Leave Me The Ashes of the Earth LP
(Entertainment One Music)
There has always been something which felt a little off about really aggressive metal (or Doom, or Sludge, or maybe Metalcore – pick your favorite undervalued sub-genre) – as greasy, heavy or dirty as it might get, there’s always an inherent clarity about the recordings. Even when the vocalist in a band like that is leaving his throat/larynx/esophagus on the recording studio floor, in service of a given song, the audio which gets captured and ultimately presented comes across spotless and clean. It’s an unusual contrast in perception, but it is pretty regularly consistent – which is what makes Mastiff’s third full-length album (first for eOne) so instantly hypnotic. Within the first minute of the album’s first cut, “The Hiss,” listeners will notice that the distortion they’re hearing around vocalist Jim Hodge’s performance isn’t overload or clip due to the level on his mic being turned up “that far,” Hodge is actually holding his own and powering through the din. Simply said, Hodge is just exerting his presence in the mix and doing so the hard way.
The power first expressed in “The Hiss” is infectious, and Mastiff doesn’t let any of its levels lapse, as the album continues. “Fail” opens with a seismic thus and then continues on the sludgy path opened by “The Hiss” – but (wisely) keeps its running brief enough to ensure that listeners’ heads will still be spinning as “Repulse” explodes, and then “Midnight Creeper” drops buckets of napalm on listeners’ senses. It is worth pointing out that, while there is precisely no sense of delicacy embedded anywhere in the running of any of the aforementioned songs, there is certainly a sense of ingenuity about them; because half of the songs on the A-side of Leave Me The Ashes of the Earth are less than two minutes long, that succinct nature doesn’t allow for any instrumental heroics or deviation from focus. Basically, what listeners get on the A-side of this album is a series of savage attacks with no resolve, so there doesn’t leave any room for listeners to get bored – or even breathe, really. Because of that approach too, when the side’s assault culminates with (the adorably entitled) “Beige Sabbath” – where Mastiff basically just pours all of the remainders of the elements which characterized the other cuts on the A-side (percussive savagery, venomous and coiling guitars, bellowed vocals) into one final two-minute salvo, the side’s close leaves listeners hungry for seconds. The end of the side is brutal, but there is a brilliance to be found about it too.
After listeners hurriedly flip the record over to renew the running, walls of squalid feedback open “Futile” before a filthy bass tone extends out of the cut and a basically unintelligible, snarling vocal performance converge to set the tone for the B-side of Leave Me The Ashes of the Earth. Now, harsher critics could claim that what they’re hearing here is just more of the same, but there is definitely a clearer and better-defined form in the arrangement of “Futile”; the drums which gel together about halfway through the song are a force of nature, and there is some definition in the guitar sounds produced by Philip Johnson and James Lee, which makes the song both easy to follow as well as pull apart. Of course, all of that refined structure gets scrapped by the tidal wave embodied by “Endless,” but that it exists anywhere at all in this running illustrates a host of possibilities which went here-to-fore un-imagined (by me) for this kind of metal. Of course, “Scalped” does backpedal into sludgier tones for a few minutes in the side’s late-playing, but “Lung Rust”renews the tones which won listeners to this album to close it out. There is a ‘stomp and burn’ sensibility about the last turn that the side makes with “Lung Rust” which leaves the album wide open for repeat listens, which is actually kind of remarkable in the context of metal; the guiding principle is normally to burn the running down to close a metal album out, but the end of the B-side feels like it wants to start all over again, as it closes.
The potential of repeat plays of Leave Me The Ashes of the Earth in succession as implied above is completely theoretical, though. The catch in that logic is that the listening experience is physically draining; on even first play front-to-back, Leave Me The Ashes of the Earth is a heavy affair, capable of leaving listeners exhausted. Because of that too, the question becomes, “Is Leave Me The Ashes of the Earth an ‘Any day’ or a ‘Several times a day’ kind of album for listeners?” That is for listeners to decide for themselves – if they have the mettle, Leave Me The Ashes of the Earth might just be that kind of album, indeed; but you have to have the mettle to endure this kind of metal, there’s no doubt about it. [Bill Adams]
Mastiff’s Leave Me The Ashes of the Earth LP is out now. Buy it here, on the band’s website.