‘Miserable band from a miserable town’ is a tag that could be attributed to vast swathes of acts in the modern day, but one that hardcore especially has been all too eager to latch onto. This is hardly a new phenomenon, but the fact that life in general just seems so much more bleak and depressing nowadays has made the presence of these bands all the more noteworthy, especially when the music they’re coming out with is good. That’s a spotlight of expectation and anticipation that’s currently shining on Hull’s Mastiff, the originators of the aforementioned phrase and purveyors of grind, sludge and hardcore-infused nastiness that has sent the hype machine in certain circles to overdrive surrounding this debut full-length. This isn’t totally out of the blue – their previous EPs both received a healthy dose of critical acclaim themselves – but Plague represents the definitive statement of what Mastiff can bring to hardcore in a time that demands it as much as it does.
In terms of actually delivering that though, they come so, so close, but ultimately, Plague staggers in due to a lack of dimensionality that really does prove to be the glass ceiling keeping it from elevating any higher. That might seem like a strange criticism for an album that’s practically been advertised as running on the band’s own misanthropy and gloom, and while that’s definitely the case, it’s not like they don’t show all of their tricks off in the first handful of tracks. Again, that’s not a problem exclusive to Mastiff, but it’s one that abounds all the same; the lack of diversity and an evolving and changing soundscape can take a hefty toll on the enjoyability of an album like this, and Plague seems to feel the brunt of it.
That said though, the sort of thrills that Mastiff aim to traffic in here come less from a detailled analysis of what they have to offer, and more from the carnal evisceration of a sensation akin to feeding yourself through a meat grinder. Depth or nuance certainly isn’t a factor when tracks are given names like Hellcircle and Brainbleed, and as far as basking in that sort of rampant, uncompromising murk and decimation, Plague really can run up some impressive numbers in terms of sheer sonic terror. The foundation-testing guitar tone and Jim Hodge’s vocals for which guttural would be an understatement already stand as a formidable base, but when the whole thing is coated in thick, Vantablack-esque production (not the mention the audible sound of crying that closes out Brainbleed), it gives the already-intimidating crash of a track like Vermin all the more power. This is clearly a band that knows how to deliver an almost frightening level of aggression in the most effective ways possible, whether that’s the flesh-ripping crust-punk hurricane of Brainbleed, or in the deliberate, sledgehammer-to-the-temple doom of Black Death, rounding the album off with nine minutes of Mastiff at their most animalistic.
And sure, it would be nice if there could’ve been a bit more modulation peppered around this album, if only to make the darkness come down with that much more force, but in a way, it’s understandable to see why Mastiff didn’t; this is an attempt to solely highlight the day-to-day bleakness of modern life, and Plague undoubtedly succeeds in those aims. It’s not an album for everyone (hell, to say it’ll hold the same impact on all occasions would be stretching the truth), but Mastiff have managed to deliver an album of constant, consistent ferocity that feels palpable and genuine with vein-bulging scream and wall-cracking note, and if that’s not something to commend, then it’s hard to say what is.
For fans of: Nails, Eyehategod, Buzzov•en
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Plague’ by Mastiff is released on 1st February on APF Records.