Moon Tooth
Crux


5.0
classic

Review

by Nic Renshaw USER (21 Reviews)
March 29th, 2019 | 152 replies


Release Date: 03/29/2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Serving only the rhythm and the roar

Moon Tooth’s first full-length album, 2016’s Chromaparagon, was, by all measures, an incredibly ambitious debut. The dazzling technical chops of guitarist Nick Lee, drummer Ray Marté and bassist Vincent Romanelli were more than enough to earn the Long Island group their “prog” credentials, and Marté’s production work made the whole thing easy on the ears. But it was the group’s unique approach to melody and songcraft, as well as frontman John Carbone’s poetic, emotional lyrics, that truly set Moon Tooth head and shoulders above anyone else in the rock/metal scene. Songs like “Offered Blood”, “Chroma” and “Vesuvius II” may have played host to mind-bending displays of instrumental prowess, but they were always underpinned by both strong, smart songwriting and some genuinely beautiful lyricism, and the album had immeasurably more staying power and emotional heft as a result.

I love Chromaparagon. It’s one of my all-time favorite albums. However, looking at it through my critic glasses, I can see it isn’t flawless. The band’s idiosyncrasies are untempered and occasionally a bit ungainly. Carbone’s vocals take a bit of getting used to. The song structures sidle right up to the line between “unconventional” and “messy.” And, if I’m really nitpicking here, the bass could have used a bit more definition in the mix too. Still, it made for a more-than-promising starting point. In the 3 years since its release, I’ve been itching to know how (or indeed if) Moon Tooth would grow and evolve beyond it by the time LP no. 2 rolled around. Well, rolled around it finally has, and I am overjoyed to report that not only is Crux another fantastic entry in a thus-far sterling discography, but it may well be even better than Chromaparagon.

At any rate, it's a sleeker, more streamlined affair than its predecessor, reining in some of the band’s tendencies towards the oblique for a more immediately appealing listening experience. These songs hit more directly than Moon Tooth ever has before, channeling their formidable technical abilities into energetic, sinuous riffing and triumphant sing-along choruses, rather than flashy shredding and wild rhythmic workouts. It’s far from the full-fledged embracing of the mainstream we’ve seen in similar-minded acts like Mastodon or Gojira, but the whole thing still ends up feeling… not accessible, per se, but certainly approachable, in a way many acts under the “progressive” umbrella often seem reluctant to really commit to the way Moon Tooth does here.

The production (again handled by Marté, with some assistance from Machine and Lamb of God axeman Mark Morton) gives Crux a vibrant, larger-than-life sheen. The guitar tone is beefier than ever, the drums pack a mighty punch, and the bass has plenty of texture and presence in the mix even when things are at their most hectic. Perhaps most impressive, though, is the vocal production. Carbone has improved substantially as a singer since Chromaparagon, and the judicious use of multi-tracking here has turned him from a potent, engaging frontman into a downright force of nature. Whether he’s crooning on “Motionless in Sky” and the title track or belting at the top of his lungs on “Musketeers” and lead single “Trust”, Carbone simply sounds fantastic throughout this entire album, powerful and commanding without losing the vulnerability and gritty humanity that grounds the whole thing.

Aesthetically, Crux may be a friendlier face than Chromaparagon, but that doesn’t mean there’s any less going on under the hood. Chromaparagon’s central thesis was, essentially, “If I express myself as fully and honestly as possible, I can achieve my highest goals.” Crux reads almost as a direct response to that thesis, asking “What are you really willing to sacrifice to pursue that absolute self-expression, knowing you may not even succeed?”. This question manifests in many ways throughout the album, from the literal trial-by-fire exchange of pain for freedom in “Through Ash”, to the set-jaw determination of “Thorns”, to the tortured romance of “Awe at All Angles”. The shift in tone and focus manifests in some more subtle ways, too. The use of profanity (which was notably absent on Chromaparagon) signals a rejection of that album’s mostly-prelapsarian ideals, and the creeping influence of politics on “Musketeers” and “Rhythm & Roar” brings an undercurrent of anxiety and tension with the outside world that complements the tracks dealing in smaller-scale personal conflicts surprisingly well.

The instrumentation on Crux illustrates its lyrics and themes vividly at every turn. The sidewinding guitar work and slightly distant cymbal crashes of “Through Ash” conjure as much billowing smoke and crackling embers as Carbone’s words do. The neck-snapping groove and wild pivots between soulful rock and muscular thrash riffing on “Thumb Spike” matches its lyrical metaphor of artistic-passion-as-toxic-relationship to a tee. The surging, bombastic chorus of “Musketeers” lends a righteous energy to the song’s stridently antifascist message. And, on the penultimate title track, storm clouds roll in over the mix as it mutates from a spacey, psychedelic power ballad into a menacing death metal-inflected beatdown, and the lyrics go from articulate and contemplative to primal and impressionistic. It’s thrilling stuff, to be sure, but digging below the surface proves just as rewarding here as sitting back and enjoying the ride.

With Crux, Moon Tooth have truly made good on the promises of their debut, honing their talents into a razor-sharp blade of metallic rock aggression. Thoughtfully written, expertly produced, and stunningly performed; it’s everything a great album should be. This album asks what the pursuit of an artistic lifestyle is worth. That question is still left on the table when the last note of the album fades out, but I’ll be damned if the 44 minutes preceding it isn’t the best argument I’ve heard that it’s worth a whole lot.



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user ratings (117)
3.8
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
Kompys2000
March 29th 2019


3159 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

AOTY, discuss.



Thanks to my sister and my roommate for editing and proofreading. I spent a lot of time on this, and at the risk of tooting my own horn I think it turned out really well. As always, feedback is appreciated.



Ashtiel
March 29th 2019


693 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

loving "Trust", especially that groove that kicks in near the end! gonna check the full album soon. great artwork as well

Digging: Blood Cultures - Happy Birthday

MarsKid
Contributing Reviewer
March 29th 2019


10117 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great review my man. That proofreading must've helped, this was some tight writing and really got across what this album as about. POS-ing it up



You definitely sell this well, definitely tempted to give this a shot. Sounds nice and concise too, which never hurts.

Digging: WRVTH - No Rising Sun

SitarHero
Contributing Reviewer
March 29th 2019


10688 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Good review dude! I was gonna do this later, but now I'm thinking I probably don't need to. :]

SitarHero
Contributing Reviewer
March 29th 2019


10688 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"that’s it’s worth a whole lot" should be "that it's worth a whole lot".

Kompys2000
March 29th 2019


3159 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Whoops, fixed!

SitarHero
Contributing Reviewer
March 29th 2019


10688 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is probably going to be my AOTY too. I haven't listened to Devy's Empath yet though.

WatchItExplode
March 29th 2019


7098 Comments


Yay! The vocals actually enhance the music now.

Kompys2000
March 29th 2019


3159 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Holy cow, thanks for the feature!

bigweinerdon
March 29th 2019


119 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Seeing these guys with Contortionist and AAL in May. Just getting into them. Igneous blew my tits off.

SitarHero
Contributing Reviewer
March 29th 2019


10688 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Igneous is the jam that made me fall in love with these dudes too. I'm glad they actually tightened and focused the melodic approach on this album.

CaptainDooRight
March 29th 2019


4103 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

hmm



CaptainDooRight
March 29th 2019


4103 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

this has moments and some parts are well done but aoty? dam...

WatchItExplode
March 29th 2019


7098 Comments


I'm going to give it a bit of time but those vocals still completely took me out of a couple songs.

MrGlass
March 29th 2019


347 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Some of the moodier parts haven't totally clicked with me yet, but this fucking rules. Musketeers is one of the best goddamn songs I've ever heard

Kompys2000
March 29th 2019


3159 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

@WatchItExplode I adore the vocals here but then again I tend to have a pretty weird taste in singers so *shrug*

WatchItExplode
March 29th 2019


7098 Comments


I have some vox I adore that most hate so I don't know exactly what it is here. I will try to stick it out and see if they grow on me.

Itwasthatwas
March 29th 2019


1752 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Bad vocals and the production sounds like crap for a Machine job. Maybe it’ll grow on me

SitarHero
Contributing Reviewer
March 29th 2019


10688 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Machine didn't produce. He was involved in preproduction. This is a pretty much completely DIY operation with the drummer doing production.



And yeah, the vocal production isn't the best, but the album shines through regardless.

bigweinerdon
March 29th 2019


119 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I find some of their songwriting isn't very cohesive. Probably needs more listens though. I definitely favour the heavier side of their sound.



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