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In the Flat Theatre of Grave: EXECUTIONER'S MASK - Despair Anthems Review

On their debut full length for Profound Lore, the Texas/Pennsylvania based gothic/deathrock/post punk band show that THEY are the true graves of the 80’s in the 21st century.

Words by Tyson Tillotson (@tytilly):


If you had told me this time last year in the middle of the massive death metal boom that I would be fully immersed in gothic rock and post punk by the following year, I probably would’ve told you to take a hike. Yet as fate would have it, I quickly became burned out on contemporary death metal and fully immersed myself back into the worlds of doom, black metal and darker forms of alternative music. And then like a lightning bolt, I found myself diving further into the worlds of bands like BAUHAUS, THE CURE, FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM and THE SISTERS OF MERCY after discovering how important these bands were to groups like PARADISE LOST and KATATONIA. While there is no shortage of classic and underrated records to dive into, many modern bands are continuing in their footsteps. A group like DETH CRUX has been able to carry a rather sleazy take on the formula BAUHAUS pioneered while SOFT KILL has been able to emulate the sounds of early DEPECHE MODE mixed with JOY DIVISION and MY BLOODY VALENTINE. But in the uber depression of 2020, a new entity arises from the smoke of the scene and that is EXECUTIONER'S MASK.

Initially getting the world talking through their 2018 demo True Blue, the triplicate force of synth/vocalist Jay Gambit of noise band CROWHURST, Ryan Wilson of INTESTINAL DISGORGE on bass, drums and synth and Craig Mickle on guitar was just enthralling enough to catch the attention of Chris Bruni of Profound Lore, who is no stranger to modern metal connoisseurs. While Profound Lore have released many modern classics in the metal pantheon, they have also released outstanding music from the aforementioned SOFT KILL, dungeon synth master OLD TOWER, genre bender LINGUA IGNOTA and dream pop wonders HEAVEN's CLUB. To say that EXECUTIONER's MASK fit onto Profound Lore with ease is like saying Ian Curtis was a depressed individual, it’s a foregone conclusion. What they offer up in the shitstorm of 2020 with Despair Anthems is a fitting and slightly haunting listen as we all watch the world fall into chaos. So lets make like the second JOY DIVISION record and look a little closer shall we?

From the beginning of Despair Anthems, EXECUTIONER'S MASK drown you in a suffocating and sarcastic atmosphere that invokes the spirit of gothic metal pioneers TYPE O NEGATIVE. The Defilers features the lone vocals of Gambit with immense keyboard swelling, dissonant guitar and tribal drumming. It’s almost akin to hearing someone narrate the coming of a gigantic thunderstorm over desert mountains. Gambit’s vocals are very much a centerpiece for a good portion of the record sounding very much like the godly Andrew Eldritch, as well as the husky baritone of TYPE O’s Peter Steele.

The track No Funeral is a carry over track from their demo and brings much to mind in the form of it’s neon sleaze bass line and propulsive drumming performance from Jason Duarte and Samus Clintonov respectively. THE CURE-isms come on strong as the spirt of Robert Smith possesses Gambit as he muses of “dying when I wake up” with as straight a face as one could have with such a depressing tune. Following club ready banger Bury Me a Grave pulls a little bit from the industrial side of things, taking a droning guitar line and layering it with more synth and drumming than you can shake a pack of Marlboros at. The immediate comparisons that came were if DEATH IN JUNE were taking some heavier cues from MINISTRY circa Twitch or The Land of Rape and Honey. It’s a deceptively simple number yet it’s musical complexity is a true testament to the dedication of the group.

Speaking of really hammering home the sounds of the late 1980’s, 1988 busts in and keeps you glued to your seat. This track will get you dancing, I guarantee it. It’s a number in which Clintonov rides that hi-hat like his life depends on it and it never gets stale or played out. This song, despite it’s title, has the most JOY DIVISION influence than most other tracks and I’m confident in saying that Mister Curtis would indeed be proud of this tasty morsel of gothic bliss. Following blinder In The Night dares to bring in those spooky synths to add some texture while bass from Duarte carries the track. Gambit muses like a true deathrock elder statesman. Many try to attempt this kind of vocal style but often times it just seems very whiny. Gambit on the other hand is able to sound truly tortured and pissed all at the same time.

The album’s longest cut True Blue is a six minute FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM-esque slow burner. It’s like being dragged through some grimy apartment with nicotine stains on the walls, blood spatter and heroin droplets fused with the bathroom tile grout and a sense of pure hopelessness. The synth feels like a black cloud of oppression while the guitar plucks away at your very being. I would be hard pressed to call this an uplifting epic but it's an epic of pure misanthropy. Growing Distances brings the goth club spirit back with a song that has a tight back beat with a grimy lead guitar atop the synth and vocals. After, we are treated to the 45 GRAVE like banger in the form of Hatred Of Self. The guitar is like a siren song atop the consistent rhythm section and Gambit’s vocals of “having no shelter in the mind.” Of all the songs that could be simultaneously played at the club and on a road trip, this is the one. It’s atmosphere also has a sinister undertone that shares a bit in common with the track Ghosts from the latest PARADISE LOST record: one of the absolute highlights on an already tight as hell record.

Ratboy continues the proceedings in fine order with a slow dirge and brisk runtime. It also leads us into a very downbeat cover of the SCUD MOUNTAIN BOYS track Freight Of Fire. It's another bring over from their demo and it works wonders as a late in the track listing cut.

Final spooky boi dirge Desperation Rising in all honesty sounds like if NEW ORDER took a massive amount of Quaaludes and started jamming. The doomy nature of the song adds some depth and nuance to an already layered and rich record. Minimal synth work accentuates the chiming guitar along with Gambit’s open shirted performance. And how the album opens on the ominous, it closes on the close to the nose urgency that many post punk bands past and present have been able to master. A fitting end to a fitting record.

While there is no new sonic boundary to push with Despair Anthems, EXECUTIONER's MASK take their old school influences and fuse them with a tight production courtesy of Jeff Ziegler and Ryan Schwabe. If your goth record isn’t tighter than your combat boots and the eyeliner of your significant other, than it most likely will fail. This group is definitely bound for success as long as they can keep it low and depressing without the consequences of being called “just another Cure rip-off”. Fact is, they aren’t. The touches of industrial and new wave are welcome additions to the deathrock mastery on display that near perfectly resembles our current situation. If you’re looking for the ultimate sad trip during this lockdown, look no further than this timely exhibition of pure atrocity.


Despair Anthems arrives this Friday, July 10th via Profound Lore. Get your copy HERE.


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