Heavy music can be like a painting in the right hands. When executed correctly, splashes of ethereal soundscapes color technical, tight, and taut brutality, yielding a portrait that's as aggressive as it is alive. In keeping with that approach, it might seem like Toothgrinder's paintbrush is literally on fire after just one listen to their full-length Spinefarm Records debut, Nocturnal Masquerade. These five musicians—Wills Weller [drums], Jason Goss [guitar], Matt Mielke [guitar], Matt Arensdorf [bass], and Justin Matthews [vocals]—certainly know how to create combustible artwork.
"The album's overall theme is this dark, eerie charade through the night," explains Justin. "You could think of it as this torturous and fun carnival adventure. At the same time, it's personal."
The delicate balance of guttural guitar gnashing, polyrhythmic stop-start percussion, and the most delightful vocal schizophrenia this side of the Mississippi fuels this midnight waltz. It's an amalgam the group has unlocked over the past few years beginning with a string of independent demos, their Schizophrenic Jubilee EP, and tours supporting the likes of Periphery, The Faceless, After The Burial, The Contortionist, and more. However, in April 2015, they honed and focused this attack, spending an uninterrupted month in a Maryland studio with producer Taylor Larson [Darkest Hour, Capture The Crown, Periphery], creating what would become Nocturnal Masquerade.
"The writing process was a lot different than past projects," he goes on. "Those were very leisurely and without any urgency. With this album, we set a deadline to get something going. So, we sat down and put 100 percent of our focus into it. The pressure and concentration really helped us in a way. It motivated us to put out our best material."
Nocturnal Masquerade commences with the budding explosion of "The House (That Fear Built)," which relays a relatable emotion. "That song was about the turning point for me where I really wanted to get out of my town, experience new things, and live my own life," admits Justin. "I had this urge to do something different."
Immediately after, the grinding freight train of "Lace & Anchor" derails on a haunting refrain, which sees Justin "dig deep to pull something out that I wanted to talk about but was afraid of." "Blue" offers a mid-album rumination on "overcoming obstacles in your way" with a bombastic break and deliberate smash. "Diamonds for Gold" enlists the vocal talents of Periphery frontman Spencer Sotelo, expanding the boundaries and then destroying them in a hypnotic twin harmony.
Justin continues, "Spencer wanted to do a verse on one of the songs, and that one was perfect. It's about trading in something you have that's untouchable for something less. It's like selling yourself to the devil."
Now, Toothgrinder continue a home state tradition of breaking musical barriers, originally perpetuated by New Jersey stalwarts such as Catch 22 and Dillinger Escape Plan.