For the better part of the past six years, Hull’s Mastiff has been slowly festering in the underbelly of the UK’s underground scene. A handful of demos and 2016’s Wrank set expectations for the band to become mainstays of any grotty pub or club gig you’d care to attend, and Plague (APF Records) continues their trend of spreading as much abject misery as musically possible.
‘Hellcircle’ sets the tone with an atmospheric void of dread, the eerie stillness matching the distressing plague-inspired album artwork before a galloping riff and cannon fire-like drums crush any notion that this was going to be a subtle, brooding affair. It shortly gives way to the deathly trudge of ‘Bubonic’ and the Black Breath-esque ‘Brainbleed’ with its Crust Punk ferocity that ends in the blink of an eye.
The distressing tension does return throughout, however, as the genuinely unsettling sobs that open ‘Quarantine’ capture the kind of encroaching horror that is to follow with a slow, lumbering, sludgy riff that only becomes more terrifying when backed up by Jim Hodge’s drawn-out, spiteful vocals. You can almost feel every bit of spit and bile coming from his voice as if the words are being solely directed at your face specifically. Maybe you didn’t do anything to deserve such treatment, but that’s too bad because for the half an hour it takes to endure Plague, you are the victim.
Even when we get to the hardcore beatdowns of ‘Vermin’ we’re reminded that Mastiff has more than just one rotten string to their bow. It pushes and pulls, switching tempo at key points to really make the most of, arguably, the best riff on the record, the crashing cymbals, and the gang vocals that add to their innate pit-starting vibe.
The nine-minute closer ‘Black Death’ does an even better job of capturing the band’s live presence, as it was recorded entirely in one take. The dragging pauses, the recurring reverb, and the pained vocals that only become more strained as the track progresses all feed off one another creating this dank miasma that you can’t help but be engrossed by.
There is always the argument as to whether a record that is genuinely unpleasant to listen to is really any good, but at the end of the day, Plague is incredibly infectious – just like any good disease. It is equal parts exhilarating and utterly disgusting, and only made more impactful by its brevity and abrasiveness.
8 / 10