By now, Moon Tooth have garnered themselves quite a following in the progressive metal spaces. This is no accident; the scene is hungry for the kind of upbeat and unrestrained music that Moon Tooth is creating. Good news then: Phototroph is by far the band’s most energetic and “poppy” release, and I mean that in the best way possible. Phototroph sees the band double down on the more saccharine and bouncy elements of their music, cutting some of the “technical fat” that was the only thing holding them down in the past, to create a moving, emotional, and danceable album.
Don’t get me wrong, this album still has plenty of riffs and note-heavy unisons on it. Just check out the scale-running guitar riff on the opening track, “I Revere”. But while you’re there, also tune in to the hook filled chorus, the drums which seem to burst with energy, the sky scorching guitar bridges, the emotive vocals, and the overall sense of groove and bounce. Elsewhere on the album (fully on its other side, to be more accurate), these elements are even more pronounced; the self-titled closing track is one of the more infectiously upbeat tracks I’ve heard in years. Seriously, I absolutely cannot stop listening to it; from the high pace guitars, to the long, free summer shining through the vocals, to the dance-inducing drums, this track is jam packed with everything that makes this album so good.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a progressive album if there wasn’t some contrast to balance out the brighter stuff. And, indeed, Moon Tooth deliver on that front as well with tracks like “The I That Never Dies” and “The Conduit” bringing some different vibes to even the score. The former is a decidedly darker take on the Phototroph formula; it’s not that much heavier but its tone is more contemplative and somber. There are still big choruses and everything pops in that Moon Tooth way but the track feels more considered and introverted. “The Conduit” adds some staccato, frenetic composition to the mix, with an absolutely monstrous main riff that just hammers away at the track’s main chords. Add in some electronic effects on the vocals, a bit of derision and spite to the lyrics, and breakneck drumming and you’ve got yourself a scorcher.
When brought together, Phototroph makes for Moon Tooth’s most varied and endearing release yet, even if some of the technicality has been stripped away. It’s really refreshing and endearing to listen to Moon Tooth continue to explore the unique space they’ve created for themselves within progressive metal. It’s one which doesn’t take itself too seriously while maintaining the core intricacy and daring that the genre is so good for when done well. It’s also a lot of fun; every single Moon Tooth album sounds like they love playing together but Phototroph is veritably bursting at the seams with that energy. And you know, this is an element of progressive music that metal often gets wrong with its emphasis on ultra-serious themes and inner darkness. The best progressive music spills over with joy and celebrates the complicated and wonderful thing called life. Phototroph does that and then some.
Phototroph releases on May 13th on Pure Noise Records. You can pre-order it from the band’s Bandcamp page above.