It seems like the journey to Toothgrinder‘s I Am (Spinefarm Records) has been one full of trepidation and behind the scenes issues. Vocalist Justin Matthews has certainly been open about his demons in the promotional materials stating: “My alcohol and drug use were pretty prominent on the last two albums and on tour.” And nothing but the utmost respect to him for being able to put those demons behind him in the lead up to their third proper full length.
With that in mind, I didn’t know what to expect exactly from I Am. Would it be a wild introspective journey full of frayed riffs and off-tempo rhythms like in the Schizophrenic Jubilee days or were we going to follow the more subdued sounds of Phantom Amour? As it turns out Toothgrinder is sticking with the latter approach and even daring to double down on melody and conventional rock songwriting.
I mean, if you listen to ‘ohmymy’ it seems like this New Jersey unit is ready to make a formal entry into the active rock world with choruses tailored for Sirius’ Octane. ‘My Favorite Hurt’ follows right up with whispery verses, hooks, and a guitar solo with arena tour dreams. Don’t even get me started on the title track.
On those moments I Am succeeds on the accessibility front and lord knows that I want more bands to reach Bad Wolves mainstream status within the upcoming decade. The problem is I Am could use a bit of that bite that was all over Schizophrenic Jubilee or Nocturnal Masquerade. ‘Too Soft for the Scene, Too Mean for the Green’ and ‘The New Punk Rock’ tease a bit of the rabid insanity of old, but never fully commit. Other than that, we’re primarily left with the decent radio rock sound of ‘No Tribe’ and ‘ShiVer.’
If Toothgrinder’s goal this time around was to showcase that they’re ready to put certain ghosts to rest and present themselves to a new audience, then they have succeeded. I just wish they would’ve kept some of the old fire in the process.
6 / 10