|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By: Tom Allom & Mass|
|Record Label: Retroactive||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2010||Artist Website: Mass|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 41:09|
Mass can trace its history to an early eighties Boston, Massachusetts based band named Axis that included high school friends Louis St. August (lead vocals), Gene D’ltria (guitars) and Kevin Varrio (bass). Later rounding out its line up with drummer Joey "Vee" Vadala and assuming the Mass moniker, the new four piece unit signed with A&M Records and subsequently began work on its first album, Fighter, in the summer of 1982. Problems with the bands management, however, put the project on hold indefinitely.
Mass, as it turned out, had contracted itself with an unscrupulous manager - a con-artist in their own words - that brought frequent conflicts with the label. A&M eventually had to advise the band it would not release the album until they had severed all ties with said manager. This, unfortunately, took two and a half years - a period in which Mass had to endure arbitration and file Chapter 11 bankruptcy - but by this time A&M had lost all interest in Fighter and decided against releasing it.
Mass, nevertheless, persevered and independently released a self-titled EP in 1984 prior to signing with RCA Records for what many thought was its first album, New Birth from 1985. The groups second EP, Take You Home, followed on Medusa Records a year later while the Michael Sweet (Stryper) produced effort Voices In The Night came out on Enigma Records in 1989.
Fighter, after literally sitting on the shelf for close to thirty years, finally saw the light of day in the fall of 2010 when it was re-mastered and re-issued by Retroactive Records. The self-titled EP was also re-issued by Retroactive at the same time but under the title 84 Unchained and featuring one bonus track.
Fighter captures a raw edginess that literally oozes with the bands natural live energy. As reinforced by Mass in the CD liner notes: “(This is) how we pretty much recorded the album- live (and) without too many overdubs. This is the way we initially intended the public to hear these tracks”. I cannot help but agree in that the Fighter production proves that sometimes less is more and that a great deal of polish is not always necessary to reproduce a bands true sound in the studio.
It must be noted that Mass started work on the Fighter material while still teenagers. But do not let the bands youth and lack of experience dissuade you in that they exhibit a musical maturity well beyond their years.
This is best found in the energetic hooks of up-tempo numbers “Watch Her Walk” (with its Stryper-like appeal), “Bad Man’s Reputation” (quite the bristling tempo) and “Slip Of The Lip” (boogie flavored feel). The gritty “Part Of Me”, hard charging “Too Far Gone” and poignant “Change Your Ways” might slow the tempo somewhat but maintain the high quality. When Mass stretches, such as on the albums blues heavy title track and sublimely done “Voyager (Look For The Edge)”, it proves it ranks musically with the top metal acts of the era. Finally, an eighties metal album would not be complete without a couple of customary ballads, as can be found in “Do You Love Me” and “Can You See It Again”.
St. August brings a classic tenor vocal style touched with occasional elements of mid-ranged grit. When going for a high note, he sounds uncannily similar to Sonny Larsson (Motherlode). Needless to say, he is quite the talented vocalist. D’ltria proves equally deft with his rhythm guitar and soloing abilities. The album is full of his consummate lead work, ranging from blistering (“Too Far Gone”) to bluesy (“Part Of Me”) to distorted “(Change Your Ways”).
Lyrics are Christian friendly in addressing topics ranging from life and relationships from a positive standpoint. The occasional spiritual overtone can be found on several tracks, including “Too Far Gone” and “Voyager (Look For The Edge)”. It also must be noted that in the liner notes Mass credits “God almighty, Jesus Christ”.
Track By Track
“Watch Her Walk” represents everything that works well with Mass: high energy tempo, ripping guitars, hook driven chorus and several trademark falsetto's from St. August. Put this on any early Stryper album and it would sound right at home.
“Part Of Me” takes a slower but heaver heading. The bands trademark energy still comes through as does a melody of the pronounced variety. Things slow to a near crawl for in instrumental break sustained by a stretch of bluesy lead guitar.
The mid-paced heaviness is maintained on "Too Far Gone". The song starts to a drum solo that gives way to an edgy rhythm guitar, the driving momentum upheld until the acquisition of a chorus in which an anthem-like setting is put into place. D'ltria really stretches and cuts loose on guitar here. As previously referenced, “Too Far Gone” presents with some spiritual overtones in its lyrics:
Here come the angels
Flying high above
They’re trying to keep me from falling
Now it’s too late
My time has come
The devil’s here and he’s calling
Somebody, anybody please!
Get me out, get me out
I can’t take it
Get me out of here!
Too far gone – I’m too far gone
“Do You Love Me”, the first of the albums two ballads, delivers an even joining of piano, keyboards and acoustic guitar. A radio friendly melody shines along with complementary polished vocal harmonies.
Mass is at the top of its game on “Voyager (Look For The Edge)”. The song finds the group putting its best foot forward songwriting wise, delivering a sublime sound in which an expertly done chorus (very emotional with its accenting backing vocals) is combined with some tasteful instrumental stretches. Am I out of line to suggest a comparison to Paul Cawley era Guardian? Again, some spiritual overtones can be found in the lyrics:
Beneath the clouds we fight the sea
The captain’s dream is to fill our destiny
May God be with you and by your side
On this sail of Satan’s evil ride
To the center of the earth
To the middle of the world
To find the truth of which we have heard
Though our journeys long our ship is strong
As the men that sail aboard her
The power above watches over us
As the forces that rock the sea
To the center of the earth
To the middle of the world
To find the truth of which we have heard
Slow, driving and bluesy, "Fighter" is another prime example of Mass' songwriting abilities. This one grinds its length in bottom heavy fashion but gives rise to a high level of accessibility in the process. In other words, the song is heavy but catchy at the same time. A lengthy instrumental interlude helps carry things past the six minute mark. “Fighter” deals with standing firm in the face of the trials of life:
Alone in a corner
I feel my heart start to pound
I know I’m not a loser
But a winner in this round
Across thru confusion- a brutal illusion
I know I’m not half the man I thought I was
Cause I’m a fighter
Nobody’s there by my side
A born tiger! Or is it just my foolish pride?
That’s gone and left me dry
The ballad “Can You See It Again” is laced with acoustic guitar, keyboards and piano. Rhythm guitar steps forward to drive its emotionally charged chorus. All in all, a heartfelt piece allowing St. August to showcase the full range to his voice.
“Slip Of The Lip” delivers a boogie flavored touch of groove. What we have here is a raucous piece, rollicking its distance in a spirited manner in allowing the groups trademark energy to stand out. Yes, this one might be short (2:40) is without a doubt a great deal of fun to listen to.
“Change You Way” stands out with its underpinning bass line. Quite the rumbling piece, this one proves emotional in capacity as it makes use of heavy doses of backing vocals, particularly for its well conceived (and very catchy) chorus. A distorted stretch of lead guitar (sort of like Oz Fox) rounds things out. “Change Your Way” talks about exactly that:
They say, from life that means nothing to you
You smile and all of the hate comes right thru you
You try to cover your world – change your way
And if they ask you to leave – change your way
You don’t know who to believe – so change your way
“Bad Man’s Reputation”, a return to an up-tempo heading, comes across angst-laden in form as Mass vents its frustrations musically: Bristling attitude in abundance merges with a nasty guitar driven attitude and lyrics detailing its troublesome manager:
He’s got a bad man’s reputation
He’s gonna fill you up with lies
He’s got a high school education
But everybody says he tries
Had to fight to keep on living
Had to fight to stay alive
And now everything he’s giving
They’re going to stuff him with his pride
Bad man’s reputation – look in his eyes tonight
Bad man’s reputation – I think he’s getting ready to fight
The best way to sum up would be to state that if you own Fighter then it makes sense to also get 84 Unchained in that the two complement one another (in terms of musical quality) in addition to showcasing the abilities of one of the finer melodic metal acts to come out of the eighties.
Track Listing: “Watch Her Walk” (3:20), “Part Of Me” (3:59), “Too Far Gone” (3:20), “Do You Love Me” (4:26), “Voyager (Look For The Edge)” (4:31), “Fighter” (6:22), “Can You See It Again” (4:59), “Slip Of The Lip” (2:40), “Change Your Way” (3:35), “Bad Man’s Reputation” (3:51)
Louis St. August – Lead Vocals
Gene D’ltria – Guitars
Kevin Varrio – Bass
Joey “Vee” Vadala – Drums