The first time I put on this San Francisco 4-piece's disc I really wasn't sure what to make of it. The idea of brute forcing King Crimson and Slayer into the same room seemed a very odd mixture indeed. But I persevered with it, and after the third listening it began to make sense in a grotesque way. This is a band of two schizophrenic personalities, one a full-throttle smash and grab bunch of thrashers, and one a bespectacled group of demented art-prog jazzers. Does it all work? No. But it's certainly a fearless tightrope walking avant-garde adventure with the band frequently undergoing personality change more than once during compositions. The Mass is not unlike the fusion of death-metal and space-music attempted by Maudlin Of The Well – just done much better.
Depending on where one is coming from parts of this album work better than others. I get that an integral component of the thrashcore (death-metal, black-metal, extreme-metal, etc) ethos is to scream at the listener until (s)he submits – willingly or not. But for me that is far and away the weakest part of what The Mass delivers. The compositional dexterity and oddness factor jumps several notches the instant the quartet begins channeling the spirit of improvisational Crimson Kings past. When vocalist Matt Waters shuts up the band becomes much more interesting, because he often gravitates in short order towards their ace in the hole, his sax, and the band's entire tonal palette opens up.
Traditional proggers may listen to this album with one finger permanently on the FF button. Which would be a shame because the cleverness of the approach will be lost. It's important to understand that these guys are like Dr. Jekyll willingly drinking the potion that turns him into Mr. Hyde. They dive headfirst into thrashing chaos so that the other side of the coin (sax-led instaKrim) becomes even more of an "ah-ha", and vice-versa. Fortunately most of every tune is instrumental, so those that can't deal with demonic screeching can treat it like the weather – stick around another minute and it will change.
A huge amount of ground is covered on City Of Dis with only one track exceeding the seven minute mark. Most of the pieces are plenty long enough to get their amped message over, and none of them are remotely padded. None of the tunes are all thrash or all dark proggy math-rock, and one of them even exhibits a sense of humor with comical vocalizing ("Major Strip"). Traditional proggers should try the last tune "Marca Dos Invernos" first since it's probably the closest thing to a Red-era Krim construct. If that doesn't do it for you then move along. By the same logic, thrashers should sample "Treadmill Of Suffering" first for the aggressive Slayerisms. Best bets for an all-encompassing listen to The Mass would be "Buttlip" on which the band display all parts of their psychotic take-no-prisoners mind-set in gleeful abandon, or "Trapped Under A Ice".
In summary, I don't think these guys will playing NEARFest anytime soon, and I certainly won't spin them when my wife is in the room, but there's a wealth of talent and demented genius displayed, with the promise of much more to come. City of Dis is a very wild ride, and clearly isn't for everyone. To take the trip one will need to get the ears firmly round the cookie-monster vox and have a taste for both thrash and avant-rock. But if these guidelines don't make you back away, then The Mass brainiacs will be quite entertaining company on the next direct elevator to hell.
01. La Porc (5:15)
02. Trapped Under A Ice (6:32)
03. Hex By Hex (3:55)
04. Major Strip (3:32)
05. Buttlip (5:07)
06. Treadmill Of Suffering (4:17)
07. We Enslaved Elves To Build Our Death Machine (7:18)
08. Marca Dos Invernos (5:23)