needed depth and contrast to the album’s strong song-writing dynamics.
March will go down as one of the stronger individual months in recent memory. You could just about assemble a more than respectable year-end list on the month’s impressive supply of quality albums alone. Moon Tooth operates well outside extreme metal realms, but for open-minded listeners and jaded hard rock fans, Crux supplies a boost of adrenaline to the blood stream of modern rock. Emotive, moody, technical, catchy, uplifting, creative, and genuinely exciting, Crux is a crackerjack album that should deliver Moon Tooth the recognition and rich accolades they deserve.
DR: 4 (Digital) / 6 (Vinyl Master) | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Modern Static Records (Self-Released)
Websites: moontoothny.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/moontoothband
Releases Worldwide: March 29th, 2019