Subterranean Masquerade - Vagabond 01I stumbled blindly onto Subterranean Masquerade‘s brilliant debut Suspended Animation Dreams eleven years ago. It stuck with me for almost a decade, despite no new material appearing from the band. There was a peculiar brilliance to the music, a quirky, avant-garde, orientally-inspired tale from an asylum, that weaved a psychedelic tapestry from an incredible array of instruments, both Middle-Eastern and Western, helped by the massive growl and bronze voice of Paul Kuhr (Novembers Doom.) The creative mind behind this endeavor was the versatile Israeli artist Tomer Pink, who spent the hiatus traveling, and used his experiences to craft The Great Bazaar in 2015, ten years after the release of Dreams. Thankfully, Vagabond came a lot swifter.

Twelve years down the road from the debut, Subterranean Masquerade no longer sounds the same. The psychedelic has lost ground to the Oriental, and the introduction of Green Carnation vocalist Kjetil Nordhus has brought influences from his main gig into the songwriting. The subtle madness and looming shadow have made way for a scene of sunlit clay houses in a strange, vaguely Middle-Eastern land. The record immediately establishes this atmosphere with bright strings and street sounds, as the titular Vagabond greets us on opener “Place for Fairytales.”

One thing I was missing on Vagabond‘s immediate predecessor was the richness of the instrumentation. That issue is soon eradicated here. Something that sounds like a sitar, a dulcimer, clapping, hand percussion, electric guitar and drums, saxophone and piano all appear within the first two minutes, coming and going as the flow of the music commands. They don’t feel artificial or tacked on; on the contrary, it’s a rich, organic composition, an initially bewildering but ultimately effective aural adventure. This was always the strength of SubMasq and Tomer employs his arsenal effectively, moving back and forth on a sliding scale from metal to Oriental.

The songwriting and performances are consistently strong on the front-half of the album. “Nomad” is the most immediately likable as both the most straightforward and the most metal song on the record, making extensive use of rolling bass drums and Eliran Waitzman’s growl, who dispelled my anxiety over Paul Kuhr’s exit immediately with a booming cauldron of a roar. “Kippur” is the most ominous song on the record, right up until danceable synth music washes the darkness away. “Ways” stumbles on the words in the beginning, but recovers with a segue from Gazpacho-like folk music into a roller-coaster of progressive instrumentation. For the most part, the songs barely have choruses, instead of concocting an eclectic train of thought and barreling headlong down the tracks, spilling saxophone solos, violins and string instruments of indeterminate origin.

Subterranean Masquerade - Vagabond 02

There is a dip in quality during the second half of the album. “Daled Bavos,” based on a traditional Jewish melody, is a bit too repetitive by its ritualistic nature. “As You Are” opens a smidge too saccharine for my tastes, and while there’s a lot to enjoy about the moody-going-on-bolstering “Hymn of the Vagabond,” it doesn’t feel quite as focused as the first half. My main gripe with the album is the cover of David Bowie‘s “Space Oddity.” It’s been purposely slowed down to an almost doom-like quality and doesn’t incorporate as much Oriental music as the rest of the album. These shortcomings make it drag, something unheard of for the rest of the record.

The production, on the other hand, has always been a strong suit of the band and that is no different here. The master is rich and warm, and though so many instruments come and go, none of them feel out of place in the mix, which is in a Heisenburgian state of simultaneously organic and calculated. This is the first time Tomer has not done the production himself, but it doesn’t feel like the sound of Vagabond is out of place compared to the previous records, and I suspect his input has been substantial.

Subterranean Masquerade was a milestone for me, the first truly underground artist I’d discovered myself, and although it doesn’t feel quite like that timeless debut, nor is it quite that brilliant, Vagabond shows a band who still have a lot to offer the more adventurous among us. Some may find it wanders too much, or consider the amount of Oriental music overkill, but I’m not among them. It’s a little front-loaded, and the covers (song and art) are disappointing, but it doesn’t significantly dent my enjoyment of the album. It takes me on a journey to a mysterious land, a place for fairy tales. Maybe it will take you too.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 mp3
Label: Vicisolum Productions
Websites: submasq.bandcamp.com | submasq.net | facebook.com/submasq
Releases Worldwide: September 1st, 2017

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  • jjohn

    I discovered Sub. Masq in 2007 when I was fifteen and I was getting into actual metal i.e I was lucky as f**k to start like this. Suspended Animation Dreams is a masterpiece.

    Now for Vagabond, I’m kinda torn. I like the album, but it just feels that it could be much-much more. This more “rock” feeling is not what I’m looking for.
    Then there are the oriental melodies. They are pretty much everywhere and they kind of tiring after a while even if I enjoy them in general (Love Masada, Orphaned Land, Secret Chiefs 3 etc).

    The metal is also a bit underrepresented and it’s a bit of a shame cause the new guy’s screams are as good as tehy come

    I guess I’m just a bit disappointed that the psychedelic sound is lost.

    Still a very solid album, amazing in parts. Rating for me is more like 3.0/5.0

    • GardensTale

      I can respect that. It’s quite a different beast, but I was prepared for that since The Great Bazaar. Admittedly not S.A.D. but then again, very few albums are.

      • Iain Gleasure

        Pardon me, what does S.A.D. mean?

        • Diego Molero

          Hey, man. It means “Suspended Animation Dreams”, their debut album. Great album, you should check it out.

  • sir_c

    First time I heard of them, but it does sound marvelous! Nice review. I also skipped through some of their debut. There’s some Tea Party in there, if I am not mistaken. Many thanks!

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      If by Tea Party you mean the Canadian band, kudos to you, they rule! They are the Third best band to ever come out of Canada.

      • Diego Molero

        That’s a big statement considering all the great bands from Canada, so I’ll check them.
        First and second best bands to ever come out of Canada?

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          Best band to ever come out of Canada: Rush (in their prime).
          Second best band to ever come out of Canada: sub-prime Rush.
          Yes… they are so good that even sub-prime Rush still manages to be better than anyone else.

          • Diego Molero

            Honestly, didn’t even realized that Rush are from Canada until just about now… But yes, great band for sure.

          • ToddRob64

            Annihilator (early) will always be my favourite band from Canada

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            Their first two albums are All-time classics!

          • Origami Blue

            No way sub-prime Rush is better than Devin Townsend.

          • Nukenado

            Depends on which Devin Townsend. City is unfuckwithable, but one amazing record does not a streak make. Ocean Machine and Infinity are both respectable though.

          • GardensTale

            Terria, Alien, Ziltoid, Ki, Addicted, Epicloud are all excellent in my book

          • Nukenado

            Well, yeah, but to me City just stands out in his discography. I like most things that Devy’s done, even the SYL self titled.

          • Origami Blue

            Deconstruction and Casualties of Cool as well.

          • Origami Blue

            I think every era of his has great albums. He has quite a few duds, but every four years or so he comes out with something really special.

          • sir_c

            I dig Devy but I sincerily hate his wall of sound production on his albums. They are so tiring to listen to.

          • sir_c

            Yeah Rush… one of the founding fathers of modern rock and metal and still a force to be reckoned with.

            Also lots of non-metal coming from Canada which I like such as Delerium and Kristy Thirsk.

            But: I will not forgive them for Nickelback.

          • Innit Bartender

            Is there such a thing as sub-prime Rush?

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            You have a point there… What I call sub-prime Rush is their synth heavy period of the late 80s. It’s actually a matter of (my own) taste, since I prefer guitars over keyboards.

          • Innit Bartender

            Yeah, I was just pulling your leg! If you ask me, you couldn’t pay me enough to listen to 2112 again (the same goes for Stairway to Heaven), but I listen regularly to their latest 3 albums, best things they’ve ever done if you ask me… But that’s the thing with Rush, there’s a little bit for everyone…

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            I couldn’t pay you enough to listen to 2112 again? No problem, I’ll listen to it for free! ; )
            I like their early stuff better.

          • You got me. I was about to ask what’s between Rush and Tea Party in your ranking.

        • Nukenado

          Not really related to the thread, but Canada is home to my most guilty pleasure, introduction to extreme metal, one of my most hated artists, and some of my favorite bands and artists.
          It’s such a great place musically.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            Alright, now go ahead and name them all!

          • Nukenado

            In order… Billy Talent, SYL(duh), Justin Bieber, basically anything from Canada.

      • McBasstard

        Where would you say is a good start for the tea party? Played a random track and they sound interesting.

        • The Edges of Twilight, I suggest. Then Transmission after that. :-)

        • sir_c

          Each album has its character do you cannot judge by listening just one.

          Transmission is excellent but also their most metal release. A very angry album.

          Triptych is more radio friendly. Good but not my favourite.

          I like The Interzone Mantras and Seven Circles for the eastern effects. Compare that with Led Zep’s Physical Graffiti to get an idea.

          So either pick one based on the style you like most or just start chronologically

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          They have a compilation called “Tangents” which is a pretty good sampling of many of their best songs. Their album “Splendor Solis” is also very good.

      • sir_c

        Yes I meant that Tea Party. I really dig them at times, picking a favourite is difficult. Even the less good albums have some very memorable songs.

  • Nukenado

    A disconnect this large between the quality of the artwork and the music I have never seen.The music is terribly to my tastes as I love MENA melodies, and I’m fine with less metal and more folk-rock…
    But goddamn it that cover looks like a joke.

    Astronoid might have been able to get away with their Air cover by having cool colors, but unless this was drawn by someone in the band’s girlfriend or daughter (like in Astronoid‘s case) they have no excuse… And even then a pretty lame one like that.

    • GardensTale

      What is MENA? Middle Eastern / North African?

      • Nukenado

        Yeah, it gives off that vibe for me.

        • GardensTale

          Yeah I know, just checking whether I’m up to date on my acronyms.

  • Choodi

    You had me at the mention of Green Carnation. I stopped reading immediately and listened to the embedded track and was not disappointed.

    • Man, I miss this band. But chances are high that here I’ll find my consolation.

  • This album claims (for me) RotY. Perfect lenght, atmosphere, mood, songwriting, nothing more, nothing less, just a journey though a calleidoscope of musical textures :)

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    That cover really screams “Lame Putumayo” “LAME PUTUMAYO”!!
    Hell, whoever was doing it didn’t even bother to finish the (crayon) coloring.

    • Nukenado

      “Daddy, I don’t want to draw this anymore!”
      “Come on, sweetie, just finish the colors and –”
      “NO! I WANNA WATCH MR. ABBATH!”
      “Okay then, how about… just the reds–”
      “NO! I’M WATCHING MR. ABBATH CRAB DANCE!”

      “…well fuckit”

    • Innit Bartender

      I THINK he was trying to channel his inner Marc Chagall… failing along the way. Still it’s not THAT bad for me…

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        Failure IS an option!

  • Ivan E. Rection
    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      I was going to say that artwork like this was excusable 30 years ago before Photoshop and computer image editing. Then I realized that the covers for “The Number of The Beast” and “Don’t Break The Oath” were both made over 30 years ago before Photoshop and computer image editing. So there were and there are are no excuses for using such crap as cover art.

      • Nukenado

        Actually, Photoshop and computer image editing actually creates worse artwork, as it gives unskilled “artists” of my kind access to expensive drawing tools and effects.

        Also Dance of The Dead.

        • Ye gods…Dance of the Dead.

          #neverforget

          • Nukenado

            If you want something similarily atrocious in execution, Check out Freedom Call’s last album.
            Also, in regards to DotD, #pleasehelpmeforget

          • *googles*

            Fark…that’s awful. Whyyyyyy?

          • Nukenado

            F…fark?
            As for why… pain is beauty(and brvtality!)
            I just recommended brokeNCYDE to someone a few days ago.

            Hmm…I’m kind of a horrible person!

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            You recommended Brokencyde to someone? Why? What did he/she do to you to deserve such punishment?

          • Nukenado

            Just a lot of malice and sadism.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            By the way, Sadism and Malice are WAY better bands than brokencyde. Hell, silence is way better than brokencyde.

          • Nukenado

            Most things are better than brokeNCYDE.

        • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

          You’re absolutely right. During the late 90s – early 2000s there was an epidemic of really lame, badly photoshopped Death Metal covers. And I’m not talking little known bands in small record labels… Krisiun, Vader, Belphegor, Six Feet Under. And the list goes on.

          • Nukenado

            All SFU covers look terrible though.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            Except for Haunted. That cover is cool and the album is great and yes I seriously mean it. I like, no, I love Six Feet Under’s Haunted.

          • Nukenado

            Oh… okay?

  • Innit Bartender

    SOLD!

  • Felchmeister777

    Another ‘avant garde’ band that are actually anything but…

    • GardensTale

      This album, no. The debut more so.

  • If the music will live up to the description, certain band called Lör will have to give up their rights to the Throne ov 2017.