Mascara’s debut album, Cellar Door, was a psychic time bomb, meticulously assembled and tightly wound, at its most harrowing and sonically edgy drawing inspiration from singer/guitarist Chris Mascara’s own personality meltdown and recovery. Five year later, the group’s new Spell is an outright explosion: short at five songs, but full of terse, rippling energy and still wrapped, in part, by Mascara’s need to explore who he is both in words and in sound. It’s a loud, quick jolt — but more playful than Cellar Door as well, with its recording of a creaking gas-meter dial providing a coda for “Time Is a Lie” and the tune “Percy’s Revenge” poking at issues of identity with a schoolboy’s rhyme and a guitar chiming dark as the bells of Purgatory.
There’s also a sense of theatricality spiking out of the mix’s bold vocal melodies, pounding rhythms, and braying guitar flourishes. Which isn’t surprising given Mascara’s background in musical theater, which includes playing the lead role in Boston Rock Opera’s 2000 production of Jesus Christ Superstar. But his now-supercharged singing is foremost among the new disc’s broader gestures, which announce that when Mascara the band take the stage this Friday at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, after an extended break, there will be new turns in the works.
“Jesus Christ Superstar was a big boost to me — a learning experience as a vocalist,” Mascara says when we meet at his Medford home. “I was singing next to [Extreme’s] Gary Cherone, who played Judas, and that was pretty intimidating. But it was inspiring, too. You have to have your shit together when you’re working with someone of that caliber.
“Also, when we were working on Cellar Door, everybody involved in the studio band was present while I was recording, and there was a lot of nit-picking. A lot of guitar overdubs I had in mind got nixed, and dirtier tones, and vocally there might have been a little erring on the side of accuracy rather than feeling. People were on top of me about pitch and pronunciation, and that can wring the spirit out of it.
“With Spell, we spent months just working on the vocal sound: different microphones, different compressors, different settings. After working on the songs with just the rough vocal tracks, I went home and wrote out the vocal melodies and made sure they were nailed, so by the time I recorded the final performances I was just interpreting and emoting. If the song called for a more intimate kind of performance, I sat on the floor and relaxed. So on Spell there may be a couple of vocal parts that are a little hairy, but what they give in pitch they take in spirit and conviction. It’s a matter of singing my tail off in front of the band for years before our break, doing my vocal exercises every morning, and listening to a lot of soul like Jackie Wilson and Chris Cornell for inspiration.”