On the Bandcamp page for this album when the press release ascribes the band with being “intent on bringing fresh… song writing (sic) to the fore,” it sort of jolts the reader to see that term “song writing” at all. These tracks on Masque, that is, are physical, gauntlet-like journeys, the accomplishments of which have way more to do with technical skill, having rubber fingers and generally just being able to somehow avoid crushing tendinitis (and lacerated vocal chords, of course), than any premeditating “writing” would seem to bear. Indeed, more than any band I’ve heard this year, Dublin’s newest metal sons Vircolac belt out music that is the result of doing its homework in the practice room — of jams, of annexing songs and probably listening to a lot of Pig Destroyer and Visigoth, but that’s just a wild guess.
This is the band’s debut LP, following 2016’s mini Demeter effort. It opens with the song “Titan,” a fairly direct death-metal run-through. Actually, the song threatens to devolve into cliché when the band throws in that tired ploy of mid-song decrescendo and noise lowering. But it’s just the fact that the groove itself is so frenetic and psycho in “Titan,” when the song takes off again unleashing a thrash solo and further drum pummeling, that the juxtaposition almost becomes hilarious, instead of wielding that sort of fake importance you’re afraid it will.
The guitars on Masque are so jacked up and distortion-filled that it’s usually pretty hard to make out notes at all, but I’m pretty sure “Tether and Wane” opens with a tri-tone interval, which yes is the combination that the Catholic church banned from music sometime around the 15th century (some Renaissance, eh). Not that it’s really too unusual in metal, but it does infuse with the song with enough dark gravity to make it an intriguing listen, “Tether and Wane” then paying off with a nice complex and multifarious structure nicely full of well-placed ebbs and flows.
“So I Hang from a Wretched Tree” takes a break from both death metal and grind and rests on a sort of hard rock groove with a trippy, andante Pink Floyd-harkening guitar intro (think the twisted, meth-using cousin of “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” Vircolac once again showcasing their preternatural hatred of mundanity and songs that only have one “theme” to them, so to speak. God, think of the nauseating punk bands out there who would have issued a separate “track” for every autonomous thought or mood being brandished here. Overall, Vircolac let you sit back and really get to know these multitudinous and undulating songs, never letting you get too comfortable, though, with a nice general mix of conventional rock and unceremonious rhythmic melee.