October 7, 2019 Toothgrinder – I AM (Album Review)
It is easy to get lost in the undertow of life. Fortunately if you have enough belief in yourself, no matter the obstacle, you usually can come out on top. For the New Jersey based Metal band Toothgrinder, it was never really a case of a major pitfall since they came together 2010, but more a lost identity for Lead Vocalist Justin Matthews. You see Matthews, Jason Goss (guitarist), Matt Arensdorf (bassist), and Wills Weller (drummer) have kept this band going since high school, all while each member sought higher education at a plethora of different colleges.
Not at all an easy task for anyone, young or old, they went on to sign with Finnish label Spinefarm Records, releasing their Schizophrenic Jubilee EP in 2014, their debut album Nocturnal Masquerade in 2016, followed up by Phantom Amour a year later in 2017. Attaining three-million cumulative streams on Spotify and receiving critical acclaim among elite publications, all seemed right in the world of Toothgrinder. However, looking beneath the suffer, Matthews was fighting his own personal demons that included drug and alcohol problems. Thankfully, rather than sink deeper into darkness, Matthews clawed his way out, found clarity, and as a result Toothgrinder are set to dish out their new album I AM on Friday, October 11th.
The band’s third overall studio album, and second to feature Johnuel Hasney on lead guitar, I AM is arguably their most complete effort to date. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say this album is a defining moment in their career and a bold step forward. An already bloated statement, but let’s up the ante: this is an album that could raise them into the upper echelon of heavy bands and broaden their fanbase exponentially. A great deal of praise and a lot to live up to, right? Well read on to find out why.
We are living in 2019, a time where, for lack of a better term, creativity in heavy music has hit a proverbial wall. It’s all been done, it’s all been said, and overproduction has made every album sound no different than the next – and that goes for every genre. Toothgrinder manage to take three key ingredients – musicianship, honesty, and emotion – cooking them up into a collection of songs that are not only cohesive as a unit, but stand alone as compelling and fun.
This is evident right from the opening introduction to the new material with the release of the title-track “I AM.” An empowering, enlightening, and uplifting song, it really sets the tone for the rest of the album. The only problem – they opted to make it the last track, not the first! A brazen move to tuck the lead single all the way at the back-end of the record, look at it this way, Toothgrinder are so confident in what they put together here that they can afford to leave it until the end where the average 2019 attention span may already be distracted. Or can they?
The answer is yes, they can get away with it, because the rest of the album is laden with highlights throughout. From the melodic yet rough enough opening of “The Silence Of A Sleeping WASP” to acoustic hybrid cut “no surrender in The House Of Leaves,” which features some fantastic vocal harmonies, there is intrigue to be found. Then there are the equally delightful songs, such as the soaring, must-listen second single “My Favorite Hurt” and darkly beautiful “shiVer.” Yet still, the gems emerge within the fabric of I AM with the chant-along “New Punk Rock” and extremely unique “too soft for the scene, TOO MEAN FOR THE GREEN.”
All in all, I AM really has everything you could want from a heavy album. It is difficult to define the band’s sound for this record, because it not really Metal and it is not really Hard Rock. It is more or less somewhere in between the two, but above all maintains a refreshing non-generic approach to the music. They are not just screaming in your ear relentlessly, and they are also not just following a Pop safe trend to sell records. They are doing what the music calls for and it ends up being a magical balance complete with flawless vocals from Matthews that match the musicality of the band. Wrap this up with a message of overcoming personal trials and tribulations, plus making peace with yourself, I AM is exactly as bold as its title suggests. One of the best albums of 2019, Cryptic Rock give it 5 out of 5 stars.