Rich Howells

Wilkes-Barre ‘chaotic metalcore’ band Toothless breaks down the ‘Misinformed’ in new EP

Wilkes-Barre ‘chaotic metalcore’ band Toothless breaks down the ‘Misinformed’ in new EP
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In these turbulent times, the world is ready for a band with a sound as chaotic as Toothless.

While other musicians put their plans on hold, the Wilkes-Barre metalcore/mathcore group purposely released their new EP on May 5 to give people stuck at home something to listen to during the coronavirus pandemic – and to give their fans something to get them through this period of uncertainty.

The brutal three-song collection is titled “Misinformed,” named after another viral problem plaguing the nation, even more so now as protests and riots over racial inequality set the world on fire.

“Over the last few years, I’ve seen how powerful disinformation can be. Disinformation is being used to influence us and our decisions and sow discontent. Being able to reach people about this issue and potentially shine some light on it is something I’d like to take the opportunity to do,” vocalist Travis Antoniello told NEPA Scene weeks before the death of George Floyd ignited further unrest.

“Quite a few different things inspired these lyrics for me – lots of reading, documentaries, current events, historical events, politics… Some themes that are woven in are society’s view on anti-intellectualism, corruption, greed, and shortsightedness on issues in the world.”

Over the last month, the band – which also features bassist/vocalist Eric Novroski, guitarist Brian Zannetti, and drummer James Slattery – has garnered the attention of major metal publications like Revolver and Metal Injection as well as various YouTube channels thanks to their new music video for the lead single, “Grinner,” featuring guest vocals by Justin Bonitz, whose own Pennsylvania band has been blowing up over the past two years.

“Our bassist Eric played in Justin’s band Tallah for a while, so that’s how we met. I think Eric mentioned the idea to him one day and he was all about it,” Antoniello said.

“Justin is a sick vocalist with a great range, so I wrote phrases that would showcase that for his verse, and then I knew his lows would sound sweet over my mids at the end to close the song out. Justin is great to work with! He’s super nice and loves making music, and it was a blast hanging out in Connecticut with him. His excitement is so genuine, and it’s contagious.”

Originally, the video was going to have a story running through it, but Toothless was still finalizing the concept by the time the pandemic hit, so they decided that “the performance footage stood well enough on its own.” With the song running just under two minutes, the quick close-up cuts to each musician giving it their all as the intensity rises truly enhances the tumultuous track, so much so that it is preceded by a warning that the video could trigger seizures for those with photosensitive epilepsy. By the time your brain processes what just happened, it’s over, leaving metalheads breathless and wanting more.

Their previous video for the 2019 single “Comfort” was shot in 360 degrees, allowing viewers to get lost in the circular performance with a VR headset.

“It’s always a blast shooting videos. That one in virtual reality was tough because we had to go through the entire song in each take, but it was fun to experiment with the VR camera,” Antoniello said.

“It was a learning experience for sure.”

Cutting their teeth

Antoniello’s musical learning experience began at a young age. His parents are fans of metal and classic rock, and he grew up listening to his father play guitar. His dad showed him how to play some Metallica and Judas Priest songs, which sparked a desire to write and record his own songs, but he hadn’t considered performing in a band until a fateful show at Northwest Area Middle/High School in Shickshinny.

“When I was in third grade, my parents got me my first acoustic guitar. My dad showed me how to play some basic chords and power chords, and we would go back and forth playing the blues. After that, I wanted to play everything I could get my hands on. Having concert and marching band in school provided me with a formal music education and shaped my work ethic,” he recalled.

“A friend and I started our first band around 2006 after we saw Motionless in White play a battle of the bands at our middle-of-nowhere high school. I think I was in seventh grade at the time. I showed up to our first practice with my guitar and was, to my surprise, handed a microphone. That’s the day I started doing ‘screaming’ vocals. We recorded some songs and played a lot of covers but never actually played any shows out. That band lasted for a couple years.

“I mostly made music for fun on my computer and would show my friends in high school. I didn’t actually get involved with any other bands, or the local music scene, until I was in college.”

After years of hard work locally and nationally, Motionless in White went on to become one of the most successful metal acts to ever come out of Northeastern Pennsylvania, so it’s no wonder why they served as inspiration in those early days. It wasn’t until 2015, though, when Toothless would begin to take shape. Novroski and Slattery started the group with bassist Scott Wood and guitarist Bob Dudash and, after trying out several vocalists, Antoniello landed the gig not only because of his voice, but because they got along so well and “things just clicked.”

It was clearly the right fit, as they soon went on to release their self-titled debut EP in 2016 and win Metal Act of the Year at the Steamtown Music Awards in Scranton just a few months later. They followed it up with the “Red” EP in 2018 after Zannetti replaced Dudash, and once Naples took over for Wood, they released a single, “Comfort,” in 2019, all self-produced at their own Novro Studios in Shavertown.

While the group currently describes their sound as “chaotic metalcore with hardcore and mathcore influences,” their name deceivingly lacks the sharp fangs of the music. When asked why they chose “Toothless,” Antoniello admitted that they’ve never been direct about the answer.

“This one seems to change every time the question comes up, but I think it has something to do with greedy dentists abusing the insurance system so they can make extra money,” he joked.

Telling people what they sound like can be just as difficult, though they cite The Dillinger Escape Plan, The Chariot, Norma Jean, and Every Time I Die as influences.

“I run into this issue a lot – I usually end up iterating through a list of bands they might know and then say, ‘It’s like that! But noisier and more chaotic.’ I’m glad when it gets to that point… Otherwise, it’s ‘Oh, like screamo?’” he said.

“This sounds super cliché, but I think over the last year we’ve really been honing in on ‘finding our sound.’ I feel like our songwriting is maturing and we’re building our identity, and it’s been awesome. We have a lot of songs we’re excited to finish and record. Other than that, we’ve just been trying to play in new places and meet new fans. We bought a van in February, conveniently right before the coronavirus outbreak.”

Informed experience

The creation of “Misinformed” was one of Antoniello’s favorite experiences in the band, who traveled to Burlington, Connecticut last September to record at Silver Bullet Studios with Greg Thomas (Misery Signals, Shai Hulud, The Risk Taken) and Chris Teti (The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die).

“We typically recorded our own material, but we decided it would be better for us to separate ourselves from the engineering side of things and let ourselves just be the musicians. We also wanted the opportunity to have an outside opinion on our sound and process, which I think was one of the best things we could’ve done,” he explained.

“Recording the EP with Greg Thomas and Chris Teti was a blast – they are two of the nicest and hardest working dudes I’ve ever met. Greg really helped us bring our ideas to life and nail the little details. We can’t wait to go back.”

He feels that these tracks represent some of the best work Toothless has recorded, and it seems listeners and online music media outlets agree.

“We’re getting an awesome response, which is pretty sweet. Mostly all of the feedback has been pretty positive, even with reviewers and on some sites which I’ve heard are usually pretty brutal,” he noted.

“It’s a pretty cool feeling to be featured alongside bigger bands – we know there’s still a long way for us to go, though.”

Another Wilkes-Barre-based “mathy metalcore” band he plays in, Sleepsculptor, has been garnering a lot of attention and their own fervent fan base with “Entry: Dispersal,” their debut album released on Sept. 27, 2019.

“Our drummer James is the drummer and a founding member of Sleepsculptor – I also knew [co-vocalist] Hunter [Derr] from playing shows with his old band, Aridia. They ended up needing somebody to fill on bass for a couple shows, so I learned the songs for that. After two shows, I was asked to just be the permanent bassist and I agreed to it because playing shows is always a blast,” Antoniello said, adding that he has “to carry a lot more gear in Sleepsculptor” with a laugh.

“In all seriousness though, I love both bands – it’s nice to take a break from being a frontman and getting to wild out with a bass. It’s also fun getting to write music for both projects and mix things up.”

Breaking out of quarantine

The COVID-19 shutdown has prevented both bands from playing live in support of their most recent releases, but it fits Antoniello’s “hermit lifestyle” outside of that.

“I really, really miss playing shows,” he emphasized.

“I’ve been playing tons of video games with my friends and bandmates. My girlfriend and I have also been watching a ton of cooking shows and getting out for hikes once in a while. I’ve also been spending a good amount of time watching YouTube tutorials to learn new development skills.”

While the world has only gotten crazier, he also believes that some good will come out of the quarantine as venues start to open back up in the coming months.

“I think that, in the long run, there’s going to be a slingshot effect from this – people are going to miss going out so much that they’re going to be willing to go out and try new things, with one of those things being exploring their local music scene,” he said.

In the meantime, “I am so thankful for all of our fans, our friends, our families, and everyone who has supported us in any way, shape, or form. We love you all.”

Photos of Travis Antoniello by Rich Howells/NEPA Scene