Moon Tooth – Phototroph Review

I wrote a gushing review of New York rockers Moon Tooth’s supercharged 2019 sophomore album Crux, copping some flak amongst the readership in the process. Moon Tooth scratch the modern hard rock meets prog metal itch nicely, and third LP, Phototroph, comes with plenty of anticipation. The heavier rock stylings of their earlier material is smoothed over, squarely placing Moon Tooth in metal adjacent hard rock territory. And listeners not enamored with their previous work, especially Crux, will find nothing here to change their minds. I imagine the Moon Tooth fanbase will continue to swell and their profile rise, however, this will be a divisive effort amongst the AMG community. So how does Phototroph stack up, and does it deliver on their promise? These are deceptively weighty questions to answer in unpacking the densely packed dimensions of Phototroph.1

Whereas Crux boasted a darker edge amidst its hook-laden tunes, Phototroph brims with bubbling positivity, skyscraping pop hooks, and booming choruses. Moon Tooth serve up a diverse, colorful rock creation, bolstered by increased pop sensibilities, crafting muscular rock songs with progressive inclinations and the odd burst of metallic crunch. It’s a kaleidoscopic rock potion that demonstrates Moon Tooth’s evolving talents and ability to write interesting, pop and prog-infected rock songs that pack a punch through crunchier riffs, gritty aesthetics, and a propulsive rhythmic edge. Opener “I Revere” is a bright, experimental burst of pop-drenched prog, coursing through an unconventional structure with plenty of subtle twists. Initially the song fell flat, however, its charms have revealed themselves with repeat listens.

Moon Tooth deliver their most accessible, diverse and memorable set of tunes yet, as complex and technical elements intertwine with more straightforward rock and pop traits to great effect. Big fat radio-friendly hooks clash cohesively with tougher rock riffs on “Deathwish Blues,” darker prog tones emanate from the excellent “The I That Never Dies,” while stomping grooves, killer axework, and a bluesy swagger offsets the catchy modern rock hooks of “Alpha Howl.” While Moon Tooth have long boasted a dynamic rock sound, the variations are more notable, encompassing aspects of grunge, metal, prog, pop and a multitude of rock stylings (arena, alternative, hard, blues). “The Conduit” meshes angsty crunch with and an addictive chorus, while “Carry Me Home” offsets its shiny pop hooks with soulful vocals and terrific guitar shred. Moon Tooth prove experts at pulling back and unleashing the beast when the cheese threatens to overflow. Brimming with positivity and bombast, the album concludes with the confetti-loaded projectile of “Phototroph,” riding an upbeat, retro rock wave, spliced with prog and dashing, 80’s metal shred.

Moon Tooth’s frontman John Carbone wields his emotive vocals with power and passion. Carbone’s unique voice is a double-edged sword and likely deal-breaker for some listeners. Though his all or nothing approach to his craft can be a little overdone at times, his knack of delivering earworm vocal hooks and grittier stylings remains strong, even if subtlety is not his greatest strength. Carbone’s bandmates leave nothing left in the tank. The quartet are a tight unit and the shared chemistry and fluent, adventurous compositions are executed with deft skill. Carbone may aggressively demand attention, however, the unsung star of the album is talented guitarist Nick Lee (Riot V). This dude has genuinely exciting chops and a superb ability to channel styles within the rock, pop and prog stratosphere into his own fluent and imaginative creation. And Phototroph is loaded with memorable riffs and dazzling lead work. On the slight downside, some of the darker, heavier edges from Crux are somewhat missed, and Phototroph’s heavily bricked master again saps power from the hugely dynamic material.

Band name comparisons may get thrown around, however, Moon Tooth possess a unique voice in the modern rock scene. Phototroph’s increased poppiness and brighter sound jarred my senses initially, before becoming endearing elements as the album’s irresistible hooks and consistent strengths began to take hold. And after a sluggish start, the hooks have been very difficult to shake, with a desire to return a regular occurrence. Overall, it’s a more consistent album than its predecessor, with the creative risks and blossoming of their sound resulting in a finely crafted, eclectic and hopelessly addictive rock opus full of pop splendor, prog smarts, attitude and groove.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Pure Noise Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: May 13th, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. Look at this Phototroph! – Steel
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