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Subterranean Masquerade: Suspended Animation Dreams

The first few times I heard Subterranean Masquerade's Suspended Animation Dreams, I made the mistake of hearing them in my car before perusing the disturbing Travis Smith designed booklet or indeed acquainting myself with the lyrics. If you think the inner gatefold artwork for Pink Floyd's The Wall is freaky, wait until you leaf through the booklet for Suspended Animation Dreams, which looks like a serial killer's attempt to channel the surrealisms of a Gerald Scarfe cartoon.

Describing the artwork is relatively easy. Discussing the music is a different matter entirely, so I'll just throw a few names out there that randomly go through my head while spinning Suspended Animation Dreams: Opeth, Pink Floyd, Dead Can Dance, Chicago, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Traffic, The Dave Matthews Band, Genesis and The Electric Light Orchestra. If you think that's a pretty eclectic mix, wait until you hear the CD!

And while we're at it, let's list a few (but not all) genres that you will be exposed to in less than one hour spent with this CD: progressive rock, death metal, alternative rock, urban jazz, world music, folk rock, pop and gothic rock. I can't think of another band that leapfrogs through musical genres so effortlessly, often within the span of one song! The fact that the band does so without making it seem gimmicky is all the more amazing to me.

Suspended Animation Dreams is a concept album that dwells in alienation and depression, unrequited love and death, pretty much in that order. Cheerful stuff this is not! I do not have the specifics of the theme worked out, but apparently the album is the second part of a trilogy. The mastermind behind Subterranean Masquerade's unlikely stew is one Tomer Pink and if the guy isn't some sort of musical genius, I guess I don't know what one is. Special guest Paul Khur from November's Doom handles most of the vocals and he does everything from whispering to death metal growling to all points in between. Instrumentation such as harmonica, violin, choirs, brass and string sections, guest female vocalists, and Middle Eastern chants specially recorded in Israel complete the lineup, so don't for one second believe that Subterranean Masquerade can be labeled a death metal band.

At this point in my reviews, I typically list my favorite tracks and try to explain why I like or dislike them. I'm not going to bother here because frankly each and every song is of top quality and best appreciated in the context of the album as it unfolds. Don't be surprised if it takes many spins to become accustomed to the album because of the multidimensional song within a song approach taken by Tomer Pink.

There's not much else to disclose as words cannot do justice to the uniqueness and remarkable creativity inherent in Mr. Pink's project. Like Pink Floyd's The Wall and like Lou Reed's Berlin, Subterranean Masquerade's Suspended Animation Dreams is depressing in its subject matter but ultimately uplifting and deeply moving in its humanity. A modern classic.

Track Listing

  1. Suspended Animation Dreams (2:26)
  2. Wolf Among Sheep (Or Maybe The Other Way Around?) (6:26)
  3. No Place Like Home (8:00)
  4. Kind of a Blur (Instrumental) (3:12)
  5. The Rock N' Roll Preacher (9:06)
  6. Six Strings to Cover Fear (6:48)
  7. Awake (14:23)
  8. X (4:28)

Added: October 4th 2005
Reviewer: Steve Pettengill
Score:
Related Link: Official Subterranean Masquerade Home Page
Hits: 2685
Language: english

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Subterranean Masquerade: Suspended Animation Dreams
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-10-04 15:30:31
My Score:

Unfortunately I haven't heard Subterranean Masquerade's debut EP which got lots of rave reviews, but after checking out their full-length disc Suspended Animation Dreams, it's a given that I will have to pick it up as soon as possible. This album is also the second chapter of Tomer Pink's well thought-out trilogy, marking the band's foray into a more focused yet broader songwriting approach. The list of non-metal instruments has expanded with the inclusion more ethnic percussion, horns, a real orchestra and a choir, mandolin, Hammond organ, electronics, violin, trumpet, and many others. Moreover, all these instruments are effectively utilised, lending the album a varied and non-conventional edge. The arrangements are deft, the instrumentation is progressive, and the vocal harmonies are well crafted.

Novembers Doom vocalist Paul Kuhr handles the vocal duties, providing a very diverse vocal delivery, from harmonised clean vocals to punishing death growls, and spoken parts to heart-stopping whispers. Don't be put off by the death growls, they're amazing. Kuhr's delivery is easy to follow, each word comes out perfectly discernible and impacts the listener heavily. At times he is backed up by a female choir adding wordless melodies or guest vocals by other singers that contrast his delivery and enrich the harmonies. One of these songs is "No Place Like Home", a terrific song that combines a multitude of genres and instruments. It begins with sad harmonica and is coloured by beautiful keyboard work and immediately brings forth Kuhr's brutal death growls. Drums enter the piece angrily along with fierce rhythm guitar and bass, only to give way to his amazing clean vocals. And what a voice - this could be his best performance ever. Slowly, the song develops a Middle Eastern atmosphere, enriched by ethnic percussion beats, Rhoads piano, and acoustic guitars. Orphaned Land's Kobi Farhi also offers his unique vocal chants that will please any fan of the Mabool album. However, the most beautiful part of the song is Tomer Pink's soaring guitar melodies. Perhaps the most amazing moment on the album, his guitar soars madly over the musical landscape, evoking the epic feel on Agalloch's Pale Folklore masterpiece. I have no idea if Pink had Orphaned Land or Agalloch on mind when he came up with this song, but the feel is certainly there. The last forty seconds of the song feature Kobi doing his Arabic/Israeli chants and it's incredibly beautiful.

Drawing similarities to other bands would be no use, as I consider Subterranean Masquerade to be a very original project. However, it's worth mentioning that I am reminded of several bands, listening to this disc. They're hard to pinpoint, but somehow I can connect them. The way the clean and death vocals on "Wolf Among Sheep" contrast each other, and the song breaks into a sombre acoustic break after the bridge has an Opeth vibe to it. Musically it sounds nothing like Opeth though, it's just the structuring of the song, as this piece is heavily psychedelic with a jazzy outro supported by flute melodies. The semi-instrumental "Kind of a Blur" is a bit like maudlin of the Well, for its jazzy landscape, cleverly orchestrated classical side, and female choir. The piano, trumpet and horn sounds on this track are magnificent. "The Rock N' Roll Preacher" features guest clean vocals by Mike Sartain who constantly harmonizes with Kuhr's extreme voice. Except for its end, this song isn't as dark as the other tunes because of its more upbeat rhytmic anchor. However, there is a very evil jazz guitar solo that blends with a moody piano section towards the end. "Six Strings to Cover Fear" is one of the heaviest songs for its tremelo-picked guitars, alas mixed a bit low, psychotic death growls and its relatively more laidback second half where the guitars play textural notes and dive into psychedelia of the highest level.

"Awake" is the epic of the album with 14 minutes running time. It embodies everything Subterranean Masquerade represents, from fierce staccato riffs to epic guitar harmonies, a choir, string solo, flute and violin sounds flirting with each other, jazz guitar, and awesome female vocals by Wendy Jernijan. As on "No Place Like Home", Tomer Pink's guitar theme on this track is timeless. The album closes with the acoustic-driven "X", a song that features a killer blues solo that fades into infinity. The abstract lyrics on the album are full of imagery and symbolism, and hard to grasp at first listen. But they are very well written and Travis Smith has managed to translate them into images for the artwork. Regarding the production, although I think there isn't much to complain about, I have yet to be fully convinced of the reasons the guitar tones were mixed so low. In this respect, I am reminded of some of the older Psychotic Waltz records, and firmly believe if they'd been more upfront, the dynamics of the album would have had more impact. That's just a minor complaint though.

Tomer Pink has created a great album. If he manages to turn this project into a full-time band, however unlikely that may be at this time, Subterranean Masquerade could become an equally amazing band along with other The End Records acts such as Winds, Age of Silence, Green Carnation, and Ulver. Fans of all these bands as well as Kayo Dot, Camel, Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree may enjoy this release. It's one of the year's best.



2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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