Mask of the Phantasm released a towering tome of prog last week, and we were all too happy to spend this weekend digesting it. New Axial Age reveals an epic sense of scope, slowly burning through haunting jazz suites in one moment while scurrying through psychedelic rumination in the next. Throughout the thicket of twisted turns, the band never loses a sense of plot, holding down a sense of confidence that few bands start out with.
That being said, we’re not exactly dealing with beginners here. Prog fans will recognize a certain flavor throughout the record, one well established, if not pioneered throughout the first decade of the 2000’s by The Mars Volta. And wouldn’t you know it, we actually have not one but TWO Mars Volta alumni to contend with on New Axial Age. Perhaps even more delightful than that fact alone, is the sense of maturity they bring to the album. Thomas Pridgen and Adrián Terrazas could have flexed endlessly, and we would gladly listen to every second. But instead, we have a really developed sense of songwriting that’s engaging and modern, that also ranges to acknowledge a swath of musical legacies.
Another standout performance is that of vocalist Alexa Joan Rae. The singer weaves incredibly bittersweet melodies throughout songs like “Caught in a Trap” and “Like a Wraith,” wringing out every possible drop of emotion in nearly every dynamic. Check out how they alternate between smoky, soulful coos and powerful, full bodied vocals below on “How to Make It Through Act III.”
Mask of the Phantasm songwriter and guitarist, Omar Ghaznavi, almost comes across as understated, despite cycling through a variety of spicy tones and arrangements. Whether it’s full on fuzz or vibe’ vibrato, Ghaznavi dials in the perfect amount without overwhelming the mix. Just as Thomas Pridgen on the drums and Terrazas González on the horns, it’s a sense of maturity that helps elevate the whole experience. One thing we learned from the Mars Volta is that their attention spans were/are… much longer than average. Even on Omar Rodriguez Lopez solo records, we’re subjected to metaphysical mutiny, interstellar entities, 5th-dimensional body swaps, etc.
Which are all well and good. We’re just trying to say you don’t have to compete with an immense amount of lore when listening to Mask of the Phantasm. Not that we wouldn’t be into that. I guess we’ll have to wait until next time to see what happens, but rest assured, we’ll be waiting.
If you’re looking for some smoky jams to complement your prog playlist featuring bands like Zeta, Pneumatic Transit and of course, the Mars Volta, you’ll be glad you checked out Mask of the Phantasm. Hit up their Bandcamp here.