I have myself a dilemma. I have often said in the past that I am not a fan of growly vocals in the main. On the majority of albums where I have encountered them they have seemed to detract from the generally impressive music and clean vocals that they accompany. Occasionally they actually can compliment the rest of the music but, to my ears anyway, those occasions are very few and far between.
Recently I reviewed Anuryzm’s latest release ‘All is Not For All’ and I was impressed by the way the growls were integrated relatively seamlessly to deliver a very good album. Will lightening strike twice as I approach the review of another progressive metal album with the seminal ‘cookie monster’ vocals front and centre?
Subterranean Masquerade and their latest release ‘The Great Bazaar’ were brought to my attention by social media and their record company Taklit Music.
The PR tagline is:
“Welcome to the carnival of the dysfunctional and the disturbed”
Interesting start eh? Lets find out more….
The band were initially formed in 1997 by mastermind and guitarist Tomer Pink and came to the attention of the music world back in 2000 with a cover version of Peter Murphy’s ‘Cuts you Up but the first official band release was 2004’s two track E.P. ‘Temporary Psychotic State’.
This was followed by 2005’s full length release ‘Suspended Animation Dreams’ before Tomer departed the US to take a hiatus travelling the world. 8 years later he returned to the studio with a new line up to record the ‘Home’ E.P. which was released on Tomer’s own label, the already mentioned Taklit Music.
2015 sees the latest line up Tomer, Matan Shmuely (drums), Or Shalev (guitar), Golan Farhi (bass), Shai Yallin (keys) and new vocalist Kjetil Nordhus and the release of the band’s most ambitious album yet, ‘The Great Bazaar’.
“This is the first time I feel like we are a real band and not just a studio project.”
Let’s see what we have in store for us…….
The album starts with an Eastern orientated guitar heavy intro (worthy of Orphaned Land) to Early Morning Mantra that immediately grabs my attention with its catchy upbeat rhythm and addictive riffing. Almost melodic rock but with just enough pizzazz to lift it above the ordinary, the addition of string like keyboards is a clever touch. There is an enigmatic break into a vocal section that is staccato and edgy, slightly apprehensive before it opens up, with a snatch of a growl, into a flowering chorus. A technical progressive metal interlude, perhaps a tad over heavy with the growly vocals, provides a counterpoint as it segues into a sharp instrumental break complete with flute to really push the progressive buttons. An interesting start to the album and one that leaves me intrigued as to what will follow, the run out at the end is a really interesting juxtapose to the rest of the song. Relive the Feeling takes a more straightforward hard rock route with a pacy, fire breathing intro that lights the blue touch paper and lets all hell break loose. An edgy riff drives things along before the fulsome vocals begin, awash with passion and fervor. When the cookie monster voice begins it seems slightly at odds with the melodic background that it is delivered over, the jury is out this time, especially when you consider the clean vocal delivery of the chorus. Not to mind, a nice guitar break delivers an additional punch and an extended finish to an intriguing song.
That Eastern feel returns with Tour Diary, the introduction is all string effects before an earnest vocal, touched with a hint of darkness delivers a mysterious verse, slightly melancholy and sombre. There is a serious sense of regret at the heart of this song and the guitar solo is delivered in a wistful and mournful fashion. A song that has one foot firmly symphonic rock, it is quite an attractive proposition while it never moving any boundaries. Did someone mention wistful? The introduction to Nigen has ‘forlorn regret’ written large all over it and that feeling of longing runs throughout this short but tasteful instrumental. The perceptive saxophone adding real class to an already very likeable song. Perhaps the most mainstream track on the album Blanket of Longing is actually a very clever song. The intro is upbeat and inventive, all acoustic guitar and strings, before breaking into a neat riff and calming down before the vocals deliver an impassioned tale. This is proper hard rock with a touch of hair metal and showcase the versatility of Kjetil’s voice. A charismatic and engaging piece of music with just enough subtlety added in parts to make it interesting. This track also contains the best use of that growl type vocal and it works very well.
Specter begins with a lot of Eastern promise and follows with a crushing guitar riff that shakes you to your foundations. The drumming is precise and profound and the tale continues with the superb vocals. Heavy metal combined with Eastern tradition is quite an tempting combination when delivered with aplomb like this. There is a sense of mischief at the heart of the song, as if it has a metaphorical twinkle in its eye, as it bounds along. A mesmeric instrumental interlude adds a hint of pure showmanship and mystery to what is my favourite track on the album. An inventive and very gratifying track comes to a close with a return to that magical eastern note. This relatively short album comes to a close with the longest track Father and Son which begins with a gently strummed intro before the song begins properly with anguished and forlorn vocal delivery. This song is very much a lament, a heartbreaking ode and one that I am not sure benefits from the growling vocal. It does seem to grate a tad in places and, if I am being honest, takes some of the enjoyment away for me. The powerful and transcendent guitar playing soon makes me forget my slight disappointment though and, when the growl is subdued behind the imposing music, it does seem to add another layer of completeness. There is a subdued interlude in the middle of the track, quite meditative, before you are blind sided by a brilliant little off kilter progressive section that really makes you smile with its tongue in cheek technical efficiency and abundant joie de vivre. As the song comes to close clean and growling vocals are interlaced to good effect and the finale is an arresting combination of folk style instrumentation with choral style vocals before a sombre piano note brings everything to a satisfactory conclusion.
To be blunt this album does not solve my dilemma, in places the growls add considerably but, in others, they don’t work for me. What is true however is that it does not detract from what is overall a very enjoyable and impressive record that has delivered more than enough to leave me hoping there will soon be a follow up.
Released 13th January 2015