Last year's broad excellence in metal output has created a high standard of quality for this year's clean slate. The amount of unique experimentation within metal is constantly wavering, but fortunately it seems that we have begun on the right note.
Even before pressing play, a hopeful optimism and lurking bias sparked inside me. The visual identity alone was enough to peak my interest as an alluring Edward Gorey inspired mammoth boldly represented the spirit of the coming musicalities. Even the exotic album title hinted that these twelve tracks have wandered beyond the borders of the modern generic variety. With multiple previous releases under their belt, the group consisting of vocalist Justin Matthews, guitarist Jason Goss, guitarist Matt Mielke, bassist Matt Arensdorf, and drummer Wills Weller along with producer Taylor Larson (Darkest Hour, Veil of Maya) has marked Toothgrinder's debut LP via Spinefarm Records.
As my hunch predicted, the dynamics throughout Nocturnal Masquerade are vast. Numerous shifts and variations in vocal styles are similar to the approach of acts such as Dog Fashion Disco or Avatar. But most importantly, every track seems to serve a purpose. Starting with the edgy experimental opener "The House (That Fear Built)," catchy chorus-driven "Lace & Anchor," and prog-core "Coeur d'Alene," a symmetry between heavy bombardments and melodic substance is unveiled. "I Lie in Rain" possesses soft ballad aspects and "Blue" comes off as a structured Meshuggah imitation at parts. Periphery frontman Spencer Sotelo guests on “Diamonds for Gold,” holding the most mainstream appeal. While I have yet to mention the remaining half of the songs, I insist that they hold as much significance and cruciality towards the album's cohesiveness.
I'll admit, this seems a bit like the honeymoon phase for my likening of this release as everything from the song titles and album art to the actual aural attributes are above aesthetically pleasing to my tastes. The one factor that pushes my reluctancy to automatically put faith in the replayability of this record is the occasional over-polished/melodic segments. I do believe that the placement and amount of these parts is tastefully balanced, nonetheless the inclusion of such a characteristic may both attract and detract certain audiences.
Alas, some may view that element to be a practice in publicity or plainly lowbrow, however these compositions are not simply a collection of attention-catching pieces, but rather a bound string of intelligence, integrity, and originality. The envelope has been pushed in multiple directions with this album and the outcome is nothing short of magnificence. There are exceptional traits on all fronts allowing Nocturnal Masquerade to be musically, vocally, and lyrically remarkable.
Lastly, I write a concluding statement to all readers; as an individual claiming the title of 'music journalist,' I hold a tad of responsibility for marketing and promotion towards up-and-coming bands. And in this specific case, where I personally feel compelled by the sound, I urge for you to give a listen and support this group if you feel so compelled as I did. They have taken the first baby steps with tours supporting the likes of The Faceless, After The Burial, The Contortionist, and more, yet a concrete fanbase and backing is definitely necessary and deserved.