Just over a year ago, the buzz was that the new recordings by Tooth—a Durham metal quintet with fraternally chiseled guitars, a lumbering rhythm section and a frontman who sang as if trying to slip free of the strangling hands around his neck with his voice alone—were something special. The three tunes, recorded to tape by area veteran Jerry Kee, were complex and powerful epics, returning the hardcore flag to the top of a metal mountain. The tunes were more finessed than those four of the band's EP, 2007's Animality. The guitars were tougher, and J-Me Guptill's voice sounded somehow much more mean.
Turns out, the gossip was true: The lead riff of "Suicide Myth," the five-minute romp that opens Tooth's three-song side of a split with Philadelphia's The Claw, sounds like a polished blade, its quick notes slicing the galloping rhythm into tiny little cross-sections. Roaring about global warming and apocalypse and personal responsibility, Guptill sounds like a crust punk dressed in black, his vitriol unabashed and unwashed. Closer "Better Living (Through Arson)" is the band's most daunting composition yet, full of shifts in tone and time and led by guitars that lift together and split into wiry leads. Just before the track's finale, they tightrope-walk opposing sides of one riff, high notes harmonizing with the low, emptying into a closing churn-and-burn, feedback-gilded minute. The end is emphatic.
The last sound we hear is the clink of Noah Kessler's drumsticks as he puts them down. It's an unfortunately ultimate metaphor, since these three cuts are the last Tooth says it will ever release. Coupled with those of Animality, they showcase a force that deserved the space of a full LP and a proper studio and mix to explore its ideas. For instance, though powerful, Guptill's voice needs an engineering lift here. Tooth's steely Southern grit always swelled with themes lifted from death metal, sludge metal, doom metal, thrash metal and classic rock bombast. Too bad the band's dual short offerings weren't only preludes to some juggernaut.
The respective northern and southern sides are well-matched complementary foils, related without being redundant. Whereas the innards of Tooth's side are all dynamics, The Claw prefers to climb quickly to a peak and pound relentlessly for minutes at the time. As such, their take on blackened death metal depends more on rhythmic guidance than the riff-led Tooth. As with Tooth, these recordings mark the end of this band's era: Frontman Mikey Brosnan was killed when a car struck him in Philadephia late last year.
Tooth plays what's billed as its last show ever on Friday, Sept. 11, at Duke Coffeehouse. With a new frontman, The Claw opens, along with The Curtains of Night and The Grappling Hook. The 8:30 p.m. show costs $7.