US formed, Israel based band SUBTERRANEAN MASQUERADE have been around for two decades at this point. Those 20 years have seen them release two EPs and three full length albums. “Vagabond” is the most recent of the latter and was released through Swedish label ViciSolum Records in the early fall of 2017.
This is a band that made a name and a reputation for themselves as a highly creative progressive metal band back in the day. These days I’d say that they are primarily a progressive rock band, using elements from progressive metal to flavor their compositions rather than the other way around. That being said, these folks are rather more creative and innovative than merely combining genre elements from these two genres, as there is a lot going on here in addition to that.
Even of one didn’t know that this band operates out of Israel, most people would probably guess as much. If not pinpointing this band specifically to Israel then at least to the Middle East. This due to the liberal amount of world music elements from that region that is a mainstay throughout this album. Additional percussion details, violins using the tonal range particular to that part of the world, reeds and brass doing pretty much the same, and occasionally also female backing vocals of the kind you would have to be uninformed to not categorically place somewhere in the Middle East as far as origins goes.
These elements are used in material that does, indeed, combine elements from progressive metal into a greater whole that correlates closer with progressive rock. Folk music details are obviously a big part of this greater picture too, and a few token jazzier details does appear here and there too. The saxophone is used frequently throughout as well, complementing both the rock and the metal oriented escapades, and effectively in both modes too I should add. The piano also has a central role throughout, often alternating with the organ to supplement whatever guitar mode that is present – be it wandering plucked guitars, firm guitar licks or more majestic and dominant metal riffs.
The band have opted for clean lead vocals in the greater majority of the vocal sequences, but still with room for some dark growls to take over now and then, either taking the lead vocal spot or as an underlying contrast to the clean and melodic lead vocals. Both aspects works very well too, surprisingly also when the band isn’t operating inside a metal context.
Subterranean Masquerade describes themselves as a symphonic prog powerhouse these days, and that description comes across as rather appropriate. More progressive rock than progressive metal these days, and with something of an emphasis on easy to like material. Despite some rather advanced structures here and there this album comes across as both compelling and inviting, a production that should have a fairly broad reach despite of rather than because of it’s at times complex and sophisticated movements.
A slight letdown is the cover of Bowie’s classic Space Oddity at the very end. It is difficult to replicate the sheer amount of emotion in this song, especially when you decide to alter the song, even if only ever so slightly. In this case by reducing pace and adding a darker, heavier sheen, plus adding violins at the end to possibly emphasize the drama. This take on it is rather good, but it lacks the momentum and subtle emotional grip of the original. An interesting cover, but not a cut that elevates the overall album experience as far as I’m concerned.
If you tend to enjoy innovative and creative progressive rock, and finds the notion of a band that blends in a liberal amount of world music elements, quite a few metal touches and a select few extreme metal details into a progressive rock context to be appealing, then this latest production from Subterranean Masquerade is one that warrants an inspection.
My rating: 8/10
Place For Fairytales // Nomad // Waves // Carousal // Kippur // Daled Bavos // As You Are // Hymn Of The Vagabond // Space Oddity