MASS – Sea Of Black


Despite this Boston based hard rock/melodic metal band forming in 1980 and releasing albums throughout that decade, they’ve never really gained much attention. They were inactive throughout the 90s, but returned at the beginning of the 21st Century and played live shows, which eventually led to a comeback album ‘Crack of Dawn’, released on Escape Music in 2007. I’ve been a fan of melodic and hard rock for years and have an extensive collection of cult albums, but somehow, Mass passed me by completely. This 2010 release – again released by UK based melodic rock label Escape – marks the first time I’ve heard them.

The opening track ‘Falling From Grace’ is probably the heaviest thing on offer as the verses really thunder, but this is counterbalanced by a very melodic chorus; this approach reminds me of the self-titled album by Heaven’s Edge (for those of you who’ve never heard that, their approach of melodic rock with guitar histrionics is almost unrivalled). During moments of this opening track Louis D’Augusta’s vocal approach can seem a little waily, but even so, it’s obvious right from the start he’s got a decent voice – although for me, it’s one which works best when played down a bit. ‘All The Years Gone’ slows things down and here, Mass are at their strongest: Gene D’Itria’s guitar riff hits a solid groove with a classic 70s rock vibe, but it’s Joey Vadala’s drum work which gives the track real power; his drum fills are more than reminiscent of a Bonham style, and due to this, it’s hard not to hear a Led Zeppelin influence.

The same heavy drumming is at the core of ‘All That I Needed’, its mid-paced stomping riff providing a base for one of D’Augusta’s more restrained vocal offerings (at least during the verses) and the guitar riff has a chuggier approach. You’d think given its chug and the heavy drums this song would end up sounding rather heavy handed, but at this stage in their career, Mass are clearly old pros and never overplay anything here. If you want things overdone though, look no further than ‘More Than a Friend’, a track which makes Firehouse’s ‘When I Look Into Your Eyes’ appear tough. In all honesty, this track’s four minutes made me feel queasy with its sickly sentiments, acoustic guitars and wailing. I like a rock ballad as much as the next man (provided that next man isn’t from a Norweigan black metal band), but this – in a word – is hideous. ‘Hear Me Now’ pulls out the acoustic guitars again, but uses them in an entirely different way. The contrast between the electric hard rock and these acoustics is fairly striking. The acoustic guitar remains clear in the mix after the heavy riffs make an appearance and are still used to create rhythm underneath a fairly aggressive guitar solo. This contrast, in fact, was one of the first things which struck me about ‘Sea of Black’.

‘Ashes To Ashes’ goes for a different tack again, in that the verses are guitar free. The drive here is provided by Michael Palumbo’s bass playing. His approach is very solid (and repeated listens of this album show him to be a decent player) and as such, the absence of guitars here almost goes unnoticed. When the guitars kick in, they are suitably heavy, replete with a decent amount of squeals. As with a few of the other tracks, it’s the drum work which provides this tracks greatest feature as, during a bridge section, Vadala goes for his best Bonham-esque fills.

‘Sea of Black’ is well produced and although musically it’s almost instantly familiar, Mass clearly have plenty of potential in their retro rock sound. Those who like hard rock with hair-metal touches and an occasional Zeppelin-ism should find more than enough entertainment here.

June 2010