I first caught wind of Oakland’s The Mass just before City of Dis dropped in 2003. Immediately I was intrigued by the band’s perplexing mix of hardcore, math rock, and jazz sax. The album had its moments, but other than just being an interesting listen it really didn’t do much for me. They followed that up with 2005’s Perfect Picture of Wisdom and Boldness, which marked a huge step in the right direction for the band with increased cohesion. Where City of Dis felt like they were really reaching for ideas, Perfect Picture seemed like the ideas were coming to them more naturally. Now with this super limited (only 200 copies!) EP the band looks to have reeled in their sound even further, sounding like a band that is totally in control of their music.
For the uninitiated, The Mass sound something like the resulting mess of throwing Botch, Don Caballero, John Coltrane, and anything from Amphetamine Reptile into a giant blender and hitting puree. Within a few minutes of any given song you might be engulfed in chaotic hardcore fury then quickly pummeled by a crushing slab of sludge only to be completely blindsided by a doomy groove accompanied by a psychedelic sax solo. And you’ll fucking like it. Holocene #6 is more of the same from The Mass, but this time around every tempo shift, every style deviation feels purposeful.
Closer, “I Lirska Bistrica” is an 11+ minute behemoth that by itself justifies the purchase of this EP. It is, by far the DOOOOOM-iest track the band has recorded to date with subtle shifts in the riffing to remind you The Mass loves their math rock, and one of the more effective sax parts herein. Lucky for you there are three shorter but equally pummeling tracks before it.
– Metal Review
PERFECT PICTURE OF WISDOM AND BOLDNESS:
“The barrier between metal and jazz has been pierced again. Like Chicago’s Yakuza, the Bay Area thrash outfit The Mass augment their high-speed, staccato riffing with fluid, almost (dare I say it) harmolodic saxophone lines from vocalist Matt Walters. There are times when Walters launches into screeching, post-Ayler solos, in the manner of Steve Mackay on the Stooges’ Fun House or Bruce Lamont on Yakuza’s Way Of The Dead; the just-under-90-second “Gas Pipe” is the most extreme track on the disc, from this angle. But most of the time he does something far more interesting, adapting the cyclical, repetitive riffs of thrash metal for the saxophone. This is a change from the last album, City Of Dis, where the saxophone was as prominent as the songs were crude; Walters floated atop the primitive guitar-bass-drums crunch like Ornette Coleman fronting Napalm Death. The moody “Meditations On The Some Carcass” is the biggest leap forward for the band, stylistically and technically; it layers a bleak sax solo atop a doom-metal death march, to excellent, almost psychedelic effect. For the most part, though, Perfect Picture Of Wisdom And Boldness is an unsubtle, skull-cracking record that owes as much to My War-era Black Flag as it does to intricate, knuckle-popping thrash. Walters has no interest in stopping the moshpit so listeners can admire his nimble finger technique. Fans of the Flying Luttenbachers, Paul Flaherty, and whatever’s passing for underground punk rock these days will all find something here to inspire hours of spastic contortions.”
— Phil Freeman, The Wire (UK) Oct 2005
Lords of Metal, Oct 2005: review
CITY OF DIS:
“It’s 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 rock’s current trad trough. Oakland, CA’s The Mass lack the futuristic, synthoid edge of those bands, but their sax-assisted Crimson-meets-Slayer hybrid is a lot of fun. The bloodthirsty verve with which they go about their angular stories is balanced by excellent musicianship and a keen sense of dynamics. Fripp’d love it.”
— review of City of Dis in Uncut Magazine (UK), December 2003
“As though reacting to the faceless nature of contemporary music, this debut from Oakland, California’s 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 ‘difficult’ avant-garde fury; yet, strangely, ‘City of Dis’ is by no means distancing. Instead, this is pure dissent, a statement that verges on the political yet avoids parody or empty moralizing. It’s 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 of City of Dis in Logo Magazine (UK), October 2003
“Calling all fans of Fantomas, 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., it’s all jagged rhythms and mad sax breaks. The strangest thing about ‘City Of Dis’ is the fact that it sounds cohesive. It’s not easy listening, but then I suppose it’s not meant to be. Dog Fashion Disco have a more pop mentality, whereas The Mass probably owe more to Frank Zappa’s weirder moments – I mean, how can you not love an album that contains a song called ‘We Enslaved Elves To Build Our Death Machineï¿½? 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 of City of Dis in Rock Sound (UK), November 2003
“More instrumental than vocal in vocation, the Mass is a creature stranger than that appearing on the cover (of the CD). The first track’s rhythm moves like an unruly mob with an I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude without precedent. A wild, out-of-control ride testing the limits of the ridiculous and useless. For some, a radical vision of humanity without purpose and for others, the pure product of the highest degree of derision and perhaps even genius. The Mass has the talent of challenging and perplexing you. Definitely eccentric, but above all, exploring a new sound somewhere between Shellac’s math-rock, Sweep the Leg Johnny’s deranged-indie, Masada’s free-jazz and the hard rock of Judas Priest. You never quite know how to categorize or process this music, but somewhere you find a niche for this heavy, virulent world which unexpectedly surrounds you.”
— review of s/t EP at Killwhat (France) translated by Chris Schreiner
“The Mass are a lot of things mixed together: Metal, free jazz, blues, punk, and rock. Reminding me of Mr. Bungle without the grasping for trying to be purposely bizarre and eccentric. Four talented musicians who’s undying love for metal approach the songs on their own terms, in order to keep it interesting for them. No rules, no boundaries. This ep has gone highly underrated as it remains too strange to really even show up on the radar. The opening metal riffs to “Mostly Michael Schenker” are fabulous and even find the singer indulging in a trail of high sung parts like King Diamond. kick ass. In the very same song, about two minutes later, we find a doodling saxophone and carefully picked guitar. We don’t get too much of a rest before the band is back pounding on their instruments again. I won’t give away the ending, but it’s quite thrilling.”
— review of s/t EP at sincere brutality
“Angry guitar riffs and screams followed by…a saxophone solo- This is the unusual music of The Mass, whose love of metal is matched by their love of smooth jazz. The screams are sporadic, and the jazz injections happen without warning, making this album excitingly unpredictable.”
— review of s/t EP at impact press – aug/sep 2002