If you’re on the lookout for music that might make you want to tap your foot and nod your head, then look away now. Because Hull sludge doom merchants Mastiff are only interested in “someone slamming their head into a concrete wall just by listening to it.”
The masters of the unrelentingly heavy are all set for a new beginning with the release of latest album Plague tomorrow (1 February). That’s because previous EP, BORK, was released when guitarist James Andrew Lee had only been in the band for 6 months and bassist Dan Dolby had only been on the scene for 2 months, but the band have now had time to perfect their unmistakable brand of “Ugly. Harrowing. HEAVY.”
As James tells us: “As we were both still reasonably new to the band I don’t think the five of us had really figured out what we were supposed to sound like yet, so it’s a bit all over the place and inconsistent tonally. Plague, on the other hand, was the result of the five of us practising, writing and playing shows together for over a year, so it’s a tighter, meaner, just generally better representation of who Mastiff are now.
“It’s a rager of an album, and we put lots of work into making it as unrelentingly heavy as we could, whether we’re blasting away at full-speed or slowed down to a total funeral crawl. There’s not a single song on the album I don’t love, but my personal favourite is Torture, just because it’s so different to anything Mastiff has ever done before, yet still totally fits the flow and mood of the rest of the record. It’s got loads of blastbeats, huge gut-churning sludge riffs, a proper Slayer breakdown, and the first half of the song is in waltz timing. Look forward to trying to mosh to that one!”
The band, completed by frontman/growler Jim Hodge, guitarist Phil Johnson and drummer Michael Shepherd, first formed back in 2013 as more of a straight-up hardcore band and gradually shifted towards, in their words, “sounding a bit meaner.”
They offered insight into the harrowing doom that’s awaiting us with the release of the brilliantly named Hellcircle, the EP’s opening track, back in November. The track is the perfect introduction to Mastiff, given it’s a brilliantly unrelenting churn of furious growled vocals, pounding sludgy riffs and slamming cymbals that simply reeks of raw anger. Check it out for yourself below:
On the track, Jim tells us: “The name certainly paints a vivid picture, which is what we wanted. The inspiration for the title actually came from a t-shirt design we put out last year that featured what looks like some kind of demonic ritual going on, with a bunch of people dancing in a big circle with skeletons and monsters. Just lots of warm, family-friendly stuff, y’know.
“When we wrote this track, the name just seemed to fit it nicely, primarily because, to paraphrase another journalist, the song sounds like it could start a circle pit in hell. Generally, the reaction to Hellcircle has been overwhelmingly positive, which is a relief as it opens our new album! If you haven’t heard it yet, the song is basically the audio equivalent of being chained to the front of a speeding truck with a brick on the gas pedal, straight into a brick wall that’s been rigged with dynamite.”
The band are set to follow that up by releasing new album Plague tomorrow (1 February), on the launch of which Jim explains: “It’s felt like forever, as we actually recorded it in the middle of last summer but the extra time that’s given us to build anticipation will be more than worth it. We’ve had a few early reactions to it trickle our way and again, people seem to be really enjoying it – if ‘enjoy’ is a word that can be reasonably attributed to anything Mastiff does.”
The Mastiff sound is absolutely one that needs to be heard to be believed. Honed from a shared mass of heavy musical backgrounds, from Phil’s hardcore, Mike’s thrash and Jim’s sludge to Dan’s post-metal and James’ chaotic hardcore and Swedish death metal, it’s easy to see how the Mastiff beast was formed.
As James puts it: “The main term that seems to stick to us is ‘sludgecore,’ which I guess fits quite well, if not exactly telling the whole story. Our older material definitely had more of that Crowbar/Eyehategod ‘proper’ sludge sound to it, but as members have come and gone things have shifted a bit more towards grind and hardcore, though we’ve still retained that detuned, grimy sound that was there from the start. If you wanted reference points for what Mastiff sounds like today, I’d say we maybe sound like Primitive Man playing Nails songs, or vice versa.”
While on what inspires them to create music, James adds: “Number one will always be that we all love music and want to be involved with it in a more visceral way than just as a fan. Being in Mastiff specifically, it’s a great method of stress-relief. We’re all pretty chilled out people, but we might not be if we didn’t have this outlet to pour all of our aggression and negativity into.
“Our band works a little bit like practical anger management – we save up all the hateful, negative, destructive impulses that bubble up during our everyday lives and distil them into the most aggressive and pummelling songs we can. I absolutely love upbeat and melodic music, but there is absolutely no place for that in Mastiff – we deal in pure unrelenting musical suffering, and it helps having that laser-focus when putting riffs together.
“It might sound like we’re narrow-minded in our approach, but we’ve found plenty of ways to mix things up in our writing, it’s just good to have that guiding line of disgust riding through the middle of everything to keep us on track. A lot of Plague deals with modern society’s dependence on social media, and how that has created this hideous disparity between who we present ourselves as being and who we really are, to the point where we spend most of our lives lying to everyone – ourselves even – to keep up the facade.”
They may sound terrifying but, as James alludes to, they’re all just pretty normal blokes making some pretty fantastic music. As James tells us: “We’re all reasonably normal dudes with lives and jobs and families and cats. Lots of cats. That’s mainly me, but still. We’re not looking to become celebrities, we just want to share the disgusting noise that secretes from us with as many unfortunate souls as possible, and we think/hope that Plague will be the vessel that allows us to do so.”
The band are already working on a few ideas in the practice room, which will be the main focus for 2019 alongside playing gigs and, in James’ words, “pushing our live show in as many faces as humanly possible.”
In addition to grabbing the album on Friday, you can also see the band live at Albert’s in Nottingham. They then have gigs in Coventry and Stevenage on 21 and 22 February, followed by playing The Black Heart in Camden on 2 March. More info on all their upcoming gigs is here.