(Austin Weber reviews the debut album by a unique black metal band from the Bay Area named Mastery.)
Looking into 2015, I figured it was going to be a slow January for me, and here I sit with an absurd number of bands to write about, one of whom is a California one-man black metal act called Mastery and its first full-length, VALIS — an obvious nod to Philip K. Dick, one of my favorite authors of all time. Islander wrote about the absolutely massive and maddening 17+ minute album opener entitled “V.A.L.I.S.V.E.S.S.E.L”, but that’s just the beginning. Sole member Ephemeral Domignostika must be operating on a totally different demented level because Mastery is unlike any other black metal band I’ve ever heard. Once you hear the album, it becomes baffling to conceive that all of this was performed by one person playing every instrument and performing all the vocals, too.
Mastery’s greatest strength lies in its chaotic and stitched-together-sounding nature. It all coalesces together in spite of its choppy flow and the endless stream of new sections spitting forth from the vale. I don’t think I’ve ever heard black metal taken to such a furious zenith of intensity. It almost shouldn’t work — the swirling mix and match between old school black metal riffing, angular grooves, tortured dissonance, bizarre, almost mathy riffs, surprise interludes, alien warped lead guitar clusters, and the absolutely off-the-wall way it all comes together in one massive swirling murk.
The first two tracks make up the bulk of the run time on VALIS, clocking in at just over 30 minutes total between the two. It takes more than a few listens to hear it as more than just the absolutely absurd number of unique parts of which each song consists. With more attention, they start to reveal a sinister undulating pulse in time, but even then, it still sounds sort of purposely jarring in structure — yet Mastery makes it work instead of coming across like a mess. It’s exactly the opposite. It’s quite complicated music a lot of the time, with the album’s only real relief and reprieve coming at the very end as the album sputters to a close with two very short tracks revolving around bizarre looped soundscapes and robotic industrial shimmers.
After many full listens of the record, I can’t say I remember all of it perfectly, but I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the insanity it contains, choosing ultimately to embrace the unique experience and nature of each song instead of attempting to understand and justify why whirlwinds of chaos and songs composed of a jaw-dropping number of parts even work at all. Cohesion isn’t the goal here, yet what VALIS taps into is a key to Pandora’s box, opening it in a completely different configuration. If at first it doesn’t sink in, give it a couple tries; this is not your average black metal record.
VALIS is due for a February 17 vinyl release by The Flenser and can be pre-ordered here.