Every now and then a band comes along that practically defies description, that avoids categorization, yet is falls firmly within the realms of what progressive rock listeners want to hear. The Red Masque, a unique ensemble from Pennsylvania, creates dark, mesmerizing music, that at times is as dissonant as it is harmonious. Victoria and the Haruspex is the bands first full-length CD, although they have been around the scene a while. They manage to sneak in little snippets of their influences here and there, but for the most part this is highly original music that is hard to digest at first, and certainly not an easy listen, but extremely rewarding after repeated playbacks.
The band goes for dark, dramatic moods throughout most of the CD's 4 lengthy tracks, at times popping in improvisations that bring to mind early 70's King Crimson. The opening epic "Haruspex" is a jarring and at times unsettling piece of work, as the band throws all sorts of styles at the listener. Starting out quiet and somber, eventually raging with odd noises and outbursts, I was reminded more than once of Univers Zero with all the different goings on. The vocals of Lynnette Shelley are very intriguing, as here she bursts forth with wordless utterings as creepy keyboard, guitar, bass, and percussion effects blast behind her. To say that this tune would be the perfect soundtrack to a nightmare would be an understatement. The heavy bass rumblings of Brandon Ross are superb, acting as a lead instrument to go alongside the shards of Fripp-like guitar solos. Add in some creepy organ noises and you have a real winner of a track to open this CD (Goblin fans take note-this could easily be a welcome addition to a Dario Argento horror film soundtrack!)
"Birdbrain" is a total prog-rock gem, highlighted by the Annie Haslam-meets-Grace Slick vocals of Shelley and huge walls of symphonic keyboards that sound like they could have come off of a classic 70's Italian prog album. It's interesting how the band does a total "about face" from song to song here, never sticking to the same theme for more than a track before crossing into a totally different style. Lot's of lethal guitar lines from Steven Blumberg compliment the whispy vocals of Shelley on this one-I just wish the song was longer. "Afterloss" is a tender acoustic guitar piece that also includes some soaring vocals, and the closing number "Cenotaph" is a solo concert harp piece from Nathan-Andrew Dewin. Both tunes kind of give you a "winding-down" feeling after the dark and bombastic themes on the first two tracks, but are enjoyable nontheless.
The band was kind enough to send a CD-R of their latest single, to be included on the soon-to-be-released album Feathers for Flesh. Comprising the studio/album version of "Beggars & Thieves", which is a gorgeous yet dark acoustic piece featuring the haunting vocals of Shelley, who sings the medieval lyrics with mystical brilliance,as well as a mammoth live version of another tune from the new album, titled "Yellow Are His Opening Eyes." Fans of Wetton/Bruford era Crimson will get a big kick out of this extended and metallic improv, featuring thundering bass grooves and jagged guitar solos. Based on these two tracks, I think we are soon to be in for a real treat...