PHOTO BY JONATHAN THORPE
Asbury Park-based Toothgrinder continues to push boundaries with “Phantom Amour,” their second LP for Spinefarm Records.
To call Asbury Park-based Toothgrinder a metal band would be a mistake because there’s a lot more to them. On “Phantom Amour,” they have evolved into a dynamic metal-rooted band who continue to incorporate progressive rock into their intensely eclectic epic tunes, but with their sophomore Spinefarm LP, they also delve into such disparate styles as jazz and country, alternative and classic rock, and even rap. Surprising for even as diverse a band as Toothgrinder, “Phantom Amour” takes a daring direction that longtime fans can enjoy, while many new ones are made.
The entire band shines on a variety of styles, rhythms and important nuances of the 13-song outing, but the strongest element is layers upon layers of vocals by front man Justin Matthews and harmonies from guitarist Johnuel Hasney and bassist Arensdorf. While Matthews continues to go instantaneously from singing to growling or roaring, he does so more dynamically, like an angel in heaven one second, then a demon from hell, the next. Adding to the exciting unexpectedness are the divine high harmonies of Hasney. At least five layers of vocals are on each track, more in some cases, and they’re all delicious, including Matthews’ eerie whisper frequently stewing underneath his banshee escaped from the underworld, as well as Hasney’s pretty pine. I’m looking forward to seeing how Toothgrinder pull off these mesmerizing vocals live.
What’s also interesting is that unlike metal bands who often write about very disturbing subjects, Toothgrinder tackle the everyday life of relationships, work and home, which makes them far more relatable. However, that relatability hopefully is not the case with the chilling, menacing single, “The Shadow,” about an unsettling darkness attempting to overcome the psyche.
My favorite track is the beautiful acoustic love song “Jubilee,” which features founding drummer Wills Weller on banjo about two-thirds of the way through. The sweet tune proves that Toothgrinder can move in any direction they want effectively because their chops keep getting stronger and stronger.
I also really like the title track, a break-up song set in their hometown of “The City by the Sea” that features a powerful rap in the bridge, some of Weller’s best drumming, and an eclecticism that opens with a crunchy Sabbath-like intro, but abruptly turns into another tasty harmony vocal. I hope that Toothgrinder continue to mix it up and keep their fans on their toes, and I hope that some of this collection’s more accessible songs, such as “Jubilee,” bring them the wider audience they and hard rock in general deserve.
Bob Makin is the reporter for www.MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor and still a contributor to The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at email@example.com. Like Makin Waves at www.facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.