Originating as a special Record Store Day release in April, Editors’ The Blanck Mass Sessions offers both a follow-up and alternate view at the tracks and direction for their 2018 album Violence. Forget this connection though; this special release is an improvement on the already strong Violence, and The Blanck Mass Sessions offers insightful clarification on the collaboration between Editors and Blanck Mass (Benjamin John Power of Fuck Buttons). I reviewed Violence for PopMatters over a year ago, and in comparing the two releases, find them both compatible and stark, with this new set of tracks more engaging and tangible.
Tracks appear on both Violence and The Blanck Mass Sessions, and the new versions of “Counting Spooks”, “Nothingness”, and “Magazine” are notable improvements in style and mood. The differences are subtle, and Editors’ signature darkness and thematic arrangements are as deep and riveting as on the released Violence album, but the free reign given to Blanck Mass in the production and electronic synthesis of this release proves a highlight of Editors’ Violence and illustrates an artistic dynamic subdued by the album’s versions of a majority of the tracks when released over a year ago.
To promote this new version of Violence, Editors released new track (it’s not on Violence) “Barricades”, an immediately enthralling and captivating introduction to the “visceral” nature Editors frontman Tom Smith has characterized Blanck Mass’ take on the work the band recorded. The gratifying aspect of The Blanck Mass Sessions is how unrestrained it sounds compared to Violence, a clear indicator of the middle ground delivered by producer Leo Abrahams for the latter. As a single and as the opener, “Barricades” is generous and successful, and offers a seamlessly call back to Violence while pushing against the production finalized by Abrahams. The Blanck Mass Sessions offer much more than Editors hinted on Violence.
It will be too easy to catalog The Blanck Mass Sessions as a footnote in Editors catalog, a version of Violence without polish and earmarked for a Record Store Day vinyl release. But the album deserves serious consideration beyond Violence. “Barricades” provides a superb opener that is raw and expansive, a track that sounds like two entities exploring what one another provides to a creative process (i.e. Editors and Blanck Mass’ sessions). Closing with “Counting Spooks” is breathtaking, a strong track slotted to finish an album imbued with rawness. Where the track served as a prelude on Violence, here it’s raw percussive elements demonstrate how unforgiving the collaboration between Editors and Blanck Mass proved to provide for the band and this special release.
Though The Blacnk Mass Sessions may prove more enjoyable and potentially more critically valuable than Violence originated, the versions newly released are not entirely more accessible. Violence opener “Cold” is less direct and lacks impact on The Blanck Mass Sessions. The new version is too subdued by comparison and relegated behind “Barricades” simply fades. In a similar aspect, “Hallelujah (So Low)” feels less impactful, as though the vocals and the music have been stripped of any ability to resonate. It gets loud in the last 30 seconds, but it’s not as strong as it was on Violence. (If we believe YouTube playlists, the track is unchanged from the Violence version, which offers a lot of critical and artistic insight into how much The Blanck Mass Sessions album offers as a listening experience.)
The Blanck Mass Sessions ultimately deserve an equal footing to any album (not specially) released by Editors and further my own previous review of a vivid and articulate presentation of isolation, collaboration, and regeneration, set of tracks and thematic elements on an album. Where Violence generated a thread of continued darkness and dynamic relationship with Editors influences from post-punk in the 1970s and 1980s, The Blanck Mass Sessions illustrates originality without compromise. Blanck Mass’ unbridled production was fruitful, generous, and rewarding.