This Oakland four-piece aren't likely to trouble the mainstream with their ferocious,
intelligent hybrid of hardcore, metal and jazz. Nor are they great innovators.
But their plundering of different genres and the sheer power of their
playing are a joy to hear. Vocalist and saxophonist Matt Waters mimics
the traditional lead guitarist's roll, displaying a versatile range of
nimble genre-hopping solos and riffs. The rest of the band match this
with dexterous brutality, showing their ability to suddenly switch between
moods and tempos, from abrupt, jackknife shudders to snaking, muscular
rhythms and full-on thrash assaults.
The pummeling, staccato rhythm guitar and squally, post-bop saxophone of "La Porc" create a vivid opening statement, with the band making quicksilver changes, alternating between spazzed-out jazz-metal and free-flowing, sinuous sounds. Bristling with kinetic energy, "Trapped Under a Ice" (sic) opts for a more directly hardcore stance as Waters bellows out hoarse, indecipherable vocals against a raging torrent of focused noise. Then there's a shift toward spiraling sax, fighting against the music's centripetal force, before everything slows down to a doom-metal chug, complete with guttural, mock-Satanic vocals.
"Hex By Hex" is a more truncated exercise in dynamic extremes, with taut, melodic segments squeezed in between slabs of thrashing, screaming intensity. Each song is crammed with an excess of activity, brimful of detail, but at the same time possessed of a gut-level, visceral energy. The Mass make explicit the implicit overlaps between hardcore, metal and math-rock, but just as you think you have them sussed, they make a sudden switch towards shuffling jazz or tense, pared-back ensemble playing.
"Treadmill of Suffering" and "We Enslaved Elves to Build Our Death Machine" have
titles that imply satirical intent, but the music explodes with the kind of vehemence
that overrides any tongue-in-cheek attitude. The band continues to wrong-foot
expectations with thuggish aptitude as the closing "Marca Dos Invernos" channel-hops
between constrained post-rock and jazzy noodling, then builds to a frenzy of
monster-guitar riffage and free-jazz soloing.
They satisfy on so many different levels: they can cook up a storm of noisy hardcore; they can make dazzling U-turns and acrobatic musical shifts; they can raise a smile of recognition even as they ram the point home, and then they can suddenly transform themselves into a monstrous, mutant-jazz combo.
While The Mass share an enthusiasm for heavy-metal excess with bands like the Fucking Champs and Lower Forty-Eight, the sense of urgency and focus that they bring to bear on their eclectic influences puts them in a field of their own.