Review from URANIUM MUSIC Webzine:
It's not that difficult to find an avant-guarde metal band that juggles conceptual innovation and intimidating musicianship. What's hard is to find a band that embodies these traits without coming off as condescending, or to put it bluntly, "wanking"; don't get me wrong, I love bands that have jazz, tech, experimental, and prog so far up their ass that they can't flatulate without producing an opus of the highest order. No, I'm addressing the biggest complaint I find among metal listeners when digesting jazz-rooted metal experimentation: wankery. Whether its the lack of core song progression or over-the-top musical acrobatics, too many experimental bands are snubbed by the "counter-elitists" as too convoluted. While I don't mean to raise this band on a pedestal, The Mass are a unique breed of avant-guard exploration that is just as much knee-slapping, beer-drinking music as it is a stimulating, pot-induced jazz frenzy.
I'm having trouble finding a musical analogy for this band, a good sign - the first thing you'll probably notice is the saxophone. It accompanies various chord progressions, barrells through insanely chaotic, acid-jazz solos that boggle the mind, and completely disappear to let the guitar/drum jams take center stage. Although few metal bands can use "alternative" forms of instrumentation and not call it novelty, the saxophone does wonders for The Mass, wrapping the delivery in familiar, genuine jazz overtones while also accenting and fortifying the rhythmic guitar jams, often accompanying the guitar note for note, giving the guitar attack a sharper, more "crusty" tone - it just sounds "heavy", in every sense of the word. I'm reminded of the trumpet leads used by Italy's Ephel Duath, another fine example of horned instrumentation fused with metal in a non-ska sort of way.
The guitar riffs themselves are all over the place; the somewhat exploratory, digressing nature of their songs can give them a jam band feeling, grooving through bouncy, stop-n-go riffing that draws some parallels to stoner rock, thrash, hardcore, and math-metal, specifically in the hooky, off-time shifts. I find there to be a subtle Helmet influence, even Primus at times, for whatever reason. The sheer quirkiness of their riffing reminds me of System Of A Down, with more crusty vocals and more overall atmosphere. There are moments of pure guitar feedback and saxophone fluttering, a Neurosis-esque droning atmosphere, before barreling into a bouncy jazz groove led by saxophone progressions. There are moments of pure mellow, lounge, vintage club jazz, tribal drumming, quirky mathcore guitar leads, and expansive, intimidating atmospheric ambience. Likewise, the vocals are all over the place, including moments of wacky, Patten-esque screams, stoner yells, Maynard-like croons, occaisional death metal leanings... the list goes on.
The Mass write songs go all over the place, for better or worse. Some listeners may start jamming to a bass-jam and then detest the sudden transition into dissolving ambience; the lack of recurring ideas or a more common motif throughout a song will annoy some. The sheer spontaneous nature of this album, combined with prevalence of the saxophone, makes this such an enjoyable listen to me. I cannot overstate how well they were able to integrate genuine jazz theory and improvisation with a smorgasbord of metal stylings, never boasting or embelleshing their potential as musicians, but instead letting their collective composition dictate their own actions. I am thoroughly amused and thoroughly enterained by this album; it may take more than a few listens to really enjoy, but goddamn, it's worth it.
Review from METALCOVEN Webzine:
If this album had been released four days earlier, it would have definitely made my top ten metal albums of 2004.
As it is, I have no doubt at this point that "City of Dis," the debut full-length by the Californian four-piece metal band the Mass, will be on my top ten metal albums for 2005. This is such an incredible album, so remarkably unique and well-played, I am hard-pressed to imagine ten better albums being released in one twelve-month span.
Imagine if one of the current crop of contemporary metalcore bands like The End or Between the Buried and Me somehow convinced Slayer's Tom Araya to provide vocals on their next album. They also recruit John Whooley (ex-Estradasphere) to play saxophone. The resultant album is one part metalcore, one part thrash, one part Meshuggah, and one part avant garde jazz by way of John Zorn. If you can imagine such a hodge-podge of music, then you begin to understand what the Mass sounds like.
The metal is, for the most part, aggressive and chaotic, like something set forth by the Dillinger Escape Plan or Candiria. It is heavy, percussion-laden, without more than the occasional blast beat or guitar solo, but with plenty of off-time rhythm and crazy time signatures and half-riffs. But instead of the usual metalcore screaming, vocalist Matt Waters has a decidedly thrashy sound to his voice. For the most part there are no growls or screaming (once in a while, perhaps, but they are the exception). There are even a few occurrences of clean vocals or anthemic shouting ... and lengthy instrumentals passages (and whole songs) as well. The Mass go everywhere, at all times, and the result is music that is difficult to describe, but not so difficult to love.
But what really makes "City of Dis" amazingly unique is the aforementioned presence of saxophone throughout the music. From bebop solo complexity to 'simple' melodies to Fredrik Thordendal-esque rhythms to multi-layered lunacy, Waters' saxophone is as wacky and whacked as the rest of the band's music. And yet it is not a gimmick that the Mass cannot live without; one or two songs on "City of Dis" do not feature any saxophone whatsoever ("Hex By Hex," for example), yet retain everything that makes this band so incredible.
This is the sort of CD where you never know what is going to happen next. Breaking down into a doomy, atmospheric wash? Whipping out definitively Slayer guitar riffs and screams? The most impossible-to-understand polyrhythms this side of Spiral Architect? It's all here- and for the most part, it all fits together to create a sound that is distinctive and unparalleled. In "Major Strip," outrageous shreds are repeated by even more outrageous non-lyrical vocals (a la FantŰmas?). "Buttlip" sees the Mass delve into abstract non-riffs and epic sax-and-guitar powercrunches, not to mention drawing the closest to an Estradaspherian sound that "City of Dis" ever comes (or any other metal album, for that matter). "Treadmill of Suffering" even enters the realm of multi-layered saxophone noise. There are so many 'moments' on this album, so many things happening that are worth noting, it's difficult to pick and choose. Every song has at least five memorable riffs or instances of noteworthy madness.
And how can you say no to a band that gives its music titles like "We Enslaved Elves to Build Our Death Machine" or "Trapped Under a Ice?"
Slayer, Mr. Bungle, Meshuggah, Naked City, Estradasphere, the Dillinger Escape Plan, Katatonia, King Crimson, the Haunted... until I discovered the Mass, I did not know that it was even possible to combine all these sounds into one cohesive whole, let alone do so and make it work. This is one of the few CDs that blew me away the first time I listened to it, and continues to get better with every play. I can only wonder whether the Mass will be able to pull off this sort of controlled chaos more than once. Where can they go from here? This is a monstrously powerful debut, barely lacking in any way, virtually perfect in the ears of this listener. Top ten indeed.
Review from DEAD ANGEL:
The poop sheet claims they're influenced mainly by the likes of Mr. Bungle, Dillinger Escape Plan, and Fantomas, bands with which I'm only marginally familiar, but that's okay -- they sound like a lot of other things, too. While they are definitely well in math-rock territory, they also have plenty in common with Frank Zappa, Painkiller, Melvins, Slayer, and a whole pile of other wildly contradictory things. Where they break ranks with most of the other mathematically-inclined bands of late is in the inclusion of a sax player; beyond that, the aforementioned references give you a good idea of what to expect: Lots of frantic everything, propelled by the pummeling drums of Tyler Cox (currently doing double-duty in Totimoshi as well). They have a severe fondness for the abrupt stop 'n start thing (especially on "trapped under a ice"), but this is frequently simply to provide a backdrop for the sax bleating -- and when they decide to drop the no-wave freejazz hijinks and rock out, they abruptly turn into something closer to Helmet with actual talent, or maybe Slayer circa SOUTH OF HEAVEN. Most of the time their riffing is too fast and their song structures too genuinely perverted to make heads or tails of it upon initial contact, and it just barrels over you like a psychotic tossing furniture down a flight of stairs, but when they slow down a bit (as on the first part of "major strip"), their riffs are revealed to be deeply fucked-up and cryptic. (Of course, then they're back to racing down the freeway, moving their hands way too fast to figure out what the hell they're doing, which is the whole point, right?) There are some nifty shrill guitar sounds happening on "treadmill of suffering," along with a madly percolating bass that sounds much like Joy Division on 78 rpm. They actually approximate (sort of) a groove at times on "we enslaved elves to build our death machine" in between blasts of machine-gun drumming, but it is only an illusion, o flower child -- then they're off into hyperjazz land, thumping out devolved beats as the sax player and guitar player trade off ridiculous fast and complicated lines until your head starts to spin. The final audio track, "marca dos invernos," keeps shifting the rhythm and allowing moments for the sax to dominate with lines reminiscent of something from a Blue Note recording -- then the bottom falls out and they lurch madly across the floor with fat-ass riff death and tubbed-out bass before going back to the sax trilling. Matt Waters alternates between sax and vox, but spends far more time blowing than howling, with the result that the album borders on being an instrumental one. Highly complex, aggressive stuff that's all over the place and played with ridiculous dexterity. The disc also comes with a video for "... death machine" (recorded live). Definitely worth checking out if you like listening to the sound of metal guys hyped up on way too many stimulants after rooting around in the no-wave and freejazz collections.
Review from UNCUT MAGAZINE UK :
"Itís been a good year for the still-nascent sub-genre of hardcore punk, which favours light-speed riffing, shrieksome vox and jazzy tempo shifts. Excellent albums from The Locust, Daughters and The Blood Brothers have indicated a possible way out of rockís current trad trough...The bloodthirsty verve with which they go about their angular stories is balanced by excellent musicianship and a keen sense of dynamics. Frippíd love it."
Review from LOGO MAGAZINE UK :
"As though reacting to the faceless nature of contemporary music, this debut from Oakland, Californiaís Mass takes the trend for musical strip-mining to its logical conclusion: raping twenty years of trends to create a fierce, angular hybrid that speaks to the cynic in us all. No-Wave, post-punk, thrash metal and math-rock are crafted into a sheet of purposely Ďdifficultí avant-garde fury; yet, strangely, ĎCity of Disí is by no means distancing...a statement that verges on the political yet avoids parody or empty moralizing. Itís what we always imagined punk was really like, a blast of fetid air blowing away the cobwebs of conformity. The Mass speak the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it is."
Review from ROCK SOUND MAGAZINE :
"Calling all fans of Fant‘mas, The Dillinger Escape Plan or Mr Bungle, there is a new band in town. The Mass owes most of their sound to the previously mentioned bands. Not the three minute rock standards from them , oh no., itís all jagged rhythms and mad sax breaks. The strangest thing about ĎCity Of Disí is the fact that it sounds cohesive. Itís not easy listening, but then I suppose itís not meant to be...The Mass probably owe more to Frank Zappaís weirder moments - I mean, how can you not love an album that contains a song called ĎWe Enslaved Elves To Build Our Death Machineí? To wrap it all up in a nice box, The Mass are a euro metal (but from Oakland CA), art rock, jazz fusion, death metal, pop group. Got that? Good."
Review from METAL-REVIEW Webzine :
Different is good. As metal fans, we call the roads less traveled home. Sometimes though, even the unusual becomes pretty usual. Some fans like it that way and have very little tolerance for things that fall outside the lines of conventional metal. But Iíd like to think that most of us love music enough to welcome some variety within the variety. Unless you do, The Mass just isnít your band. Exhibit A: saxophone. Not exactly a word that elicits visions of church burnings and disemboweling virgins. The sax is an integral part of the bandís identity, and while itís not the single most defining component of their sound, itís uncommon enough to give the band a distinct personality, a trait many bands lack.
City of Dis is the second album from Oakland, Californiaís The Mass, who combine thrash, math metal, hardcore, and jazz into an artful amalgam. The lurching, jagged stop/go riffing of Dillinger Escape Plan is the order of the day, but the riffs themselves are typically more thrash based. The band is amazingly tight and performs with a great deal of precision. This is topped with the manic hardcore vocals of Matt Waters, who also plays saxophone. The sax is present in every song, but not throughout the songs. Instead, Waters picks his moments and provides accompaniment in the style a dual guitarist, or contributes wildly frenetic solos, which sound aggressive and spastic enough to put to rest any doubts regarding the testicular fortitude of the band. If Morphine played metal it would sound something like this.
Part of the charm of City of Dis is its oddness. Not like Mr. Bungle odd, but a more subtle uniqueness. The titles themselves provide ample evidence, and believe it or not, usually prove good descriptors for the tone of the songs. "Treadmill of Suffering" and the seven minute psychotic freak out "We Enslaved Elves To Build Our Death Machine" are perfect examples. The band get Slint-styled arty in a few places, like the beginning of "Marca Dos Invernos" and "Major Strip", which also has Mike Patton in Fantomas-like gang chanting and nonverbal, voice as instrument theatrics. More often than not, however, The Mass deliver angular, off kilter grooves in a kind of math thrash. Songs like "La Porc", "Hex By Hex", and "Trapped Under a Ice" display the bandís ability to manage crunch, technique, and individuality.
There will be those who are suspicious of the metal-ness of the saxophone, or are generally metalcore-phobic who will not give this album a chance. Thatís too bad. Donít let the word hardcore scare you off, these guys combine elements from several genres and subgenres of music, and do so with creativity and style. The bandís website offers up an mp3 of "Treadmill of Suffering". Check it out. Arenít you ready for something different?
Review from OMEGA-GENERATOR Webzine :
Amazed! This is how I felt when Iíve heard this CD for the first time. Progressive-post rock, or art metal, I donít know how I can define it: the promo sheet talk about math-rock and punk-jazz with grindcore vocals and take as reference bands like Mr Bungle, Fantomas, The Dillinger Escape Plane or the Shellac.
Effectively is not a very simple purpose: the use of the sax and the several changes, combined with particular riff and ideas, are the trade mark of this release that explodes like a crazy nightmare. La Porc is the opening track and itís a perfect summary of the Mass-style, offering several perfect rhythm changes combined with strong guitars, raw vocals and jazzy spots: these peculiarity con be found all along the work, even more intense and expanded, finding their higher expression probably in long tracks like Trapped Under A Ice or We Enslave Elves To Built Our Death Machine (the CD features also the live video of this song), where the bandís members can express all their creativity. Buttlip seems to me like an experimental song taken from the early progressive underground with its jazzy parts combined with electric guitars (a metal version of Robert Wyatt?); Marca Dos Invern close the album with another jazz-metal number where the lighter parts leaded by the sax of Matt Waters are devastated by the heavy breaks supported by the distorted guitars. All the band play at a high level, but I would particularly mention the great drum work by Tyler Cox, known also for his work with the psych-sludge-rockers Timotoshi. After all this good words, add that this album is produced by Tim Green (Melvins, The Champs) and that the label add some more references as John Zorn or Frank Zappa (!)...