It’s a rare sight when an exciting up-and-coming band fulfills the promise shown in an early EP. It’s an even rarer sight (er, sound?) when said band shatters both expectations and preconceived notions. New Jersey’s Toothgrinder released Schizophrenic Jubilee in 2014, showcasing a highly technical brand of chaotic metalcore a la fellow statesmen The Dillinger Escape Plan, with an off-kilter sense of songcraft. If their debut full-length simply expanded upon the sonic maelstrom, that would be more than enough to crown Toothgrinder as one of the more exciting young bands in metal. However, the band scoff at such a simplistic notion. Nocturnal Masquerade is a triumph, showing off a wonderful sense of off-center melody and progressive songwriting that was only hinted at previously. The simplistic musical equation is that Nocturnal Masquerade = Between the Buried and Me + The Dillinger Escape Plan + Protest the Hero + Mastodon.
However, while there are definitely sonic touchstones throughout the record, Toothgrinder’s debut feels wholly unique. It’s still wonderfully technical and riffy, but it’s that increased melodic and progressive confidence that pushes the record over the edge. “Blue” isn’t necessarily the best song on the record, but its shape-shifting guitar-work marries perfectly with a surprisingly hooky chorus. You can hear where this shift was coming from in the track that carried over from the EP, “The Hour Angle”. The song sounds like He Is Legend on an amphetamine bender, but the re-recorded track doesn’t feel as much of an outlier as you’d expect. The new version feels more calm and collected, at least as much as can be expected of a rabid beast.
In fact, much of the more melodic aspects of Nocturnal Masquerade recall early He Is Legend, with its vaguely southern-fried riffs and its relish in using odd melodic scales. There are times when you can almost smell the whiskey emanating from the speakers, and maybe there is something to that. Despite wonderfully technical moments of prog brilliance, the band’s debut feels much calmer, more refined and focused, as if something (chemical?) helped slow things down. It’s not like the loss of sheer speed lessened the impact. “Diamonds for Gold” is a southern hard rock ditty could feel out of place, but the sheer kinetic energy that is on display through the record helps buoy the track. Plus, the chorus is monstrous, so while the beast may have changed shapes a bit, Toothgrinder is still a unique beast worth tuning in to. Nocturnal Masquerade is a fantastic surprise, for new and old listeners alike, and it may end up being the best metalcore album released all year.