Toehider – I Like It! (Album Review)

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Multi-Instrumentalist Michael Mills and illustrator Andrew Saltmarsh have been releasing music and art under the name Toehider since 2009, testing the limits of musical creation along the way. If you’ve never heard a Toehider song in your life, one or two songs will simply not be enough for you to make a judgement. While they primarily draw influence from Classic Prog Rock and Metal, with a heavy dose of Queen-esque humour and production, the Toehider catalogue runs the gamut from folk to rock n roll to disco to thrash metal. Simply, whenever Toehider puts out a new piece of music, only one thing is guaranteed – you never know what you’re going to get.

This is particularly true with “I LIKE IT!,” Mike & Saltmarsh’s fourth full-length studio album and their sixth physical release overall (I count their ’12 EP’s in 12 months’ project as the first two Toehider albums, as they were later released as double CDs entitled “The First Six and “The Last Six). The album’s twelve tracks were voted on by Toehider’s Patreon subscribers, from a collection of 40+ tracks written and recorded monthly over a two-year period, and even though they are completely unrelated, Mills has done a great job of organising the 12 tracks into a cohesive running order that constantly hops between musical styles while still maintaining Toehider’s strong musical identity throughout. After revving up with “Go Full Bore”, a song about the thrill of driving with thrash metal with ‘80s and ‘90s video game influences (and a hardcore punk pastiche in the middle), the album shifts gears for “Welgivit”, driven by sawtooth synths over an electronic drumbeat, evoking the spirit of 80’s disco anthems as well as previous Toehider tracks including “Whatever Makes You Feel Superior”.

Aside from Mills’ skills as a multi-instrumentalist and producer, he is also a damn clever lyricist, with a double degree in introspection and surrealism. The third track on the album, “Rancorous Heart” deals with jealousy and the endurance of suffering as an artist, with classic 70’s prog influences including Frank Zappa, Toto and Peter Gabriel. This is followed by “Moon and Moron”, which takes a humorous look at conspiracy theories (with a twist ending!). Later songs feature more direct/linear storytelling, including the funk-inspired “Died of Dancing” (loosely based on the dancing plague of 1518) and “The Guy That No-One Really Knows”, a folk ballad about an interconnected family drama that wouldn’t be out of place in a daytime soap.

The album’s centerpiece is “Concerning Lix & Fairs”, which not only includes lyrical references to several previous Toehider songs but is also a musical melting pot combining all of Toehider’s best features into one song, starting as a bush ballad with acoustic guitar and Irish Bozouki before turning into a full power metal anthem with epic multi-layered vocals, guitars and synth strings. A lyric video was also released for the song with comic book-style illustrations by Saltmarsh, visualising the fantastical story.

The second half of the album continues the constant shifting between genres, taking on modern folk-rock in “Bats Aren’t Birds”, Skyrim inspired folklore in “How Much For That Dragon Tooth?” and a hybrid of Devin Townsend and Panic! At The Disco with “He’s There… And Then He Does THAT” (This track also features a brief sax solo by Jeremy Diffey, the only piece of music on the album not performed by Mills himself).

Considering that the entire album is self-produced, the production throughout sounds rich and the mix is super clear, despite the abundance of overdubs. This is largely achieved through panning, which is used as much as a composition tool as a presentation choice – throughout the album, vocals, synths and guitars bounce back and forth between the left and right channels, and there’s a strong chance you’ll only pick up on certain parts upon repeat listens.

Even though Toehider’s vast array of musical influences may put you off at first, ultimately this is a bunch of songs that can only come from one artist and definitely belong under one roof, a testament to Mike Mills’ immense talent and dedication to his craft. It’s all packaged together physically with an intensely detailed gatefold artwork by Saltmarsh, containing many in-jokes and Easter eggs.

The fact that Mills and Saltmarsh have only recently been able to make Toehider their main source of income (Through Patreon and Twitch) means that we’ll be getting plenty more music and art from the duo over the next few years, and if you like even one of the tracks they’ve put out so far, chances are there’ll be something else in the massive Toehider catalogue to take your fancy. Start Digging!

Released by: Bird’s Robe Records
Released Date: April 2021 (USA)
Genre: Prog Rock / Prog Metal / Power Metal

Musicians:

  • Michael Mills / vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, programming

I Like It!” track listing:

  1. GO FULL BORE!
  2. welgivit
  3. Rancorous Heart
  4. Moon and Moron
  5. Concerning Lix & Fairs
  6. The Ultimate Exalter
  7. Died of Dancing
  8. Bats Aren’t Birds
  9. The Guy That No-One Really Knows
  10. He’s There… And Then He Does THAT
  11. How Much For That Dragon Tooth?
  12. I LIKE IT!

8.5 Great

Mike Mills and Andrew Saltmarsh return with their best collection of tracks to date, featuring their unique brand of virtuosic musicianship, humorously insightful storytelling and genre blending from song to song. If you are a fan of any of the Prog Rock or Prog Metal heavyweights, there’ll be something here for you.

  • Songwriting 8
  • Musicianship 8
  • Originality 9
  • Production 9
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