Massachusetts space punk trio Half Mast haven’t let the lockdown slow down their output of material this year. Their album Who Killed the World? is part one of three albums that they’ll be releasing for 2020. It contains 21 songs, which seems a bit excessive, but if Rancid is allowed to drop 20-plus songs on each one of their albums, why can’t Half Mast?
The intro instrumental track comes in with frantic guitars and rolling drums, sounding a bit like NoMeansNo’s “The Day Everything Became Nothing.” It got me excited, but my heart sank on the second track “Subtraction” because I had to strain to make out James Bondage’s vocals, overpowered by the guitars and drums. His voice was a bit more audible on “Grudge,” a boozy bluesy track with organs, provided by someone listed as G Spot. I suppose it all depends on how hard the band is playing and how loud Bondage is singing, because on the more aggressive “Gonna Die,” his voice was a bit more drowned out, though his grit was able to cut through most of the noise. “Blinking Red Lights” features guest vocals from Ruby Gruesome and gang vocals on the chorus.
I do love the variety on this album. “Ghost of D. Boon” is a tribute to the late guitarist of Minutemen, one of the clear influences of Half Mast’s music. “Digging Our Tombs” and “Last Train Out” have cool surf riffs, while “We,” “369” and “You’re With Us” have a more fast-paced hardcore punk vibe. The band does their own take on a classic jazz standard on “The Little Saint James Infirmary Island Blues,” with disturbing lyrics about being trapped on Jeffrey Epstein’s Pedophile Island, told from the perspective of a six-year-old girl.
My biggest issue with Who Killed the World? are the levels and sound quality. The feedback, false takes and murmurs between songs really give it the quality of a room recording of a one-take jam session (this was probably the case). I know asking a punk band to get better production on their album is like asking raccoons not to eat your garbage. Having attended enough basement shows, my ears eventually adjusted to the noise, and I found it a rather fun listen. Part two, Antithesis, is a recording of Half Past improvising after dropping acid, and part three has yet to be released, so it might be safe to say that Who Killed the World? is their most palatable album of the three.
Written by Chris Aitkens
*Edited by Dominic Abate