The Great Tease This is the first I have heard of Subterranean Masquerade, but it certainly won't be the last.
From what I've heard, this band seems to be a bit of an enigma ? the Wintersun of the heavy prog world, so to say. The band's sole full-length album, Suspended Animation Dreams was released to great acclaim back in 2005, and the band has more or less been silent since. Gaining a cult following from that album, and their 2004 EP Temporary Psychotic State, Subterranean Masquerade went into long term hiding, until last year, when they bubbled up again, with the single Home, released on limited 7" vinyl.
Home was constantly appearing on my radar, from being at the top of my RYM automatic recommendations, to trusted critics talking about it and friends telling me I should hear it. But I generally ignore singles, and assumed, in my naiveté, that Home would be followed by a full- length record (this was before I knew of Subterranean Masquerade's reputation). And I was sort of right, since this is now the EP version of Home, released digitally, with the b-side "Beyond The Pale" (a cover of gothic rock band The Mission), and a lengthy bonus track, the nearly 10- minute "That Night". With this EP now reaching past 20 minutes, it was back on my radar as a worthwhile release, and damn? this is really something.
On this release, Subterranean Masquerade are playing a style of progressive rock/metal that sounds somewhere between Orphaned Land, Opeth and Porcupine Tree. We have the introspective atmospheres of Wilson & Co, particularly evident on "Beyond The Pale", we have the deep growls and big riffs of Blackwater Park-era Opeth, which find their way into parts of the title track, as well as a significant majority of the final bonus track, and then we have the Arabic flavour of Orphaned Land, made even more notable now that Orphaned Land's drummer Mathan Smuhely has joined the band for this current lineup (along with Novembers Doom bassist Mike Feldman). The songs here are decorated by little flourishes of Arabic strings, both bowed and picked, and even the guitar riffing has the sort of of oriental flourish that Orphaned Land's guitars do.
The instrumentals here, for the most part, are outstanding. The first two tracks here were mixed by metal maestro Dan Swanö, who has produced many of my favourite records, and the production here is certainly excellent as well. The title track is lead by a quick riff, done with a flurry of guitar and Arabic violins (apologies for not knowing the correct name for these instruments). Although this riff, along with several here, sound straight of a record like ORwarriOR, Subterranean Masquerade keep their distance from Orphaned Land, done by using some Porcupine Tree-esque ambience and vocal parts in the verse. "Beyond The Pale", being a gothic rock cover, is a far softer affair, although even then, some metal and some Arabic stuff floats in, showing that Subterranean Masquerade aren't simply covering it, they're making it their own track, sounding perfectly fine right next to "Home". I do not know of the original track, released on The Mission's 1988 album Children, but judging from the high single rating it has gathered here, it seems to be a highly considered track in its original form as well. My favourite part here is certainly the Arabic section in the bridge, when the instrumentals get into a great groove, the sort of jam that could go on for minutes and never get boring, which is why I get kinda annoyed that it's cut off a bit fast at the end.
But honestly my only real complaint about this release, and it certainly gets in the way of my enjoyment, are the vocals. Both the deep growls and the low, baritone cleans are a bit irritating and weak in my books, and the only time they really work is during the gothic rock of the verses of "Beyond The Pale", but even then I'm still not too keen. The growls are a bit messy and vague, reminding me a lot of Mikko Kotamäki, especially his work with Barren Earth, in that they are rather infuriating and don't really mesh well with the style of music. The only time they really work here is during the final track, "That Night", in which they are the dominant vocal style for its 9-minute runtime. "That Night" was a song originally written and recorded for Suspended Animation Dreams nearly 10 years ago, but the band never released it until now, and if this is a bonus track, then I really have to get my hands on that album. The song is an incredibly Opethian track, relying on riffs more than anything else, and Subterranean Masquerade really show their hand in playing these; some of them are absolutely brilliant. I love the mood that the track holds for the first few minutes, how despite the death vocals, it feels sort of uplifting in a weird sense, like a happier and more upbeat track, yet simultaneously, it's melodic death metal.
Honestly, if Subterranean Masquerade plans to release a full-length record anytime soon, the Home has certainly done its job of pulling the hype back their way. With Orphaned Land releasing a lacklustre album last year, and Myrath's new one being nowhere to be found, it seems the world is in need of a new face of progressive oriental metal, and oddly, one that comes from New York. Subterranean Masquerade, you have our attention. Don't lose it.
Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog