My first review under my own moniker here at AMG LLC Sole Proprietorship & Sons was for an unholy mix of plodding sludge doom and breakneck hardcore. If you can remember lo those many weeks ago, I concluded that however much you enjoyed each individual component, the combination never truly gelled. Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about metal, it’s that if a hybrid style exists at all, someone out there is doing that shit right. I submit to you now Plague, the second full-length from misery making monsters Mastiff (Muppet, meet thy match) who play just such a mix. Although they produce ugly, scraping sludge, Mastiff didn’t crawl out of the Louisiana swamps, and while their hardcore is vile and irreverent, they don’t hail from the blighted urban centers of New England. In fact, they’re from old England, specifically North Sea adjacent Kingston upon Hull. Geographical origin is frankly unimportant, as this is music straight from a parallel torture dimension.
With Plague, Mastiff have committed to record some of the most disgustingly heavy music you’ll hear all year. On top of that, it’s also some of the filthiest sludge you’ll ever trudge through. This is like being force-fed a sack full of muddy gravel and then taking body blows from a heavyweight boxer for 32 minutes. “Hellcircle” kicks things off with a terrifying soundscape intro the likes of which is usually reserved for blackened death metal. When the music kicks in, the track aptly introduces the three tempos that define Plague: balls-out hardcore punk, mid-paced bowel-shaking chugs, and slow drawl sludge doom that really draws out the suffering. This trifecta is perfected in second track “Bubonic,” which rhythmically beats against your head for two minutes before a gang-shouted “EAT SHIT AND DIE” kicks off a furious blast of aggression. This gives way to a final minute of perfectly balanced doom dread and hardcore intensity.
Most of the eight songs on Plague present an amalgam of unpredictable tempo shifts, but two tracks distill things down to the extremes. “Brainbleed” is an unapologetic grindcore explosion that will turn Full of Hell fan heads, if they can forgive the excessive one-minute, nine-second runtime. On the other end of the spectrum, closer “Black Death” is the nine-minute fulfillment of a sludge doom promise made in fleeting moments throughout the album. This is the genre done to perfection, proving that when angry is played slow, it’s all the more terrifying. It is viscerally and existentially heavy in a way that beats Primitive Man at their own game. The song is a hateful anthem spit into the indifferent void.
A point of interest on the production side of things, Plague was recorded live–in what I can only picture as a rusted out and gutted industrial ruin–then mixed and mastered by Mikey Scott. Making “Black Death” even more impressive, it was apparently recorded in just one take. There is a slight downside to this approach, however. Jim Hodge’s vocal performance is one of the most guttural, painful sounding renditions of the human voice I can think of and it fits the music to a T, but on the album’s most straight-forward hardcore moments, he can sound garbled in a way that would likely be fixed by a separately recorded vocal track. These are also some of the less impactful moments musically, namely the opening volley of “Hellcircle” and most of penultimate track “Weep,” but that’s only when compared to the considerable strength of Mastiff firing on all their mixed-genre cylinders.
The styles that Mastiff melt together here aren’t known for being the most technically impressive, but that doesn’t mean the band isn’t bursting with talent. This is brutish, pulverizing music made challenging by smartly placed transitions both subtle and jarring. There won’t be many albums released in 2019 that match Plague for either heaviness or filth, so whenever you feel the need to break things, possibly starting with your own body, give this a spin or three.