A Cornucopia of Experimentation
On paper Antemasque’s self-titled debut demands high expectations. The new band is made up of former members of At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea on bass and frequent Volta collaborator Dave Elitch on drums, which seems to lend itself to a cornucopia of nimble and ecstatic experimentation.
However, depending on who a listener is, this record is largely a landscape of dashed hopes in which Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler Zavala and friends offer up some hard-driving and plain (albeit impeccably played) rock without any of the sense of adventure the two men have displayed so easily in their previous projects.
Listeners who aren’t itching for the more complicated fare are in for a treat, though. The guitar riffage is intense, energetic and compelling. Flea’s noodling, excited bass lines and Elitch’s drums — both contributions last heard in Elitch’s and Flea’s collaborations with Drive-In and Volta — give the record the effect of a primal, blistering assault. Hooks abound.
Opener “4 a.m.” is a spacey and catchy number, brimming with thumping excitement and intelligent guitar work. “Momento Mori” does evoke some of the prog rock of Antemasque’s predecessor bands, but it’s also rife with memorable guitar work. “Providence” is replete with scuzzy lines, dark musings and swampy contemplations leaving the listener to wonder if that providence is divine.
“Down All Your Witches” is a pleasant enough acoustic number, recalling Alice in Chains’ own acoustic expressions 20 years ago. The difference here is that there’s a lot more space echo, a gorgeous, ethereal synthesizer line and Zavala’s vocals sit on a far higher register than Layne Staley’s ever did.
The bottom line is that, like with so many worthwhile missions in life, success is far greater if someone knows at least a little about what that mission could entail. In this case, it’s best to go into this record expecting straight-forward rock with prog flourishes, instead of a natural evolution of Volta and Drive-In; and that’s OK.