Skull Mask – Iká

8.20.23 by Matty McPherson

I want to start this review by giving a sincere thanks to Gosha from Skull Mask. I don’t get messages through certain emails or non-twitter social media channels often, but they are open. And Gosha contacted me very much on the fly internationally with a tape from a label I wasn’t aware of, but very much in the vein of what I had been desiring from Radio Khiyaban’s 2022 releases, Senyawa’s 2021 masterwork, or any of the kinds of long arching, droning tones that envelop and win you over. Back in April I knew immediately this was going to be a tremendous release but that I would need time with it down the line. Gosha, thank you immensely for the cassette that has been needed during this summer.

Skull Mask, which is often just Miguel Pérez (Ciudad Juarez, Mexico based if I’m to believe) on guitar amongst a litany of other players in his orbit, have been working on their sound dating back to 2007. They debuted with “Cassette 2007”, but the first major release on the bandcamp will date back to 2012′ Sahumerio. Improvisational drone guitar is a reliant stalwart to several releases in catalog, but it is one based in psychedelic tones akin to anything between eastern asian music or crunchy, lo-fi desert blues, or blackened yet reverent gothic noise gospel. Peréz’s project and collaborations thrive on the space provided to them, both live and in cassette format that has been shied away from for too long.

Now, the private press cassette, like the jazz vinyl, is perhaps at its peak form when it is utilized for two longforms. And Skull Mask’s curation of Iká of two performances is a massive invitation into both an absolutely tantalizing duo amongst a promising European tape frontier. The tape might be an investment for those domestic bandcampers here in America (it’s an import from Raash), but Iká sees Skull Mask in peak form. It’s near 23 minutes fire off akin to a sepia toned nitrate print of a desert film; atmospherics are the main sleight. Afterall, Skull Mask is rarely about the drums, but the fanatical tone that boils deep to its core. As Gosha Hniu joins on wheel lyre (AKA hurdy-gurdy; also he mastered both tracks), he strikes an immaculate, sauntering drone that Pérez’s chords dance off of amidst an apocalyptic wasteland. It’s a sturdy balance that offers a primo snapshot of their August 2022. Side A is a Cafe OTO performance from August 10th, 2022 is a tour de force of that has been a reliant barometer for the low simmering insanity local tropical storms, heat waves, and nights that sweat up and choke you. As that is what the piece truly must have felt like to that Cafe OTO crowd last year.

Side 2 picks up a few days later at the Supernormal Festival (8/13/22) where stately droning and chord dabbling is not the move. What ensues is an immensely exciting happening of Skull Mask realizing itself in the moment and adhering towards “Iká” itself, a true wind piece. The result is conciser, yet more hectic tonal re-mapping of side 1 (itself recoloring the piece as not just one of droning, but wind energy). Side 2 opens practically en media res, with Peréz’s stable junker chords while the hurdy-gurdy drone deconstructs itself; this time as a shrieking wind noise takes greater focus in the mix at first. But quickly, things settle into a slinkier pattern. Peréz’s chords bounce about, a great tour-de-force, while the wind sound never dissipates but grows with hurricane intensity. It creates a deranged crescendo of sorts that suddenly becomes a staggering steam whistle. The kind that shrieks like a siren and pulls out a deep, CHUNKY energy in Peréz’s chords that becoming intensely meditative listens. It’s a riveting performance; as if the intensity of the improvisation always stays above 100 Fahrenheit. Steamy, not sweaty, drone work that has been missing in rotation this summer.

I mentioned earlier that this release came out on Raash Records; a Talipot Industrial, Jerusalem, Israel based label with their own radio show and DIY happenings (amongst a big love for Memphis Rap at least by the prospect of one mixtape for purchase). . It’s a region of tape labels Tabs Out have rarely covered but owe more to. Keep an eye out for what Raash is releasing on vinyl and tape, and if you can, pick up Skull Mask before the tape sells out. Seriously, the O Card packaging of that bird is enigmatic as all could be, and the tactical liner notes on the J-Card is a packaging sleight for the ages.