Friday, 27 December 2013

Sonic Mass - All Creatures Strange (album review)

Cover artwork by Barney Bodoano.
Much of the latter half of 2012 and the first half of 2013 I was creeped out by goats.  You see, East London's Sonic Mass had song up called "The Goat of Mendhis" for their then-current 'Magnetic Electric' EP [watch it on youtube here].  It was one of, if not THEE most evil sounding song I'd ever heard and probably remains so, taking the impenetrably dark vibe of Black Sabbath's titular song and turning off the lights on it while drawing the curtains closed with the opening line "I am the Anti-Christ".  The scene is then set.  It gave me exactly what I look for in my doom music.  But it traumatized me and every time I look at a goat I now wonder if I'm not looking at the anti-christ.  Maybe I don't understand things like song lyrics and point-of-view, but oh well.

Since the 'Magnetic Electric' EP was released the band has been around the old lineup change carousel and the old bandcamp page featuring the 'Magnetic Electric' EP has been taken down.  It is now an evil relic of the internet age, lost in a haunted scrapyard, spoken of only in harsh whispers.  Also lost is the band's self-titled EP from 2011, gone down the memory hole.  When the band finally did re-emerge this spring they came with what was essentially a completely different sound from what I was expecting (that I kept "Goat" in my constant rotation all along didn't help either, if I'd have payed just a bit more attention to the other songs on the 'Magnetic' EP I'd have seen how little a departure it truly was).  But that doesn't mean that "Widow Stone" wasn't amazing, for those keeping track at home it did make it to the top spot on my Top 25 songs list.  The 10-minute "Widow Stone" was a true epic and we'll touch on that one in a bit, but by the way, that early version of the song has joined its sibling E.P.'s at the bottom of the memory hole as well.  A new version occupies track three of 'All Creatures Strange'.

So why the memory hole anyway?  Is the band so dark and are they so disturbed by their own creations that they feel the need to create ... and then destroy their own monsters?  Are they tortured genius perfectionists, never satisfied with the fruits of their own labors, hiding their history in shame?  I don't know, but if I had to guess, I'd say the band prefers to show their work in completed form, in the best recorded version and also, importantly, the band doesn't shy away from recycling old pieces and concepts from old songs and re-working them into new ones.

All of that leads to this, "Iron Bong", the opening track from 'All Creatures Strange' and the beginning of a sound that has been perfected over the course of years (the band started up in 2007) into the psychedelic showcase before us.  Sonic Mass has proven an accurate name for the band, the idea of it goes far beyond simple heaviness or riff worship.  There is a mass of musical ideas on display, a techno-organic forest of sounds, ideas growing on top of ideas beneath a canopy of distortion.  Changing ideas unfold in non-euclidian nightmares of transmorphism.  Four minutes into the opening track, the familiar pattern changes giving way to a discordant coda, changing the complexion of the whole song, jarring the listener and challenging you to pay attention.  The ears prick up, this is good!  It's something the band does over and over throughout the course of the album, they take you in one direction, hypnotize you, and then when you least expect it, throw a vat of discord in your face.  Sonically, it's a paranoid's nightmare!  It's also an astonishingly simplistic technique that works wonders, hey, bands have doing this sort of thing since the time of The Beatles, but is often ignored by today's bands.  It remains a classy technique to drive dynamics.  The best example of this is the aforementioned "Widow Stone" which begins with an awesome, classic heavy riff and eventually winds up as a mindbending shamanistic ritual complete with eerie backmasking and reverse loops.  It's a completely unexpected turn and it's a beautiful thing.

Perhaps the eeriest thing of all is that the band members themselves seem like just normal guys who just so happen to play music and to take that music into some pretty far out places.  The band gives David Icke a dynamic tongue-in-cheek lift through syncopated landscapes on "Rise of the Royal Reptiles", but as I mentioned earlier some of those far out places are points in their own history.  "Black Acid Nightmare" is a re-working of their own song "Darke Hearse", and I'd say the new version has a bit more oomph.  "Pentagon Chameleon - To The Devil... A Daughter" and "All Creatures Strange" both bump up against the treacherous shores of "sound painting", but remain distinctly musical.  The album, taken in a single dose, is extremely psychedelic, perhaps startlingly so.  Ideas are fluid things here, choruses are memorable and often exciting, the overall tone of the album is one of feeling around the shadow world of an unfamiliar corridor, you may find yourself falling into rooms, tumbling down flights of stairs that are where they shouldn't be or plunging into a murky aquatic world of deep discordant tone.  But one day, and I know it's coming soon, I will make a wrong turn down a corridor lit by moonlight streaming through an open window.  The light will feel safe and inviting.  And I know, friends!  I know that that's when the goat will appear, eyes a-blazing, horns a-gleaming...

Highlights include: "Widow Stone" and "Rise of the Royal Reptile"

Rating: 4.5/5

Total Run Time: 46:24

From: London, England

Genre: Psychedelic, Stoner Rock, Doom

Reminds me of: Blue Cheer, Cream, March the Desert, The Open Mind

Release Date: December 8, 2013

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