It’s amazing what a few years can do to the sound of a band, and while Subterranean Masquerade‘s first outing was by no means lacklustre, it’s clear that with their latest effort, Vagabond, that the band have spent a lot of time honing their soundscape. I can’t recall the last time a progressive metal album left me in such a euphoric mood; the world influences that the band use throughout the album not only effective, but also empowering for the mind.
Based out of Israel and founded by guitarist Tomer Pink, Subterranean Masquerade are a progressive metal band whose sound draws from classic prog rock, interspersed with Indian & Jazz music. All in all, you might refer to them as avant-garde, but listening to their music, they have obviously created this musical palette to appeal to a wide ranging audience. Exceptional clean vocals complement the harsher, doom oriented roars, with the listener able to drift in and out of what is a wonderful 45 minute album. Similar bands would be others in the Avante-Garde section of prog – bands like Unexpect, Pin Up Went Down and Solefald.
The first song drops you into the thick of the band’s sound: a long, winding introduction introduces the aforementioned Indian-style music with a smooth prog beat coupling it. After winding up, the exuberant intro explodes into a piano & sax driven proggasmic climax, with vocals introduced soon thereafter. Tipping a lyrical hat to their previous album, The Grand Bazaar, the song moves from the euphoric atmosphere, to a darker, trippy sax solo with heavy chugs to boot – a true contrast to the aforementioned happy prog rock. Rounded off with a further series of excellent solos’ and a great anthemic vocal reprise, this is certainly one of my top choices from the album.
In “Nomad”, we get a great introduction to the new vocalist Eliran Wizeman, whose gnarly growls really add a lot more than the ones performed on the last record. However, I’d say the album is more heavily weighted to those of front man Kjetil Nordhus, whose powerful cleans break through the mix really well to deliver soaring verses. The composition in the album is something worth a mention, along with the mix. Having so many members, it can be easy for the mix to feel jumbled up, but each instrument plays it part, rolling in and out of the mix, giving the listener a great sonic experience. The multiple percussion pieces used, offset against excellent strings, in “Kippur” was another highlight for me, as well as the folkier influences which are present in the album.
“Nomad” also give you a look at Subterranean‘s heavy metal side, with a more death metal approach. This swiftly flows into a prog-rock composition and back again with extreme ease, which highlights the fantastic talent on offer with this band. “Ways” did break my focus on the album briefly by introducing an accordion to the mix – but as the piece was short and sweet, with a climax to the song so exalting, I could forgive the use of my most hated instrument.
The final song I wanted to highlight to our readers is “Hymn of the Vagabond”. This seven and a half minute epic builds and builds with hard hitting lyrics and punchy guitars, before dropping you back into that euphoria, with a deft switch to an almost funky riff. Here the drums show off in the background, while a heavily tuned synth twists away in the right foreground, with guitars wobbling away on the left. This album is certainly not one to listen to with one headphone in as you’ll miss so much of the mix. This song escalates until breaking off and reintroducing the Indian inspired music, with vocals added in more depth this time. This composition is excellent and incredibly enthralling, especially as it builds with a sitar added in. After more regional instruments are added, the folkier side of Subterranean Masquerade comes back out to play with violins and group vocals, creating a hymn of sorts, as per the name. With a blasting climax, the main part of the album is over.
A great tribute to Bowie follows, with the band smashing out a cover of his timeless classic: “Space Oddity”. Whilst staying true to the original structure, the band add their own unique mix to the song, and it comes off really well. Overall, this is a great record, and a huge improvement over their previous effort in my eyes. It was a much more engaging album, with the mix not only much better, but a lot fuller with addition of the extra instruments. I particularly enjoyed the extended use of the abstract instruments, and was thoroughly impressed by the guitar solo’s on the album, which bend and twist around with prowess. The bass on the album isn’t very prominent in the mix, but when it is given room to breath, it’s suitably groovy, with a punchy, tight tone to it.
As previously stated, this album is a euphoric, fun experience that makes you want to come back for more, with the riffs, motions, and lyrics sticking in your head for days. I thoroughly recommend our readers check out Vagabond, whilst also treating yourself to The Grand Bazaar.
Noteable Songs: “Place For Fairytales”, “Nomad”, “Hymn of the Vagabond”
FFO: Unexpect, Pin Up Went Down and Solefald.