As much as extreme rock has ever been a thing, Tempe, Arizona, six-piece TOAD would seem to be engaged in the practice of it. The double-guitar, organ, bass, drums and standalone vocal outfit made their first showing in 2010 as a split with Drone Throne, then on their own in 2011 with Rotten Tide (review here) and are set to return in 2013 with Endless Night – five tracks of blackened melodic death rock that attempt to draw a line between At the Gates and the riffier terrain of heavy rock. No easy task. The five tracks of the vinyl-ready 27-minute Endless Night cast off a lot of the melodeath cliché that came in the wake of America’s turn-of-the-century metal revival – i.e. they don’t rush through a verse so as to blindside you with an out-of-place breakdown most part – but there is an intensity to some of their parts that feels derived from modern hardcore, so that even the dueling guitars on the otherwise organ-driven closing title-track seem to be in specifically that kind of rush. The band – comprised of guitarists Nate and Alex, bassist Trey, vocalist Andy, drummer Jason and organist Pete – balances its approach well, so that they never appear to be in the same place twice while also creating a full-album flow over the course of a brief span. Endless Night preserves continuity though in the echoing screams of Andy (who seems to be going by Chthon these days, unless I’ve got the lineup info wrong), which are largely unipolar in their shouting approach, at times scathing, but presented well in the mix all the same. Together with Jason’s drums, they announce the rolling groove of opener “Taste of the Grave,” which is also the shortest track on Endless Night at just under four minutes, centered around a heavy rock riff that in another context might bounce where here it pummels. TOAD, whose name is an acronym for Take Over and Destroy, have several immediate factors working toward their favor, and a pervasive knack for structure is one of them. It’s easy to get lost in Endless Night and some might accuse their songs of being samey, but TOAD are able to accomplish changes between otherwise standard verses and choruses that even with considered listening are less predictable than one might think. The harder you hear Endless Night, the heavier it gets.
And repeat listens may pull back the curtain on a horror influence that shows through in Pete’s organ work on “Howling House” and elsewhere, but even so, TOAD don’t necessarily telegraph where they’re headed next, as Entombed-style guitars in the verse of “Taste of the Grave” give way to a nuanced bridge. In some ways, this sets the tone for the whole of the album, which is similarly minded in its bludgeoning, but there’s no chorus to speak of in “Taste of the Grave,” and gang vocals, layers of backing singing and lead guitar throw one off as much as they bring you along with them. That makes Endless Night an immediately fascinating listen, and there’s still a core element of songwriting that brings back the verse riff to end the track, giving way to the creepy guitar opening of the 6:26 “Cosmophobia,” the longest cut of the five but right in line with the closing duo “Boundaries of the Flesh” and “Endless Night.” The intro gradually builds as drums are added before taking off to a thickened stomp at 1:18 that sets up the jagged verse and the more obvious chorus. It’s still largely the guitars responsible for the hook, but the vocals do well in following where the music leads in terms of rhythm, and though stops before the three-minute mark are jarring until the organ begins to fill that space (I kept wondering if one of my channels had dropped out), TOAD once more show an ability to wander from and return to the core figure of the song, reigniting the interchange between the verse and chorus and then cycling through once again with more bombast as an outro, Jason’s blown out cymbals setting up the drum-led thud of the intro to “Howling House,” soon joined by the guitar and an opening “argh!” from Andy that’s straight out of black metal. The Sunlight Studios-esque crunch of “Taste of the Grave” returns on “Howling House” and proves adaptable to the tempo shift into the slower, more open, noisier second half of the track, which picks up following a dual solo into blastbeats and stops to round out once more with a last verse and cold end. If it’s a sample of a tape winding up or the actual tape onto which Endless Night was recorded, I don’t know (TOAD had made a point of analog recording for Rotten Tide), but “Boundaries of Flesh” launches soon after into a frill-less brutality that’s perhaps the most abrasive they’ve been yet.
The blasts at the end of “Howling House” turn out to foreshadow “Boundaries of Flesh,” but a straightforward rhythmic groove rests underneath, so it’s not necessarily harder to keep up with the fourth track, though it is “heavier” in an extreme metal sense. By this time, TOAD have established a lot of their modus for the album, but “Boundaries of Flesh” proves effective in offsetting one tempo with another and a creeper of a guitar line in the midsection, topped with dramatic spoken vocals, expands the template enough to distinguish the track from its companions, a subtle build playing out behind and eventually coming to a head as the apex of the song. A noisy finish gives way to piano and horror-score guitars, a slower groove and eventually more screaming/growling from Andy and a shift to a faster tempo that’s not entirely unexpected but appropriate all the same, given the tension TOAD built early on. By the time the song has hit its halfway point, they’re running at full blast, the guitars blazing ahead as the band sets up the final rush of the album. The aforementioned dueling lead gives way to the last movement, topped with vocals for a time and filled out by organ, but eventually it’s the guitars that emerge to lead Endless Night to its inevitable conclusion, picking up after a quick cymbal wash to introduce a riff that builds and churns with solos acting toward culmination and a last-minute check-in by Andy for two lines that cut off as the track and record finish together. Their sound is going to be more metal than some are looking for, and they still feel like a band in the process of establishing their methods rather than refining them, but there’s a lot about TOAD’s Endless Night that works in its favor, from the fluidity with which it builds on its influences to the willful tonal extremism. Even the barking vocals turn out to be an asset, and the brevity of their get-in-get-out approach only adds to the intensity of the listening experience. I’d been looking forward to hearing how they followed up Rotten Tide, and now with Endless Night the situation is largely the same and I’m intrigued to find out where their onslaught of metal-fueled rock takes them next.Arizona, Take Over and Destroy, Tempe, Toad, TOAD Endless Night, Unsigned bands