"Let it Ride" is one of the best pieces of music released this year. It has a phenomenal beat, killer vocals and lively melodies. Super good. Couldn't recommend more. Go listen to the song (embedded below this review) right now.
Unfortunately, this is a review of Phantom Amour, not just the record's third track. As a whole, Toothgrinder's sophomore record is…Still pretty damn fun, actually! Phantom Amour isn't the most consistent record and it isn't quite on the shortlist for the album of the year, but the good far outweighs the bad and it's nigh impossible to not get a major kick out of at least a few parts of the New Jersey quintet's latest album.
Let's dig into "Let it Ride" a bit deeper, since it's unarguably the strongest track here and genuinely one of the year's standout hits. The song shines in its simplicity: It's barely three minutes long and lacks the crazy technical shredding or bellowing shrieks you'd expect from most end-of-year metal hits. Nah. This is straight up pop gone metal, and one of the better examples of it in years. Everything, from the energetic singing and guitar work to the infectious chorus, just clicks perfectly, and the song has far more longevity than its fairly basic structure would imply.
Though "Let it Ride" is the record’s best song by a considerable margin, there’s certainly more than a few other hits on Phantom Amour that demand mentioning. While it doesn’t achieve quite the same level of success, opener “HVY” enjoys many of the elements that make “Let it Ride” so impressive and kicks things off on an impressively high note. It’s rare for metalcore bands to boast such impressive melodic aspects, but “Jubilee,” the record’s soaring centerpiece, is another major winner in this area, despite the subtle country twanging in its outro that doesn’t really pay off.
On the other end of the spectrum, “The Shadow” and especially “Pietà,” two of the record’s heaviest songs, showcase the band’s hardcore traits at their best and prove that Toothgrinder has ample bite. They still make plenty of room for lighter melodies and great clean vocals, but offer more than enough punky riffing, frantic screaming and general intensity to keep things suitably aggressive.
Alas, Phantom Amour isn’t all winners. Most of the album’s best pieces are frontloaded, and it’s no coincidence that most of the aforementioned tracks are found earlier in the record. “Pietà” and “Snow,” another slow hit with some particularly exceptional singing, are exceptions that build up enough goodwill to see the album through its end, but after spinning Phantom Amour around a dozen times, it’s still difficult to identify points of interest in a worrying portion of the tracks in the record’s latter half.
"Vagabond," "Futile" and "Facing East From a Western Shore," which collectively close out the album, serve as some of its worst offenders. They’re serviceable, but pretty much every likable moment is counterbalanced by weak singing, dull riffs and generally uninteresting song structures. It’s a shame that Phantom Amour sputters across the finish line, given how strong the record starts.
There’s a few other downers — “Adendium" has noticeably grating riffs and cleans, while the title track is a similarly difficult slog, despite its fantastic outro — but despite the unevenness, Phantom Amour is absolutely worth the price of admission. The highs here are so incredibly good, there’s little doubt that Toothgrinder could easily become one of the scene’s most exciting bands in the near future.