Moon Tooth

In very basic terms (admittedly cribbed from Wikipedia), phototropism is when organisms acquire energy through photon capture to carry out various cellular metabolic processes. That process was something Moon Tooth singer John Carbone first learned about while working at a nature reserve, but he kept returning to it when working on the 11 tracks that make up the band’s third full-length, Phototroph. It just seemed to fit both the state of his own personal life and the trajectory and output of the Long Island four-piece.

“That theme of plants growing towards the light was just something I kept coming back to in different songs,” he says. “Our previous record, Crux, was like a crossroads and was dealing with a lot of negative shit. Phototroph is about walking from the middle and picking a road that goes onward and upward on a brighter path.”

It’s very much by design, then, that Phototroph begins with “I Revere,” a track whose first verse is utterly consumed by despair. ‘Too close to too many ends/Too much heartbreak/I watched it rend/Too many memories/Of dead friends to mend,’ sings Carbone over a tune that—in true Moon Tooth fashion—is both soothing and heavy, gentle and agitated. Partly because of the music, partly because of Carbone’s forceful, defiant vocals, the song never gives in to the darkness, and by the end is emerging out of it: ‘Tomorrow’s woe is a grave/But I ain’t in it yet/So I won’t go, I won’t bend/I ain’t givin’ in/All I’ve gotta do/Is just keep sticking it out.’
True to the album’s title, that tug of war between darkness and light occurs throughout the record’s 11 profound, phenomenal and technically complex songs, but it’s always striving for the light. Even if there’s turbulence within the songs themselves, the overall trajectory is upwards. That’s a harder feat to achieve than it sounds, especially given the kind of music Moon Tooth plays, but it’s testament to the connection and chemistry the band – rounded out by Nick Lee (guitar/backing vocals), Ray Marte (drums, backing vocals) and Vin Romanelli (bass) – have built up since forming in 2012.

“These are my favorite people,” says Marte, “and the people I want to make music with. Since day one, we’ve grown so much as musicians and friends, and every day I’m surprised by what everybody comes up with—I’ll get a riff from Nick, a bassline from Vin or John will send a vocal part, and it’s always just more honed and perfect each time. It took a while to get there, although we were amazing when we first started, of course!”

“It serves to be said that me and Ray were playing together for almost 10 years before Moon Tooth,” adds Lee. “When that band fell apart and we started Moon Tooth, we had no choice but to hit the ground running and play as many shows as possible. The only way to get that chemistry is through years of pounding the pavement in order to be able to finish each others’ sentences musically. We are the four guys who are the band, and it couldn’t exist without one of us. John always uses the four legs of a table metaphor—we all really depend on each other to make this thing fucking work. Especially trying to be in a weird metal band now, which is a ridiculous thing to do with your life!”

Ridiculous it may be, but Moon Tooth are also a ridiculously good weird metal band, and their scorching originality and searing talent has seen their stature grow organically in the time they’ve been together. After self-releasing debut album Chromaparagon in 2016, they caught the attention of renowned producer Machine, who’s worked with the likes of Lamb Of God, Clutch, Every Time I Die, The Amity Affliction and even prog-rock pioneers King Crimson. In 2019, Modern Static Records put out the band’s second record, Crux. That got the attention of Pure Noise, who reissued that album and signed them for this third full-length, and Josh Wilbur (Trivium, Lamb Of God, A Day To Remember) who is on board for production and mixing duties this time around. Mostly written in 2019 and 2020, though there are a few now-realized ideas that had been hanging around unfinished since 2015, the result is an album—recorded both at Marte’s Westfall Recording Company studio in Farmingdale, NY, and in California—that mixes all of Moon Tooth’s brilliantly inventive and innovative creativity.
It means that Phototroph is the most fully-developed portrait of Moon Tooth to date, and it overflows with everything that makes them such a unique and exciting band. There’s the super-charged, angular riffs of “Deathwish Blues” and the hypnotic ebb and flow of “The I That Never Dies”, which flits between insistent, unforgiving metal and more melancholy gentle moments. There’s the uplifting, almost-sunny melodics of “O My Isle” and the rage-fueled intensity of “The Conduit”, which merges mythological lyricism with real world strife. Elsewhere, “Nymphaeaceae”—it’s scientific terminology for water lilies—starts off in a frenzied blast of noise before developing into a musically restless and inspiring tale of triumph over adversity. That then gives way to the nostalgic lilt of “Grip On The Ridge”, a timeless, wistful rumination on childhood that also features some of the most moving guitar noodling you’ll hear all year, before “Carry Me Home” and the title track round this record off in an exuberant outburst of optimism and hope. While that’s present in all these songs, those two specifically really capture the overriding attitude and atmosphere of the whole album and the band’s ultimate ambitions for their future.

“I want Moon Tooth to be something positive,” says Carbone. “We all come from blue collar families, and we’ll always work our fucking asses off, but we’ve found something that we love, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable for us to want to work our asses off for something that we love. That’s really what we’re striving for. I don’t want to live any kind of half-life where I have to work on a fucking farm anymore and try to make music on the side. But I could die right now if I knew that one person reached out and said ‘Hey your music really helped me through a tough time. If one person said that then the goal is achieved.”

“That said,” adds Romanelli, “I want to take this as far as it will go. I want to Dave Grohl this shit and try my hardest. That’s been my mission since I was 17 years old, and we all want to try our very hardest to take this to the moon.”

“In a lot of ways,” chimes in Lee, “Moon Tooth has already achieved everything we wanted it to. I’m in a band with my best friends writing the music that I want to write and I’ve gotten to see the whole country as a result. I have very humble goals, but at the same time, I also feel like this band deserves the world. I want us to be the next Metallica. We’re just waiting for everybody else to catch up to us!”