REVIEW: SUBTERRANEAN MASQUERADE – “Mountain Fever”
Progressive and experimental metal very often go hand in hand. Though at times a band may experiment a bit less, focusing more on the prog side of things, such tendencies rarely ever fully leave. Such is the case with the Israeli outfit Subterranean Masquerade. I’ve been into them for quite a while now, and while their new album ‘Mountain Fever’ fully embraces their more overt prog leanings, the old experimental nature of their middle eastern driven sound is still very much present, and band mastermind/guitarist Tomer Pink has crafted what I think is the best album of their career.
I first got into them with their ‘Suspended Animation Dreams’ album, which is full-blown, crazy experimental metal. A bit uneven at times, but it’s a thrill ride of a disk. Their most recent work 2017s ‘Vagabond’ was in part more traditionally proggy than earlier albums; and now this new album, fully marries the two worlds, along with their usual dose of jazz, and middle-eastern melodies. The most noticeable thing about ‘Mountain Fever’ is the change in the band’s vocalists. Gone are Green Carnation’s Kjetle Nordhus and Novembers Doom’s Paul Khur, who provided the clean, and harsh vocals on the last two albums, and replacing them is newcomer Davidavi (Vidi) Dolev who handles both the clean vocals, and the growls, and writes the lyrics as well. Exceptional vocalists who handle both styles with equal skill are quite rare, and Vidi is certainly one of them.
Album opener “Snake Charmer” opens with acoustic middle eastern instruments, before heavy drums, and electric guitars make their presence known. And before a minute has passed we are treated to both styles of vocals, resulting in a sound that is once familiar, but new and fresh as well. Dolev’s vocals both soar, and roar with equal power, through a blend of western, and eastern melodies, creating an opening song that is highly melodic, and plenty heavy at the same time.
Moving a few songs forward we have the title track “Mountain Fever.” The most noticeable addition is the jazzy brass section that begins the song and continues throughout. The lyrics are a contemplative, somewhat spiritual reflection on himself and his surroundings. Though running just a little over five minutes, the song has noticeable sections, with rhythmic African drumming beginning a little over three minutes in, while the horn section plays over the top. And weaving in and out of both worlds is careful key-work, and Pink, and Or Shalev’s memorable guitar lines. The vocals are largely clean, but the final chorus lines of ‘mend my self-disgust’ are deep guttural growls reminiscent of classic Opeth, a comparison I don’t make lightly.
I could easily go through most songs, as they all are worthy of note, but I’m going to go ahead to the penultimate track “For The Leader, With Strings Music.” The title evokes a Psalm of David, the music, and aggressive vocals and lyrics, not so much. Easily the heaviest song on the album, it wastes no time diving directly into screams and driving guitars, and double bass. The bass work of Golan Farhi, is punchy, and thunderous, working perfectly with the frantic drumming of Matan Shmuely. The longest song on the album at eight and a half minutes, it makes use of all of it, the fierce aggression eventually giving way to quiet music, largely acoustic, but with jazz guitar flowing over the top along with saxophone. The calm doesn’t last forever though, and some of the proggiest, and most exciting music on the album are reserved for the second half of the song.
The album closes with “Mångata” which in contrast to the previous song begins as a quiet and laid back affair. It of course changes as it goes, beginning with some excellent clean guitar work and building drums. The vocals remain largely clean throughout, though there are brief echoed screams in the background as well. Like most of the album it is a blend of light and darkness, heavy and soft, and the cultural background it was born from.
Subterranean Masquerade have crafted a special album with ‘Mountian Fever.’ It is not only the best album of their career but also for my money, the best progressive metal album of the year so far. A brilliant collection of songs that are refreshingly adventurous, yet still also sounding like a band with a long history, and highly recognizable sound. The band has long deserved more recognition than they have historically gotten, I hope this is the album to finally push them into the limelight. Highly recommended.