Mask Of Bees - Beta
“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” – Hunter S Thompson
Purveyors of the weird, of the sordid and clusterfucked abnormality, Manchester’s Mask of Bees are a wonderful concoction of off-the-wall jazz antics, teeth-bared rock grooves and mind-bending forward thinking. Across this, their stellar debut full length, Beta, they manage to sound like both a party and an apocalypse.
With disjointed, almost rampant saxophone melodies and their vocalist’s venomous Mike Patton-esque preaching – a man simply known as Vocal Bee – at the very forefront their sound, this is a challenging but ultimately ridiculously entertaining listen.
Yet rest assured that, although their musical endevours may sound like they belong in a strait jacket, these X tracks are the workings of a coolly calculated consciousness.
On the surface, this is progressive music at its most intense, with swirling, spaced out musicality appearing to sample every time signature on offer like a fat man at a buffet. Yet, for all their weirdness – think Primus or Captain Beefheart playing voyeur at a Frank Zappa practice session – there is a prevailing melodicism and uplifting aesthetic that broadens the band’s horizons and makes it sound like more than just the soundtrack to the kind of bad dream that leaves you sleepless, haunted and sweating bullets.
Take the carnival of insanity that is the closing stages of Plantaganet, or verses of the skull rattling Quantum Yacht for instance. Sure, there is an uncanny freakishness to their presence, certainly when compared to what we rock fans define as the standard rock formula but it is those moments that punctuate their originality. Combine them with other moments in those songs – the prior’s irresistible bastardised boogies and the latter’s hellishly contagious call-to-arms chorus – and you have something which strides betwixt sanity and insanity with a staggering charisma.
There are similarities to the equally as sax-loving Shining (NOR) too. For there is a band which approaches their music with discombobulated jazz derivations but never forgets to underline it with a groove that gets arses moving and hearts palpitating.
What’s more impressive though, is the crisp production quality. As maniacal and scattershot as their densely populated sound can be, everything is shelved in its own space; nothing gets in the way of anything else. If you want to hear the drums go ape-shit or listen to the bass precisely move tectonic plates, there it is, isolated and crystal clear.
Elsewhere, the discordant lone standing sax that begins S - P.K.Y will make you feel queasy, but I can be confident in knowing that I won’t be alone in finding myself frantically invigorated by it – and when it drops later on you are hit with an impeccable force. It’s the kind of fun you usually need to take your pants off to have.
Both opener Talisent and closer Carpet Burn parade themselves with a delectable danceability that is further flavoured by that aforementioned sense of apocalyptic panache.
It is a crazy album. It sure as hell isn’t easy listening a lot of the time, but yet it is infected by something that makes you want to move. Mask of Bees are one of the most original bands Manchester has to offer. A band which proudly neglects predictability and normality for something altogether more potent yet never forget to include the raw materials which makes rock music so bloody good in the first place.
Words: Phil Weller