Vocals – Jim Hodge
Guitars – James Andrew Lee
Guitars – Phil Johnson
Bass – Dan Dolby
Drums – Michael Shepherd
Time For Metal / René W.: Hello guys,
I’m glad you found time to talk about your new album, Leave Me The Ashes Of The Earth. First of all, I would like to know why you named yourselves after a breed of dog and where did you first meet to start the project?
Very happy to be here talking about our ugly little album, so thanks for having us! Almost all of the guys in Mastiff have been playing in bands together for many years, the local scene in Hull where we’re from is quite small and so you find that the same faces keep popping up in bands over time. The original version of the band actually changed the name to Mastiff at the last-minute as they were about to play in a battle of the bands and felt that our original name was too generic and didn’t really speak to the sonic nature of the band. Mastiff just sounds blunt and aggressive, exactly like our music. It was only a while later we discovered that there are other bands with the same name out in the world, but by that point it had stuck and we didn’t have the will to change it again!
Time For Metal / René W.: These days, you are releasing your third album. For me, it was the first contact with your music, and I have to say that the force of the record was immediately convincing. How did you develop, and what can I expect from the first two records?
Mastiff: We’re very grateful that people like yourself are enjoying hearing our miserable noise for the first time. Though we’ve got a bit of a reputation in the U.K. Heavy music scene, we knew when we signed with eOne that a lot of people in other parts of the world would be brand new to us, we’re just happy that this record is their introduction as it’s by far our favourite thing we’ve ever made. If you listened back through our older records in order – Wrank, the EP Bork, and Plague – you can hear a distinct progression as we gain confidence as a band and as songwriters. Mastiff was a lot more sludge and doom-oriented to begin with, but when myself and Dan joined just before Bork, things started getting a little faster and more grindcore influenced, which was elaborated on with Plague. With ‘Leave Me…, I think we finally found a way to incorporate the more downbeat original sound with our more caustic, vicious leanings and create something that’s the ideal version of this band.
Time For Metal / René W.: You are now under contract with eOne. What do you hope for from this step, and how difficult is it for you to hand over tasks to someone else?
Oh we LOVE handing tasks over to other people, haha! Seriously though, when we started talking to eOne Heavy we genuinely couldn’t believe it – not because we didn’t think we had a great album on our hands, but because we didn’t anticipate we would even be on the radar of a label of their size and reputation. But from the first conversations onwards everyone there has been so enthusiastic and helpful, aside from there being a few more links in the chain than our old label we still feel like we’ve been looked after on a very personal level, we’re never chasing faceless people for answers. And they’ve already done so much for us that we’ve never really had before in terms of getting us out there in people’s faces, just being able to do interviews like this is a huge luxury for us that we really appreciate.
Time For Metal / René W.:
Leave Me The Ashes Of The Earth is an incredible genre bastard. Where do you get all the anger from, and what themes do you deal with in the nine new songs?
We’ve always treated Mastiff like a collective dumping ground of all of our collective frustration and anger, and the new album is no exception. On a daily basis none of us are particularly angry or aggressive, and take great pride in being friendly and approachable to anyone who speaks to us, but I think that’s because we all have this band as a stress-relief tool. It allows us to healthily pour all of the pent-up anger into something positive. But that’s why our music always sounds so negative! Unlike our last album ‘Plague’, ‘Leave Me…’ doesn’t necessarily have a single strong concept, but as ever our songs focus on the more negative aspects of the human condition. There are songs about broken-down relationships, betrayal, suffering abuse, political corruption, etc. A nice mix of miserable topics! Musically, we all have quite varying tastes when it comes to heavy and non-heavy music, obviously most of our influence comes from the former but little ideas do sneak in from outside our realm too. As time has gone on and we’ve written and released more material, we’ve pushed our boundaries out further and further to the point where we can comfortably integrate all kinds of extremes into our sound without losing that magic essence that makes it recognisably Mastiff. Our goal is always to let each song have its own identity – sometimes extreme bands have a very set style and every song is just a different combination of the same basic elements. Though that’s true of us to a degree, we’ve made strides to mix it up stylistically across the album, so you go from straight grind on ‘Fail’ to sludgy metalcore on ‘Repulse’, blackened death metal on ‘Scalped And Salted’ and the doom of ‘Lung Rust’. There’s something for everyone!
Time For Metal / René W.: Let’s go further into the songs: Why did you choose a relatively clear cut at the beginning and the end, and let the whole Mastiff-hardness hang out in between?
Mastiff: The intro track The Hiss was actually the last thing that was written for the album, and in a very rare instance of purpose for us it was pieced together specifically as the opening. We generally don’t have any intent album-wise when we write each song, it’s usually a bit further down the line when we’re getting close to having enough tracks for a full album that we really think about how they’ll best flow together. But with The Hiss we knew we wanted this slow, creeping chant that grows and grows in volume and intensity that then just explodes straight into Fail with no warning. Lung Rust evolved from a song I wrote some years ago that used to be faster and more hardcore-infused, but when we tackled the song together it slowed to a crawl and became a grander, more oppressive thing that felt like the best way to end the album, particularly when we got to the studio and were able to build the wall of noise that closes it. If you pay close enough attention, you’ll notice too that the eerie guitar that chimes out over The Hiss is the same as the part that ends ‘Lung Rust’ but in a slightly different key, and the album starts and then ends with the same pulsing synth noise. Not accidental, we can assure you.
Time For Metal / René W.: The artwork is dark like the soul of the record. What does that have to do with the cup or the focus of the record?
Mastiff: The art was done by a marvellous guy who is known professionally as True Spilt Milk Designs, and who’s based in Brighton, U.K. – we were a fan of his art and when we got talking to him we basically just sent him the album and asked him to interpret it however he felt best. The very first rough idea he came back with was what ended up being the design we went with – a stark and minimal illustration of a funeral urn, which worked perfectly with the album’s title and general mood. Our music can get quite chaotic so we loved the idea of something quite morose but serene for the cover, and TSMD nailed it.
Time For Metal / René W.: After the first track, Fail made me think that you are celebrating a deadly mix of Napalm Death, Crowbar and old-school deathcore that also looks at American death metal.
Those are all very well observed influences, Napalm Death particularly are a big influence on our sound in general, they still have a solid footing in the grindcore sound that they helped to invent, but they’ve been able to pull influence from so many parts of the heavy music world – death metal, industrial, sludge, hardcore – and made it all work and sound natural within their overall sonic palate, which is definitely what we’re aiming to achieve too. Fail was actually the first song on the album we wrote, at the time were planning on making a full-on grind EP, we wrote two songs – the other being Acid Breather which then got poached for the Cyberpunk 2077 soundtrack – but then we came up with Futile which was totally different, and rather than try force the pure grind thing we just went with the flow and ended up making an album instead.
Time For Metal / René W.: Kingston Upon Hull is quite far away from the bigger scenes of Manchester, Leeds or Sheffield. How well organised are you, and what opportunities are there to perform in front of your home crowd?
To be completely honest, though we all feel at least some degree of affection towards Hull, as a band we feel much more warmly welcomed in cities like Manchester, Leeds and London. Our home town can be quite divided when it comes to the music scenes here, on the whole it’s more of an indie-rock city, and even the heavier music scene doesn’t really embrace us all that much. We have fans and supporters here for sure, and we appreciate any love we get, but we really try not to play Hull to much as we find people get bored quickly and crowds tend to dwindle. We are hoping though that on the back of our eOne deal and the new album we might find some more local fans so that when we do play, more people actually show up!
Time For Metal / René W.: After the first album, you did the live record, Bork. Where was the performance recorded, and how did you come up with the idea of capturing such early concert impressions?
So Bork isn’t a live album in the traditional sense – it was recorded in a studio, and most of the tracks took multiple takes to get down. But owing to the tight schedule we had – only 2 days to track, mix and master the whole thing – to maximise our time we opted to record everything at once playing as we would live. We actually recorded most of Plague the same way, though we were a bit better rehearsed for that album so we had a little more time for overdubs and extra vocals and just adding more details. Both of those releases were recorded with our old friend Mikey Scott in Hull, he moved studios between releases but it was all captured on essentially the same gear. As much as we made those records that way more for practical reasons, it is important to us that we retain the basic essence of our live show on our records, as that’s the way we feel we come across best. So even though we spent more time fine-tuning ‘Leave Me…’, the basic bones of the album are still us playing the songs in a room together, and I imagine we’ll always make records that way to some degree.
Time For Metal / René W.: Live remains an exciting topic these days. Here in Germany, the event industry is still almost at a standstill, and only small open-air gigs are possible. What about you in the UK – can you present the new material at a small release party?
Live music is back to a degree in the U.K., a couple of festivals like Bloodstock and the smaller-scaled Download Pilot have gone ahead in the last few months, and smaller shows have started happening again, but as is the case everywhere it seems that bigger tours – particularly when international artists are involved – are still being pulled and rescheduled. It’s definitely sad, but the kinda positive outcome is that our own home-grown bands are getting a bit more of a look-in than they normally would. As for us, we’re slowly getting back at it – we’ve played a couple of smaller shows and one big but socially-distanced and seated one, and we have a 6-date U.K. tour with our friends Calligram in October that we’re really looking forward to. We haven’t booked an official record release show though, a lot of local venues in Hull are still only just getting back up on their feet so it’s been hard to secure a space for it, though we do have a hometown show pencilled in a couple of weeks after Leave Me… drops, so that will serve the purpose well enough.
Time For Metal / René W.: Last but not least, I thank you for a very well done album entitled Leave Me The Ashes Of The Earth, and I also wish you all the best for the future. The last word belongs to you alone, as is my tradition, and you can address it to your followers and our readers.
Again, we really appreciate the kindness that yourselves and anyone who’s heard the album already have shown us, as already mentioned we fully expect that Leave Me The Ashes Of The Earth will be the first time a lot of people are going to hear Mastiff, so for people to be paying attention and enjoying it is hugely rewarding for us. We put our hearts and souls into this record and think that it shows, and we have to thank eOne for taking a chance on us with it, we just hope it pays off! If you’re in the U.K. we hope we see you on our tour in October as that should be off the chain, and if you’re anywhere else in the world – hopefully 2022 will be kinder to international touring and we can come rip some heads off in your country too!