Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever Review

Let me preface this review with a bite-size Contrite Metal Guy: I overrated Subterranean Masquerade‘s last album, Vagabond, by half a point. While it’s still a damn cool album, with a great sense of adventure and exploration, it was also a bit unfocused and unbalanced, a shortcoming of which I failed to make note at the time. Alas, I am only human, and as the first underground band I discovered all on my own back in 2005, this band has a special place in my heart. Their debut, Suspended Animation Dreams, remains a top 5 of all time album for me, but the decade between the first and second album brought a shift in sound from psychedelic prog metal to full-blown MENA-style folk metal with a remainder of proggy overtones. This is the sound band leader and guitarist Tomer Pink has been refining for several albums, through several line-up changes, but has he hit the sweet spot with Mountain Fever?

Yes he has, and the rest of the band with him. Mountain Fever feels like a true culmination of Pink’s vision, to such an extent it’s actually what caused me to reassess my previous review. Stylistically, things have remained fairly similar. Subterranean Masquerade is still an eclectic bunch, mixing Middle-Eastern style folk metal with carefully applied psychedelic and symphonic elements, raised on a progressive foundation. It’s musically fairly light and highly melodic, but it’s not afraid to incorporate some heavier riffs and growls. Speaking of growls, the mic has been handed over once more, this time from Kjetil Nordhus (Green Carnation)1 to Davidavi Dolev (Omb, Seventh Station), who has excellent range and technique and is every bit as versatile as the band needs. He can do small and restrained, triumphant and sweeping, gravelly growls and even does a punk shout full of ragged despair on “Somewhere I Sadly Belong.”

What has changed is how bold Mountain Fever is compared to the last two albums. There was always a tentative streak in the music before, as if the band was unsure whether what they were going to do would work, but such frayed ends are nowhere to be seen here. That confidence also sees some of the band’s more experimental side make a welcome return, and the album is as eclectic as the band’s ever been. The aforementioned “Somewhere I Sadly Belong” has a cutting punky attitude, but the choruses contrast that with a soulful gospel choir. “Diaspora, My Love” builds from lovey-dovey soft rock into a pounding riff and ditto growls. “Inwards” puts enough variety and moods in less than 7 minutes for a full-length movie. “Ya Shema Evyonecha” is an adaptation of a Hebrew traditional, spun into a full blown klezmer-metal hybrid. The album pinnacle2 is the title track, though, which contains a soaring chorus so unbelievably addictive it literally would not leave my head for a week.

There’s few flaws to be found, and none of them structural. Rather, they’re simply the result of experiments not quite working out. While I enjoy the contrast between the refugee punk and gospel choir, the core-like vocal style is not Dolev’s forte, and though the emotional delivery is spot on, the technical part can cause a wince or two. The one song that feels a little out of place is the ethereal “The Stillnox Oratory,” which is almost entirely symphonic and puts a dampener on the momentum, and closer “Mångata” ends a bit too soon, which left me with the feeling it cuts off just as it really picks up steam. But none of these are anywhere near bad; just small dips in quality that, given the unbridled creativity on display, are hard to prevent altogether. Something about omelets and eggs.

All this talk, and I never even got round to individual performances beyond Dolev, nor the production (which is somewhat basic but decent). But at this point, the band is such a unit, the gears in the clockwork don’t really require individual inspection anymore. The songwriting has achieved a beautiful, effortless flow, where extraordinary ideas and unexpected instrumentation freely join in, play around and departs when their roles are fulfilled. Despite the occasionally darker subject matter, there is an exhilarating joie-de-vivre in the music here, a stunning creative cascade that shows a highly versatile band for whom everything has finally fallen into place again. Mountain Fever represents the essence of post-hiatus Subterranean Masquerade, and it is an absolute joy to experience.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 160 kbps mp3
Label: Sensory Records
Websites: submasq.bandcamp.com | submasq.net | facebook.com/submasq
Releases Worldwide: May 14th, 2021

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Who got help with the occasional growl from Eliran Waitzman.
  2. Excuse the pun.
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