Mass Worship are an aggressive band from Stockholm, Sweden. They started out under the name City Keys, releasing a four-song EP, Tip the Scale, in 2016.

They weren’t a metal band at first…honestly, they’re still not. Tip the Scale was a loud record that combined noise-rock guitars with vocals full of the aimless, youthful rage of hardcore. Claes Nordin sounded like just any kid shouting over the riffs, but he occasionally achieved a degree of throat-shredding desperation that was almost charismatic. What set them apart immediately was the playing of drummer Fred Forsberg; as the old saying goes, “Good drummer, good band. Bad drummer, bad band.”

Their second EP, 2017’s Rites, featured guest vocals from Tomas Lindberg (of At the Gates, Disfear, the Lurking Fear, etc., etc.) and Bjorn Dossche of Rise & Fall. And the music took a confident step in the direction of Swedish death metal, with the occasional hardcore breakdown, gang-shout vocals and all. There was still plenty of sludgy noise in their music, though, and they were happy to chug and pummel instead of just charging forward. Getting the thumbs-up from Lindberg put the spotlight on the band as promising upstarts on the Swedish underground metal scene. They changed their name to Mass Worship and released a single, “Spiritual Destitution”/”Unrest.” Nordin’s vocals were still a raw scream reminiscent of Converge‘s Jacob Bannon, but he was developing his lower register, and guitarist Gustav Eriksson was writing some truly dirty, grinding riffs.

Mass Worship signed with Century Media and released a self-titled debut album in 2019. They were getting even more metallic at this point, though their ties to noise-rock and hardcore were maintained via Nordin’s screaming and Forsberg’s drums, which thundered like they’d been recorded by Kurt Ballou or Steve Albini. They were extremely efficient songwriters, grinding and slamming their way through eight tracks in just 28 minutes, even while stretching out on the doomy “Below” and “Dreamless Graves,” each of which ran five minutes or more. A few production tweaks gave the music extra atmosphere and dynamics, which served to make it that much heavier; during the sections when Dadde Stark‘s bass was allowed to rumble up from the depths, it was somewhere between postpunk and NYHC, enough to rattle your fillings loose.

The second Mass Worship full-length, Portal Tombs, is out now. It begins with “Specular Void,” a song that rolls across the landscape like a poisonous cloud, dissonant guitars hanging in the air as the bass and drums grind and thunder. Napalm Death vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway makes a guest appearance on the title track, but you’d be forgiven for not noticing. Nordin dominates, roaring hoarsely, every syllable expelled so roughly you feel like you’re listening to a dying confession. He’s working in a slightly lower register now, but the desperation of hardcore still remains; you may think of Tomas Lindberg, or of Aaron Turner, formerly of ISIS. On the third track, “Revel in Fear,” Eriksson’s guitar solo cuts through the music like someone waving a neon orange flag on a smoky battlefield.

There’s very little catharsis available, listening to this album; too-brief moments like that guitar solo or the mostly instrumental mid-album track “Unholy Mass” aside, it rolls endlessly forward like you’re trapped in the back of a windowless truck. On “Orcus Mouth,” they take a half step toward melody via a guitar solo from Jonas Stålhammar of At the Gates, and Katatonia‘s Jonas Renkse adds clean vocals for a strangely beautiful coda, but the overall effect is in some ways even more punishing because the band themselves seem so determined to stamp out all hope.

This isn’t a fun album, but it’s a very good one. Forsberg produced and mixed it, which only serves to prove that these guys know exactly what they’re after, sonically. They’re pulling from metal, hardcore, noise-rock, and even industrial, so fans of ugly, angry, aggressive music anywhere on the spectrum from early Swans to ISIS and Neurosis to Unsane or Uniform will find something here they can relate to.

Phil Freeman

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