Toothgrinder happens to be one of those bands that seems to cause a divide in metal circles. Their earlier releases featured quite a bit of progressive tendencies along with metalcore and djent overtones that appealed to various audiences. Over the years, however, the band’s evolution has seen them opt for a more melodic radio-friendly approach, creating dissent within their fanbase. The clash of these two styles is heavily apparent with their latest release, I AM, creating an exciting, yet challenging listening experience.
While I do appreciate Toothgrinder broadening their horizons, the flow of their most recent record seems more forced than organic when compared to their previous outputs. The inability to establish a consistent sound is quite evident with the first two tracks. “The Silence Of A Sleeping WASP” is indubitably a rock-solid heavy opener, featuring melodic “woah-oh” chants, a catchy chorus, and slick hooks. Vocalist Justin Matthews is also quite impressive on this track, showcasing his vast range transitioning from clean vocals to growls quite seamlessly. The issue for me arises immediately on the second track, as “ohmymy” ditches the hardcore influence for more radio-friendly stadium rock. The stark contrast between the two styles is indicative of Toothgrinder’s career thus far. Despite the significant difference between the two tracks, “ohmymy” is quite the grower, becoming more engaging on repeat listens.
Overall, there’s a lot to like about this album. When it comes to diverse songwriting, the dichotomy between the melodic and hardcore styles on the album produces catchy tunes. Two standouts for me include “No Tribe” and “The Fire Of June,” the latter of which is an excellent penultimate track to the album with infectious groovy riffage. For fans of Toothgrinder’s first album, these songs won’t fail to impress, as they are more in line with the aggressive melodic approach found on early Toothgrinder material. “The New Punk Rock” is another song that immediately hooks you in with rhythmic beats, a furious pace, and anthemic vocals.
Unfortunately, there are some very dubious elements to this record that prevent I AM from being a standout album. One of the songs that clearly exhibits the band’s identity crisis is “too soft for the scene, TOO MEAN FOR THE GREEN.” This overly distorted track is an ambitious attempt to clap back at the band’s detractors. Still, it misses the mark by not capturing the true essence of what made the band’s earlier material enjoyable and seems rather puerile in the end. “Can Ü Live Today?” is another filler song that’s a challenging listen due to the simplistic choruses and lack of appealing hooks. Possibly my least favorite track on the album is “shiVer,” a relatively weak concoction meshing an experimental electronic sound with tribal beats and a formulaic cookie-cutter chorus.
Despite a tumultuous journey throughout the album, I AM ends on an incredible note with the self-titled track, which deals with thought-provoking lyrics about addiction and the intense emotional battle within. It’s also refreshing to see the metalcore style vocals taking center stage once again on the chorus, a pleasant change from the mainstream radio approach on more than half the album.
While it may seem like I’m overly critical at times, my perception of the album did improve upon subsequent listens. It’s an intriguing record that has me getting behind Toothgrinder’s evolution over the past couple of years. While they may never recapture the intrigue that made them an underground darling during the Nocturnal Masquerade era, it seems like Toothgrinder is committing to their musical pivot. The lack of cohesiveness between some tracks does hamper the listening experience, but it’s still a solid album overall.
Written by Jonathan Berthold
*edited by Danielle Kenedy