While MASK was conceived in 2005 when Humphrey and Craig Coppock met through a mutual friend and bonded over their love for British rock bands. Skip forward approximately 12 years and you will see Humphrey (also known as H) quitting his day job to began writing material for the duo, which ultimately led to their well-received debut The Famous. The lads released their debut in 2017 and have by no means slowed down. Featured on Louder Than War, Hot Press, Music News Today and Indie Crush Magazine, the Belfast-based duo are reaching notable critics across the globe (and impressing them!). The latest addition to the critically acclaimed discography is Smiling Assassins.
Described by Music News Today as a band to “redefine the retro experience for the modern age”, MASK added a contemporary twist to old-school rock sounds in The Famous and this hasn’t changed much. I am by no means saying MASK has a stagnating sound, in fact far from it. While Smiling Assassins also explores old-school genres, it does so with sophistication, polish and maturity. Moreover, the melding of funk, blues, rock, indie and alternative rock is truly boundary-breaking.
Heavy-hitting from the opening ‘Get On Your Knees’, MASK shows they are not to be shoved to one side grabbing your attention from the first hard-hitting chord. Powerful guitars meld with dynamic drums immediately tipping you into a turbulent river of sound. Yet, while the smashing ‘Get On You Knees’ opens the album, it is the sudden dip into the “danceable” ‘Glamourpuss’ showcasing their cheeky side. I particularly enjoy the incorporation of female vocals to add a sexier vibe to the song.
A rock duo by definition, one would assume rock and roll tracks throughout Smiling Assassins, but this isn’t necessarily the case. The album is influenced by The Rolling Stones, there is no doubt about that, but the infusion of The Kinks, White Stripes and The Byrds add originality to Smiling Assassins that is purely MASK. One element that I truly adore is the prominent inclusion of head-banging guitar solos, particularly in ‘Shakin’ Love’.
“In late 2019, I decided to escape civilisation and left for the jungles of Peru. Feeling enlightened on my return, I approached producer Michael Mormecha and asked if he could come in and make a new MASK record. Though Tree Song Studios wasn’t finished and…little more than a building site, we got to work! We literally had microphones hanging across wooden planks and scaffolding capturing a sense of unequivocal power and rawness!” – Humphrey on Smiling Assassins
A raw and honest album, possibly due to the recording being done at a rather “raw” studio itself, Smiling Assassins use a brash approach to explore the essence of human souls. It is difficult to choose a favourite song in this emotive and enthusiastic album, but I have to opt for either ‘Parisian Blue’. As with ‘Smiling Assassins’, the gruff vocals draw out a sexy grittiness in the smooth sound. For each, particularly ‘Parisian Blue’, there is a cheekiness that gets your head bopping and hips swaying.
All in all, I absolutely adore Smiling Assassins. Taking you back to the 60s, I can easily place MASK as one of the acts at Woodstock ’69. Perhaps, another Woodstock will happen and the lads can take us back to the days of Cream, The Rolling Stones and Rare Earth.