Artist: Subterranean Masquerade
Album Title: The Great Bazaar
Label: Taklit Music
Year Of Release: 2015
“Welcome to the carnival of the dysfunctional and the disturbed” declares the official website of Subterranean Masquerade, an intriguing band that, in their own eyes at least, is anything but ordinary.
Subterranean Masquerade have been in existence since 1997 but ‘The Great Bazaar’ is only their second full-length release. That’s not exactly prolific but in the music world, a quick turnaround is not always a positive thing. Plus, the band have suffered along the way with line-up changes and a fair amount of the kind of uncertainty that tends to occur when the act is more of a project than a proper band.
The creation of guitarist and songwriter Tomer Pink, Subterranean Masquerade went through a period of complete inactivity for several years before effectively reforming with a largely new and reinvigorated line-up. In 2015, the band is a true multi-national affair, comprised of no less than seven musicians. Tomer Pink is joined by fellow guitarist Or Shalev, bassist Golan Farhi, keyboardist Shai Yallin, drummer Matan Shmuely of Orphaned Land fame as well as an impressive duo of vocalists in the form of Paul Kuhr (Novembers Doom) and Kjetil Nordhus (Green Carnation, Tristania)
As striking as the line-up may be, it is always the music that comes first for me. All the fancy names in the world mean nothing if the music is substandard. Fortunately, Mr Pink must agree with this sentiment as Subterranean Masquerade deliver some really great music on this record. In fact, as principle songwriter, Tomer Pink must take an awful lot of credit because it is extremely rare to encounter compositions that are so cohesive and natural-sounding whilst incorporating so many disparate and seemingly opposing styles and ideas. The music on ‘The Great Bazaar’ is not for the faint-hearted but neither is it so indulgent or disjointed that it fails to fully engage the listener. Admittedly it takes a few spins for the magic to work but with a little effort, the rewards are not insignificant.
To give one example of what I mean, take a listen to the opening track, ‘Early Morning Mantra’. It begins with a bold Middle-Eastern melody incorporating authentic instrumentation before going off in all manner of directions throughout its six-minute length. I kid you not, there are elements of 70s prog rock, folk, extreme metal, jazz, symphonic metal and world music to be heard as well as a quirky brass-led ska breakdown for good measure. The track also includes both clean singing and death metal growls. And yet, for all this, the track flows beautifully from start to finish; everything is there for a reason and the whole composition is glued together by some very satisfying and strong melodies.
Given the protagonists involved in the creation and execution of this album, it is hardly surprising to learn that there are strong nods towards a number of artists within the metal world. Within the intro to the opener and throughout the heavily ethnic-flavoured ‘Specter’, the influence of Orphaned Land looms large. Then there’s the guest appearance from Orphaned Land frontman Kobi Farhi on ‘Father and Son’ to further underline the links. Opeth is another relatively obvious reference point and there are fleeting similarities to others within both the prog and extreme metal worlds. Nevertheless, Subterranean Masquerade manage to maintain a sense of identity and a pleasing amount of originality throughout.
The more I listen to ‘The Great Bazaar’, the more I enjoy it. The melodies come ever closer to the surface and begin to burrow themselves under my skin. As a result, I begin to really embrace the quirkiness of the album, which includes the flirtations with the Hammond organ, woodwind and brass instruments, the latter of which I normally dislike greatly. Not here, strangely though.
Whilst the entire album maintains a high standard throughout, the honour of ‘best song’ has to be bestowed upon the utterly brilliant ‘Blanket of Longing’. It is one of the shorter tracks on the album and is also, comparatively speaking, the closest that Subterranean Masquerade get to a mainstream anthem. The chorus is a killer – utterly addictive and memorable – and the symphonics really add something special to the song. Of course there’s an elevator-music style lounge jazz breakdown somewhere in the middle but even this works and nicely juxtaposes the higher tempo material that surrounds it.
It can’t all be 100% positive however and if I was to criticise ‘The Great Bazaar’ in any way, it would be in terms of the length of the album. The seven tracks clock in at around the 40-minute mark and, given the quality of the music, it doesn’t feel like it’s quite enough. Come to think of it, this isn’t much of a negative really if I’m criticising the record for not giving me enough quality music. But for me, personally, I tend to feel that the album is just a little on the short side and frankly, I want more.
That small quibble aside, ‘The Great Bazaar’ is a very strong album. It’s varied, it’s intriguing, it’s powerful and above all, it’s wonderfully idiosyncratic.
The Score Of Much Metal: 8
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:
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The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld