Album – Against the Wall
Mason Hill are a young, British hard rock band. Comprising of members barely out of their 20s yet already having the praise and endorsement of massive names in the rock and metal industry due to their child prodigy of a guitarist, James Bird, they were maybe the biggest band to have never released an album. That is, until earlier this month when they finally released their muchly anticipated debut, Against the Wall. Having released an EP and a couple of singles, as well as a host of singles last and this year in preparation for the album, the band have had plenty of music out, but this will finally be their first full release where they can properly show off their talents and everything they have to offer. I have heard a couple of their earlier singles and have heard the name floating around for years now, the band forming back in 2013, so I’m pretty excited to check out a full release by them. Without further ado, here it is.
Oh, and this is 4/5 for Fantastic Friday, just in case you’re keeping count…
Reborn opens the album as a short intro track, mainly comprising of a simple, quiet acoustic guitar riff, some great higher vocals coming in over the top about halfway through. It’s simple but very effective in building a big feeling heading into the first proper song, No Regret. It opens on a HUGE guitar riff before the guitar drops out heading into the first part of the verse, leaving a great low bassline and some simple drums for Scott Taylor to sing over. The guitar comes back into it for the second half of the verse but the real highlight of it are the awesome vocal harmonies that are also added. We get a quiet pre before it explodes into a massive chorus, an awesome guitar and bass riff behind some powerful, catchy vocals. It reminds me a lot of the late 2000s US radio rock sound that seemed to be building in the underground between the likes of Rev Theory and Burn Halo, which just makes me sad as I loved that style of music but for some reason it just didn’t take off the way it should have done. The song heads into an awesome little breakdown for a moment after the second chorus before James gets to show off his incredible guitar chops with a great little short solo, channelling his inner Slash. We get another pre and chorus to end it, and this was great. It’s inoffensive, radio-friendly hard rock, and has some great instrumentation in terms of the riffs and solos.
The Lead single and title track of the album, Against The Wall, is up next. It again opens on a great riff after a simple drum roll, the same feeling of the sub-genre being firmly planted into my head. It slows down and drops out again for the verses, keeping it slow throughout this time, it feeling more like a ballad than the previous song, an interesting choice for three songs in. However, the chorus is massively catchy, and the dynamics between the clean, slower verses and the harder distorted choruses really packs a good punch. The verses actually remind me a little of some of Bullet For My Valentines slower stuff, the whole song having a very Venom feel to it. The more I hear the chorus the more I fall in love with it actually; it was a good choice for a single. We get a very brief solo out of the second chorus before it heads into an awesome little bridge, the backing vocals packing a good chanting punch, enough to make it sound great and huge live. It then heads into a slower, stripped down chorus, slowly and perfectly building back up into a final heavier one. It made the whole song sound and feel suitably epic. Overall, this was great. I preferred it to the first one and it has definitely made the playlist!
Now we reach the most recent single, Broken Son. It fades in to another pretty good riff before following the same formula of dropping down into the verse. There is some awesome harmonies and backing vocals during the pre, making it very catchy already, never mind when it gets into the massive chorus. It is another stadium-filling type, great vocals and some big instrumentation behind it to back it up, making it an easy live favourite, I’m sure. James gets a lot more time in this one to show off his incredible solo skills, this easily being the best guitar solo on the record so far. We then get another stripped back chorus into a full final one and it ends with very catchy vocal line. This was another good song, but damn is the formula starting to wear a little thin already.
Time for another single: DNA. The opening riff for this is the best on the album without question. It is less punchy than the others so far and is a little quieter and less impactful but the riff itself is solid and the technicality on display is great again. For a second I got excited that we wouldn’t get the clean guitar chord progressions in the verses like we have in every other song, but they come into it during the second half instead. The backing/gang vocals in the pre chorus reminded me of Saliva’s Ladies and Gentlemen and I have very mixed feeling about it. The chorus is good again though, massively catchy and anthemic. I do feel like I’m saying the same stuff over and over, though… The breakdown guitar riff was great but it could have lasted a tad longer before the band joined in and heavied it up/drowned it out a little. It was a damn good breakdown though, and sounded awesome with the solo over the top! Another good if samey song.
Who We Are is at least a little different, slower and very much the power ballad of the album, opening on acoustic guitar chords and only really getting at all heavier in the chorus. It’s a nice change of pace but again I somehow get a surprising amount of Nu-Metal/early 2000s metal in here, a lot of Saliva, Shinedown and (god forbid) Trapt in there, moreso than the music they are actually playing. It’s really interesting to me, honestly, that those sort of sounds may start to slowly make a comeback now that the kids who grew up on that sort of music are making their own. It feels almost like a blend of early 2000s metal and classic rock, it’s good. Also, there is another great, slower solo from James here, he has very much been the highlight of the album so far. This was better than the last couple of songs solely based on the fact that it is something different, and I’m a little shocked it didn’t make it as a single. It did make my playlist, though!
The final single, Find My Way, is up next. It starts on a very 2000s guitar riff, but then the tom comes in and for a moment or two I honestly thought it was out of time with the guitar. It in fact isn’t, but it sounds such an unnatural fit that it threw me off for a minute. That, unfortunately, was the most defining feature of the album, I’m struggling to come up with any more analysis that I haven’t already said multiple times already. The guitar stayed distorted in the verses this time, does that count? Hold On had me fooled for a second into thinking it was another slow one but it soon picked up the pace and heaviness again by the time the verse began. Out of Reach, however, was a slower one, which was nice. It was another ballady type song, but I have to admit that Find My Way was just a touch better in my ears, it had more emotion and epicness about it than this one does. The solos in both are killer though, and two of the best on the album. Again I feel I have to reiterate here, all three of these songs are still decent, I’d happily listen to all of them again, but they’ve just all gotten a little similar to each other bar a couple of exceptions.
I carry a similar sentiment towards the final two songs too, We Pray and Where I Belong. Again, neither are bad; both have catchy, radio-friendly choruses, some decent riffs and two more sick guitar solos from James. However, at this point I’d unfortunately just gotten a tad bored if I’m honest, I was hoping for a little more interest and variety. All are good songs but listening to them all back-to-back was a struggle. They’d most likely be great live though, or shuffled in with another couple of bands on a playlist. Oh, and you’ll never guess what… yep… Where I Belong is ANOTHER FUCKING SLOW SONG. Why the hell has my pet peeve of ballads at the end of an album become a goddamn trend these days? I hate it, and I hate having to talk about it every frigging time. If any aspiring musicians are reading this right now, please please PLEASE end your album with a bang, not a whimper. Rant over, sorry everyone.
Overall: This was pretty good. While I was expecting something mind-blowing given the hype and buzz around this band for the last few years and it certainly didn’t live up to that, it was still a perfectly solid radio-rock album. Plus, for a debut album it was VERY good. I know just about everyone has predicted big things for these kids in the future and I’d love to agree with them, so fingers crossed they keep evolving and pumping out killer material!
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The review by musician, blogger & author – Joe Griffiths