Before this review I had never heard of Mastiff. When I first plucked it out of the available albums, I was reluctant. My first thought was ‘How cool would a band named Mastiff be?‘ I was worried this was going to be a stock run of the mill release, with not much happening behind it. Much to my chagrin, the energy on this fucking thing is intoxicating, and it kicked me in the face with no remorse, leaving me glad I was wrong to ever doubt these guys.
Inhabiting a very interesting grey area between blackened sludge and powerviolence, Mastiff don’t overthink any element of this album, exchanging overwrought composition for breakneck-paced brutality from end to end, and it all comes off refreshing and ready for the live stage. That approach pays off because things never get boring on Leave Me The Ashes Of The Earth. The fast-paced nature of most of the release actually allows them to shine when they do decide to slow things down, and their flexible dynamic range is showcased best when Mastiff switches from a doomy intro to a brutal powerviolence jaunt, followed by solid sludge offerings that maintain vibrancy.
The slow, lurching introduction acts as a bait and switch for what follows, but does a good job employing a writhing sense of dread before the distraught non-stop assault begins. Employing the volume mixing towards the end of the track as foreshadowing was a nice touch that resonated well in headphones.
The production is clean throughout. The drums resonate, and decimate on the blast beats Mastiff employs regularly; the guitars also sound well-rounded, balancing the multitude of influences well. It was refreshing to get hardcore breakdowns with powerviolence resonance and hints of black metal rearing up here and there. Jim Hodge’s vocals also stand out, as he does a good job of enunciating enough to understand the lyrics without needing to look them up, but never goes clean or contrived. That’s not really something I thought I’d enjoy in a heavier release, but it was a refreshing addition.
Two standout tracks, “Fail” and “Lung Rust” (which also happen to be the shortest and longest track, respectively), demonstrate the flexibility in dynamics Mastiff are capable of. “Fail” clocks in at 1:15 minutes, and showcases Mastiff‘s heavy hardcore leanings – it’s comparable to Black Tusk‘s punky elements, and has a duality of fun and destructive energies that should open the pit pretty effectively.
“Lung Rust” takes the opposite approach with it’s 7-minute runtime, but by employing more time for the track to breathe (heh), it enables the slow lurch of dread to creep in, and encases the dynamic range this band is capable of. Nails‘ closer “They Keep Crawling Back” on the glorius You Will Never Be One Of Us comes to mind, but while that track maintains a comparable chord progression throughout, “Lung Rust” mutates nicely from one element to the next.
“Midnight Creeper” is punchy as fuck. Every riff and blast beat sounds like a flurry of punches before it all just breaks down into a blackened powerviolence fever dream of destruction. “Repulse” balances a groovier tempo that reflect Mastiff‘s raw and fun energy, but doesn’t slow down for anyone to catch their breath. The breakdown at the end will make all the hardcore kids swoon the slower and nastier it gets.
These 30 minutes are a fucking blast. It makes me sad I’ve slept on this band for so long, and in exploring their back catalog of releases I missed, I see their approach to each album carries a different weight. Compared to those last two releases, Mastiff sound fully formed on Leave Me The Ashes of The Earth, and it definitely has multiple re-listen appeal. I’d love to see them roll through the states to see if the energy of their live shows matches the fucking explosion this album is.