Review Summary: Rumours of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.
I feel like I am a bit of an anomaly in the way my music tastes have evolved over time. For some reason my taste began skewing heavier as I got older and I even went from someone who despised moshing to partaking in the occasional pit shenanigans when my back and knees are compliant. This is contrasted with the fact that most people I know went through the phases of their life where they listened to abrasive and heavy music much earlier in their lives—usually in high school and college—before mellowing out as they progressed through their twenties and into their thirties. This apparent “normal” progression also applies to musicians. It can be seen in the way that modern artists like Opeth, Devin Townsend, Mastodon, and Between the Buried and Me, and even more venerated ones like Metallica, Megadeth, and Soundgarden evolved over the course of their careers.
There is a great deal of logic to the evolution that these artists undergo. Rock and metal are largely defined by energy and aggression, and young artists come charging out of the gate fuelled by the energy and enthusiasm of youth before that gets gradually replaced by experience, patience and songcraft. This is particularly relevant to progressive metal where young musicians often find themselves trying to outdo each others’ virtuosity at the expense of musicality, before realising that they aren’t going to get paid by the note. Toothgrinder, as it turns out, might be ahead of the curve.
To be fair, it’s not like Toothgrinder have changed drastically from their debut LP, Nocturnal Masquerade
, to this one. There’s still down-tuned riffing, melodic leads, and some chaotic hardcore screaming. The band has however, dialed back on the aggressive elements in their music and tightened and focused the melodic aspects. Toothgrinder is still very much a metal band, but they choose not to sound like one all the time.
Obviously this has left some long-term fans of the band unsatisfied, but to Toothgrinder’s credit they actually manage to gracefully pull off their evolution. Songs like “HVY”, “Pieta”, and "Facing East from a Western Shore", are suitably heavy, while songs like “Snow” and “Jubilee” are gorgeous and very un-metallic. The rest of the album finds the band balancing their metallic urges against their melodic ones, and succeeding more often than not. While the approach on Nocturnal Masquerade
was overtly metallic with melodic elements used as counterweight, Phantom Amour
reverses the script with the band focusing on melody and atmosphere while using heaviness and aggression as dynamic counterpoints.
There are a few missteps along the way, of course. The rapped verse on the title track isn’t as bad as it could have been, but it’s not exactly good either. Elsewhere, the band seems to favour mid-tempo grooves a little too much, and the lack of variation would have gotten old really fast if not for the melodic sections of the songs being so pleasant and engaging. This is not a perfect album by any stretch of the imagination, but it showcases the continued growth of Toothgrinder and finds them admirably honing their flair for songcraft and melody.