On their latest, aptly-titled record, “Plague”, the Kingston upon Hull, UK based bleak crossover sludge act MASTIFF took their distinctively dark, nihilistic heaviness to new overwhelming levels! Released in collaboration with APF Records, the offering is shattering throughout, graphic and unfiltered, documenting unspeakable hurt and rather grim themes, explained on our exclusive track by track breakdown below!
Words by James Andrew Lee, Guitarist and Jim Hodge, vocals.
Jim Hodge, vocals: 2018 was a rough year for my mental health, and this song is me trying to exorcise the remnants of that. I went through some difficult stuff in my personal life, and my brain just went down the toilet, I found myself stuck in this loop of self-destructive thought and behaviour and really struggled to break out of it. I felt like I was stuck in a hell of my own creation, hence, ‘Hellcircle’.
James Lee, guitar: Sonically we just wanted this to be a battering ram to open the album in the most aggressive way possible. We knew we wanted everything to smash in at the same time for that maximum impact, which we think we achieved pretty well. This is maybe the most straight-up mosh banger on ‘Plague’, especially when we go from the two-step into that closing breakdown, that was written almost exclusively for the purposes of killing crowds.
Jim: ‘Bubonic’ is where the overarching theme of the album really kicks in. The internet, and social media particularly, have turned people into vapid, immoral monsters, and the longer it’s around, the worse we get as a society. Everyone has this exaggerated, false version of themselves that they sell online, and nobody can really trust that the people they think they know actually are who they say they are, and it’s eroding away at humanity.
James: Though we brought a lot of faster stuff out on ‘Plague’, we wanted to make sure we didn’t completely betray our sludge heritage, so ‘Bubonic’ is the heavy, lurching monster that we came up with to keep one foot in the tar pit. We bring out that classic Mastiff trick of ending the song by playing the same riff but gradually slowing it down until it feels like you’ve been run over by a steamroller. I’m super looking forward to people getting familiar with this one, just so we can have a chorus of voices shouting ‘Eat shit and die’ at us when we play it live.
Jim: Everything turns to shit. That’s what this song is about. A short sentiment for a short song.
James: You’d be shocked to learn that I was heavily listening to Nails when ‘Brainbleed’ happened. This song just formed in my head, start-to-finish, and I carried it around for a couple of weeks before I put it to the rest of the band. It took about half an hour from me explaining the concept to us having the finished track. I mean, it’s only 45 seconds long, but still.
Jim: ‘Quarantine’ and ‘Torture’ are both heavily linked in that they’re basically about the same thing. I don’t want to get into specifics because that’s for me to know, but they’re aimed at a particular person who I am not a fan of, and these two songs are me choosing to vent and air out my grievances rather than dwell and let this garbage stew in my head.
James: I wrote the intro riff with the idea that it would have a Trap Them-kinda feeling, thinking that it would start a faster song, but when I took it to practice and we jammed it out it ended up turning into this monolithic sludge banger instead. Sometimes you just have to let loose and see where the song takes you. We were definitely going for a bit of an Amenra/Cult Of Luna vibe with the instrumental part in the middle, even to the point that Dan (Dolby, bass) busted some synth out in the studio for it, giving it this creepy atmosphere that we haven’t really explored before.
Jim: Though most of the album deals with the shit people get up to on the internet, ‘Vermin’ is also loosely aimed at our piece-of-shit government. Politicians are always lying to us, no matter what side of the fence they sit on, but our current ‘leaders’ are taking that bullshit to the next level, and innocent people are suffering because of it.
James: Phil (Johnson, guitar) had an idea about this synchronised guitar chug/snare roll intro, which we played around with and then just followed it with what felt most natural, which was obviously a massive mosh part, followed by another 3 minutes of massive mosh parts. I grew up with and loved the late 90’s/early 00’s metalcore scene, and try wherever I can to bring a little bit of that into Mastiff, and ‘Vermin’ was perfect for throwing those droning, atonal ‘panic chords’ all over, giving it a bit of a Zao/Martyr AD vibe. This was the last song we wrote for the album, and wasn’t even meant to be on ‘Plague’ – we thought we were done and had floated the idea of a split single with one of our label-mates, which this was written for. Once it was done though, we knew it had to go on the album, it was too perfect for it, and we had to put ‘Plague’ first on our priorities list.
Jim: As above, ‘Torture’ has a very specific someone dead in its sights.
James: ‘Torture’ was the first song we wrote for the album, and it set a mood and level of intensity that shaped the whole record. I’d been listening to Cult Leader quite a bit when we were about to start writing, and love how they do slow riffs with crazy blast beats, and wanted to give something similar a go. This is definitely the first time we’ve ever done a grind part in waltz time, and though the opening probably isn’t the easiest thing we’ve ever written to headbang to, it’s got a queasy lurch to it that I really love. Mike (Shepherd, drums) absolutely destroys on this track, especially in the blast part before the Slayer breakdown at the end.
Jim: Sometimes we all let other people get into our heads and cause massive amounts of anxiety and depression. I’ve dealt with this a lot personally and am trying to learn to let it go, and not allow others to to get to me, and that’s what this song is about. It’s actually weirdly optimistic, as it’s me looking ahead to things being better, or ‘until I weep no more’.
James: Like ‘Hellcircle’, this is a pretty straightforward hardcore song, which is why we made sure they were at opposite ends of the album. Not because they’re too similar necessarily, we just wanted to make sure there was another fast song later on before the big closer. We’re far from what you could describe as a death metal band, but the blast part in the bridge was definitely inspired by ‘Heartwork’-era Carcass. This might also have my favourite breakdown that we’ve ever done.
Jim: ‘Black Death’ is a musical re-working of an older Mastiff track named ‘Death’, but the lyric and meaning hasn’t changed for me. 8 years ago my wife and I lost our infant son, and this song deals with not only the grief I still feel, but also how people at the time tried to push us into using faith and religion as a method of healing, when we just felt completely fucked over by any and every God.
James: ‘Death’ was an old Mastiff song that predated my time in the band, but was one we’d still play live after I joined. It had some awesome heavy riffs, but also a couple of clunkier parts that didn’t really feel like they belonged to this band anymore. We talked about re-working the song as the album closer, I was initially pushing for some twisted black metal version, but thankfully sense prevailed and we went full doom instead. When everything kicks back in at the end after the prolonged feedback/drum fills, the hair on the back of my neck still stands on end. Even if we were playing to a click (which we definitely weren’t), I don’t think we could’ve come back in together that perfectly. We recorded ‘Black Death’ in a single take, thankfully it was a good one because it’s such an emotionally and physically draining song to play, I don’t think we could’ve done it again if we tried.