Originally written by Ramar Pittance
Here’s an album of well played, pristinely produced music that I can’t entirely get into. Featuring members of November’s Doom and Epoch of Unlight, Subterranean Masquerade are a progressive metal group in that they sound like a lot of other established progressive metal groups. What I’m saying is they aren’t really progressive at all, and sound like a not so great combination of Opeth, Agalloch, and Pink Floyd. And, while the group bounds for originality through the use of some unconventional instrumentation, choral backing vocals, and the trademark gutturals of Paul Kuhr, all these additions chip at the foundation of Suspended Animation Dreams‘ already shaky song structures.
I should preface my criticism for Subterranean Masquerade by pointing out that I am very critical of inconsistency. That goes for pretty much everything. I don’t appreciate chefs who try to mask subpar recipes with a host of unsavory embellshments, and I certainly don’t go for metal bands trying to turn boring songs into something epic by throwing in saxophone and harmonica solos. To my ears, that’s exactly what this band is doing. To their credit, they can play their shit. The saxophone part that opens “Wolf Among Sheep” is executed with the ease of a world class studio musician with a pony-tail. Unfortunately, the resulting atmosphere is pure elevator. “Rock and Roll Preacher” is a nine minute marathon which features Kuhr’s heaviest use of his November’s Doom vocal styling. Unfortunately, the music isn’t nearly dark enough to suit Kuhr’s vocals and make me wonder if the band even understands the purpose of the death metal growl. And that’s basically the entire problem with this entire album, Subterranean Masquerade sound like they are doing things because they can, not because they should.
But when Subterranean Masquerade aren’t stuffing their roasted turkey with M&M’s, there are hints of a very classy band. “Six Strings to Cover Fear” is deft combination of Agalloch’s mesmerizing harmonic strumming and Porcupine Tree’s orchestrated lead work. It’s a shame the band isn’t able to rely on the straightforwardness of a song like this more often, as it might make for a solid album. “X” closes the album, and is probably the best thing the band has to offer. It’s miles away from metal, but the interplay between the casual drum work and silky smooth vocals of a young lady who sounds like a dead ringer for Sade is a clinic in subdued songcraft.
This album is particularly frustrating because Subterranean Masquerade appear capable of a lot more. Over-ambition, lack of confidence, short sightedness, whatever, there’s too much going on that simply doesn’t add anything to the songs. I do look forward to more material from these guys, though, because they feature members of some of my favorite bands. But, I doubt I’ll ever listen to anything but a few tracks off of Suspended Animation Dreams again.