This may sound an unusual start to a post on a brand new emerging band, but I have a tale to begin with. I hope it’ll make sense eventually. So a few years ago, I attended a barbeque hosted by my best friend, and for some reason or other, I decided to come in a neon yellow t-shirt, the equivalent of wearing a hi-vis jacket in the middle of the bloody day. It glows all on its own, I’ve been told it hurts people’s eyes. But this shirt attracted the attention of a local bumblebee, right before industry pesticides started threatening their existence and what not and it landed on the shirt, presumably thinking I must have been a pretty flower. Instead of shooing it away, I let it sit there, understanding it was probably trying to pollinate my shirt, but it wasn’t doing me any harm. It sat there until it stopped moving, of which I wondered had it died and then did I try to move it off my shirt. Some gentle force eventually removed it. It hadn’t died. The dopey insect had merely fallen asleep and took flight once again. I’ve always had an affinity for the winged stripy balls of fluff since that day. A similar affection I share with a band named after a mask of them.
When it comes to bees in music, they haven’t made much of a name for themselves, or definitely remain an under-appreciated musical force in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps the most famous example is classical masterpiece The Flight of the Bumblebees, the grandiose, expanding brass section now an iconic piece of musical history and natural fit for narrating any overcoming of the odds, or war charge. Some other examples include the Bee Gees, notable Anthrax rarities album Attack Of The Killer B’s, Danish noise outfit Beehoover, Insideinfo’s frankly terrifying but kick-ass neurofunk destroyer Honeybee and timeless Beatles tune Let It… actually that one is cheating. But off the bat, it seems a struggle to name several musical triumphs involving the humble bee. Unless you just guess that there’s a band called The Bees, which you’d be right in thinking as they live on the Isle of Wight. See also Grumble Bee from Yorkshire. This is where a great surge in progressive rock prowess advances forth and Mask of Bees can not only change the state of bees in music, but far more importantly, steer the course of a brand new wave of UK rock bands.
Their debut album Beta is seven tracks of turbulent, sax-injected hard rock constructs whose paths co-ordinate the chaotic with the transcendental in a manner that’ll quicken the pulse of the rabid Tool and Faith No More hordes. How it must translate to a live environment is a dizzying prospect in the best possible way, for their acute craftsmanship certainly knows how to wring impact out of their music. From the opening time-signature havoc caused by Talisent, onto the battle between calm and calamity of Tendering, shifting to spellbinding, melancholic ambient phases expressed by Peacel Sloot, and concluding with the bruising grooves and vocal centrepiece of Carpet Burn, Beta’s 29-minute duration jostles with so much energy and creativity, you could market it as an alternative fuel source. Touching on the subject of impact, while its presence is inescapable, the saxophone truly elevates Beta as a seminal exhibition of talent, despite its already stellar foundations. While its inclusion is slowly becoming more of a mainstay in modern rock and metal, you certainly feel the passion, intensity and emotion blossoming forth from every ounce of music the saxophone touches, just as the jazz greats intended. But whilst the saxophone jockeys for the limelight on numerous occasions, absolute focus and the true shining moment stands out on personal favourite S-P.K.Y.
The only real moment of tranquillity on this album can be found in the beginning of this track with the saxophone whispering sweet nothings, the gentlest of delay emanating from these softer notes. It strikes a chord somewhere between a jazz ballad and New Age music, a sound of purest beauty. From there, it starts to go a little haywire. Gradually getting louder and more aggressive, the guise of a solo saxophone interlude does lead in drums and melodic picking, adding a tint of ominousness to the mood. Vocals sound as though they emerge from a mist, soaked in reverb and later stronger delay but the croon is an irresistible comfort to an uncertain atmosphere and stands alone as one of the album’s finest points. Pressure does give way and the full force of their brutish yet technically impressive instrumental might explodes onto the scene, along with a full restoration of the vocals for the chorus, animating the most mellow tone on the album. The song carries on with another submersion of the vocals back into the mist, almost acting as gatekeeper for the louder dynamics, the interplay between that uncertain calm and the fiery intensity of the band, before concluding in a surprisingly cathartic breakdown at around the five minute mark.
It needs not to be said much more, but like any collective hive, it can only be as good as its collective workforce, and as Mask of Bees go as a workforce, they are among some of the most proficient and musically exciting workers you’ll hear all year.
I’d like to extend my thanks to Mask of Bees for granting me such early access to their album, this album was an absolute pleasure to listen to and to write about. Beta is out now on their Bandcamp page in a digital and physical capacity, for a very reasonable price so go get that. They perform live frequently also. It shouldn’t be long until they perform very near you soon.
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