England has its fair share of world-class extreme metal bands, and it looks like another is about to enter the magic circle with Hull quintet, Masttiff, signing to eOne Music for the release of their latest record. If you haven’t heard Mastiff, prepare for your intestines to rupture and your bowels to fail you. Their hybrid brand of sludge and grindcore is nastier than a bout of swine flu.
The hometown of a band does not always seep through into the music, otherwise sunny Florida would have given us something a lot more cheerful than death metal. But Mastiff are as miserable as their native city of Hull in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The ugly bass guitar distortion and solemn drum beat of opening track, ‘The Hiss’, are a clear indication that this album knows only the pit of despair. The sparse guitar chords buried in the cacophony of bubbling low-end noise offer a faint opening of light, but it sounds like the band are in the rehearsal room next to you and trying to break through the walls. Perhaps post-black metal is the most apt description for the four minutes of this song, yet you’re still wondering what just happened when they turn the volume up and hit you with ‘Fail’. Now this is HEAVY. Imagine a sludge band covering Napalm Death’s Enemy of the Music Business with two guitars panned in each ear and a layer of screeching feedback permeating through the sonic assault. Vocalist, Jim Hodge, sounds more furious than a blue-collar Hull worker who learns that his factory job is being outsourced to China.
You’ll find no mediocre cuts here. ‘Repulse’ is what Sepultura’s A-lex album of 2009 should have sounded like with better focus. Those chunky riffs and nasty chord shapes give it a stomach-churning brutality few bands would dare to match with the same level of miserable relish. It’s as heavy as Neurosis and determined to beat you into submission with a grinding breakdown at the end that seems designed for the rehearsal of a slow suicide than a mosh pit. In case you’re not crawling on the floor with appendicitis, they follow it with the grindcore brilliance of ‘Midnight Creeper’ and throw in a sludge metal version of Machine Head’s ending to ‘Locust’ for good measure. Hodge is hysterical here and on the excellent ‘Biege Sabbath’, where his screams of “Same old shit – nothing’s changed!” ring out like the words of a man behind on his rent payments and with no prospect of repaying his outstanding loans. And where the hell did those blast beats come from? It’s a question that repeats itself on more than one occasion.
Michael Shepherd’s drum work on standout track, ‘Endless’, is as powerful as Hodge’s throat-shredding screams of “Endless suffering – endless pain!”. The frontman’s incandescent rage goes beyond the harrowing self-hatred of his contemporaries in the post-metal scene and aims to outdo the early Swans records for intensity. Play it back again and you’ll pick up on the second guitar rhythm fretting death metal tremolo patterns over the morass of distorted bass and sludgy chord changes.
But perhaps the biggest surprise here is the atmospheric quality of the music despite the murderous levels of aggression. Closing track, ‘Lung Rust’, is like Lithuanian noise merchants, Erdve, covering the avant-garde doom metal of Triptykon. You don’t slit your wrists to this type of oppressive noise – you hang your self with a garrotte wire in the hope it will take your head off in one gruesome sweep. The sludge-thrash hybrid of ‘Scalped’ is morbid enough to make you smile. How can a band record music as hostile and fiendish as this? You’ll find no gimmicks or studio trickery here – just inhumane rage.
Leave Me the Ashes of the Earth is a masochistic masterpiece. It’s nasty, brutish, unsentimental, and emotive. This is what the Old Testament God felt like when summoning his powers to flood the world and start over again with Noah and kin as the sole human survivors.
Release Date: 10/09/2021
Record Label: eOne Music
Standout tracks: Repulse, Midnight Creeper, Endless
Suggested Further Listening: Erdve – Savigaila (2021), Napalm Death – Enemy of the Music Business (2000), Urne – Serpent & Spirit (2021)