Genres can really only be so much on their own: even with metal, where there’s microgenres within subgenres within larger subgenres within genres, there’s still only so much that can be achieved by sticking within one certain area and refusing to branch out. It’s why so many bands within metal opt to either bring multiple genres together into a much more diverse combination, a la Agalloch’s combination of dark folk, doom, and post-black metal, or to evolve and switch from one genre to another, such as The Contortionist’s transformation from deathcore to progressive metal. Never ones to stifle their own creativity, metal musicians constantly are expanding and adding new elements into their toolkit, either by way of growing said kit or by switching out some of the older appliances within.
Toothgrinder is no stranger to either of these methods; the group started out by fusing sludgy mathcore with a few elements of progressive metal on their debut EP Vibration/Color/Frequency, and over the course of a 4 years, which have seen a second EP, Schizophrenic Jubilee, and now their first full-length album, they’ve slowly but surely evolved as a capable, cohesive, progressive metalcore/mathcore outfit with some odd strains of alternative rock thrown in here and there for good measure.
Across the 40-ish minutes of Nocturnal Masquerade, Toothgrinder displays an incredible aptitude at developing a cohesive, singular sound, and contorting it slightly across every song to make an album chock full of not just memorable parts, but memorable songs. Every track on here is a total earworm; every groove feels purposeful and weighty; no chorus exists just to provide some extra filler time on a track. If there’s one that can definitely be recognized about Nocturnal Masquerade, it’s that the whole record feels incredibly deliberate, and no part feels like it wasn’t weighted heavily against the rest of the record to make sure it was up to par. Riffs are heavy and groovy, choruses are strong, and the punchy percussion, bolstered by tight production, keeps everything moving forward at a constant clip while maintaining a great organic quality.
However, consistency is a certainly a double-edged sword, and it’s hard to avoid the usual pitfalls of maintaining such a fine-tuned sound. Unfortunately, Toothgrinder definitely falls into a pattern on here, and although there are a few outliers, like “The Hour Angle”, one of the rerecorded tracks from Schizophrenic Jubilee that appears on here, with its heavy jazz influence (including an incredibly tasty organ solo), and “Diamonds For Gold”, which features an unsurprisingly fantastic guest feature from Periphery frontman Spencer Sotelo, Nocturnal Masquerade can get very, very repetitive. It’s hard to listen to all the way through multiple times, in fact, because of how similar everything is; the whole album eventually turns into a single long track, a distorted smear of ire and anger that keeps the head bobbing and the brain chugging along.
At the end of the day, Nocturnal Masquerade is certainly worth a listen for any fan of metalcore, mathcore, alternative rock, or any combination of the three, and what it lacks in individuality in its tracks, it more than makes up for with its palpable energy, powerful choruses, and slick, structured songwriting. When lightly sprinkled across a playlist as a refreshing change of pace from other bands in any of the three genres they cohabit, this is a great album, and even though it doesn’t quite hold up in a vacuum, that shouldn’t be a deterrent from checking this out as a break from the regular fare.