For a brief moment at the start of 2016, Toothgrinder were the darlings of challenging, experimental metal: the thinking man’s Of Mice & Men, saviours of NWOAHM, hotter than Hansel on a hotplate. Debut album ‘Nocturnal Masquerade’ received critical plaudits across the board, scoring deservedly high marks for its hefty mix of nu-metal and metalcore sprinkled with random tech and prog flourishes, so it seems odd that the New Jersey quintet have made such a pant-slapping left turn on follow-up ‘Phantom Amour’. The change hits almost immediately, with opener ‘HVY’ swiftly ditching a satisfyingly distorted Korn-crunch of an intro for the cleanest of clean vocals, setting the scene for the whole album in the process. Largely gone are the flecked, throat-stripping Dez Fafara-esque barks of old in favour of a floaty, high-pitched croon that even Adam Levine would baulk at, while the heavy-dreamy-heavy-dreamy motif threatens to wear a bit thin before the album is even halfway through. Vocalist and lyricist Justin Matthews cites the fearlessness of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ as a big influence this time around, adding ‘we needed to soften the sound just enough for it to work’, but whilst there is still some crunch to the guitars, this new vocal approach transforms the band into something completely different from the rampaging beast of two years ago. The boy can clearly sing, that’s not in question, but it’s hard to see quite how this softer, more polished, radio-friendly approach will translate to the stage alongside bruisers such as ‘The House (That Fear Built)’ and ‘The Hour Angle’ without forcing the band to tone down the old material, or bloody up the new. That said, there’s a lot more to ‘Phantom Amour’ than just some pretty vocals, and on the handful of occasions they turn up the juice, the results are unstoppable. ‘Vagabond’ initially threatens to be softer than a wet teabag on a poodle’s bum before out-Altering the Bridge with a truly violating riff, while ‘Pieta’ blasts out of absolutely nowhere to state its case as the best song that never appeared on the band’s bonkers debut, and ‘Let it Ride’ corrals Muse’s ‘Hysteria’ into a Family Force 5 disco rock rage-a-thon, showing that there is definitely still some bite in these teeth. The band have also retained a lot of their experimental tendencies, beefing up the constituent parts into more straightforward but opposing passages and adding orchestral swathes to a creeping increase in electronics. Ultimately, if Slipknot and Coal Chamber were the biggest influences the first time around, then it’s probably latter-day Bring Me The Horizon and Of Mice & Men in 2017, so whilst the album is potentially going to be a tough sell to established fans, if a rager like ‘Let It Roll’ can make its mark on radio, then there is a whole new, proven demographic waiting for them.