Under the Mask from pop-punk four-piece Energy is a confusing EP. From the first track, The Witching Hour’s opening clock-tower chimes and busy, thrashy guitar work implies a darker breed of pop-punk than the genre’s usual bounciness. There’s a gothic edge to the standard pop-punk format here. The vocals are really catchy, but the piano feels a bit token, quite loud in the mix, or at least louder than its contribution should really warrant. It’s a solid effort but not something you’ll be clamouring to hear again. The tempo is often moving fast to steady, the melodies catchy, but there is some dulling effect going on despite the band’s power and the excitement of their rocky delivery. It’s almost as if the influences the band have channelled here, rather than co-ordinate into something original, tend to cancel each other out.
The album’s title track has a slightly more interesting feel, a deadly, slow steadiness to the subtly shredding groove. The drawn-out melody has a gain heavy ring to it. There’s an eastern flavour to the vocal melody’s note bends, which keeps your attention, but the nicely cut musical tension is wasted by the song’s close. The Shape Retreats acts as a brief interlude. Some drums plod away moodily in the distance, but their attempt to bring atmosphere to this brief EP plays out more as a waste of the record’s running time. With such a short tracklist, and quite structurally immediate songs, I’m not convinced that having concept-album aspiring interludes work in this case. The songs don’t tell enough story by themselves, and the interlude acts as an interruption rather than an extra layer of depth, in this case.
Setting up for A Prayer for Rain is a bouncy number that’s competent enough, becoming the record highlight with its charming emo-shred and counterpoint guitar melody. The vocal harmonies are relentless, and used to their fully-sweetened effect. The way the bass carries us into the second verse, too, is a nice shift in texture, but any claims to album favourite occur mostly through default due to the fairly sparse offering that Under the Mask reveals itself to be. It’s a shame because by this point you can tell the band have certainly put a passion into what they do, and are certainly well-versed in the genres they’ve taken influence from. Neither can the musicianship be faulted. But it’s just the songs. They’re missing replay value, perhaps even first play value, and the how much you like the songs, rather than the band’s intention or musical skill, or warming knack of whipping out a tasty vocal harmony, is what ultimately matters the most.
I Killed Your Boyfriend is a fairly twisted fantasy, where the lyrical approach is pretty funny, but the vocal line gets a bit irritating by the second iteration of the chorus. A slightly better attempt is made for the album’s closing track. A sombre steel string acoustic whispers the intro to Leave Me Alone, the song playing on its relatable title, a request or an instruction that’s probably been shouted from every angst-fuelled teen the world over. A marginally stronger track due to its increased pace and salvos of gain-heavy distortion, and not forgetting the subtly handled, lilting tone of the stripped back final chorus, is a start towards improvement, made too little too late.
This is not the best EP I’ve heard, to say it quietly. All I can hope is that I’ll be proved wrong, and that it’ll one day serve well as a rare back-catalogue gem for their most dedicated fans, after the band have made several, sequentially better, full-length offerings. For now though, I’ll just keep burying the hatchet and stop listening.