Review Summary: A challenging but fascinating and highly thoughtful album
Subterranean Masquerade’s debut LP shows them taking a highly experimental approach to composition and song-writing. The influence from Opeth can be heard at times, but overall this is a very unique record that offers an eclectic range of instrumentation, thought-provoking lyrics and a break from the electric guitar-heavy approach that is omnipresent in the progressive rock/metal genre.
The album begins with an introductory title track, Suspended Animation Dreams, which is very low-tempo, includes a beautifully mellow sax solo and the listener very soon gets a sense of what this album has to offer. A very good opener, especially given the last lyric, a spoken word which says “for the rest of this session, you will be asking yourself ‘am I going crazy?’”, which, to be honest, isn’t inaccurate.
Throughout the rest of the album, the lyrical content is an important feature and it may initially strike you as odd, which it can be at times. For example, in The Rock N’ Roll Preacher, you have:
But on the other hand
Each time you scream my name
A golem, reborn by ashes from afar
Virtual, ritual, desktop icon, link to your inside
However, the lyrics can also be very thought-provoking and philosophical, in their own unique style, especially in the tracks Wolf Among Sheep (Or Maybe the Other Way Around) and No Place Like Home, which offer a unique expression of Western society and the concept of home.
An example of when the lyrics are used to fantastic effect is in The Rock N’ Roll Preacher, which starts off with a very nice electric guitar riff (something this album uses sparingly, but to great effect) which you may well find yourself bobbing your head to the beat of. When Paul Kuhr’s vocals come in, he sings the lyrics:
Come and play me
Let my rhythm move your body
This made me feel suddenly very self-aware of the fact I was, in fact, letting his rhythm move my body. An odd experience indeed.
So, make what you will of the rest of the lyrics to this release, but you will definitely have never experienced much like them before.
Musically, this album certainly takes the listener on a journey. Every instrument is utilised to great effect and feels like it has been carefully selected for the sound Subterranean Masquerade wanted to achieve. The instrumentation is tied together by the core guitars, drums and bass so it doesn’t feel disjointed, with the acoustic guitar in particular playing a very important role in the band’s sound. There are a couple of great electric guitar riffs, for example in the aforementioned Rock N’ Roll Preacher and in Six Strings to Cover Fear. This is generally where the Opeth influences can be heard, as well as in the vocals, which I’ll get onto now.
Paul Kuhr’s vocal performance overall is excellent. One interesting thng about the harsh vocals is they are very well articulated. Very often, people who aren’t accustomed to harsh vocals will be put off by the inability to understand what they are saying, but that isn’t the case here. If I were to introduce a friend to death growls, I would probably start by playing them Six Strings to Cover Fear. The good articulation is particularly important given the importance of the lyrics to this album. Personally, this is my first experience of Paul Kuhr’s vocals. Others may already be familiar with his style from November’s Doom (a band I haven’t yet listened to), but to me his vocals are a definite highlight of this album. Female vocals make an appearance a couple of times on the album which add a refreshing dynamic to songs such as Awake. The harsh vocals on Awake are also very interesting: The choruses in the early part of the song are harsh vocals sung over fairly quiet broken chords on a piano. The juxtaposition of the vocals and the instrumentation actually brings out the best of both and is another example of successful experimentation.
Song structure and length are very… progressive. They don’t meander away into technical wankery at any point, that isn’t the band’s style. However, the songs are generally quite long, mostly above 6 minutes. Awake is the album’s epic, coming in at over 14 minutes. While the idea of a short opener, a few reasonably lengthy songs and one epic has been done loads before, Subterranean Masquerade pull it off well here. No song feels like it’s too long and every song, including the opener and the instrumental, Kind of a Blur, feels like it fits. One could be forgiven for saying that Awake’s mid-section was perhaps slightly dull, but generally the listener will be gripped from start to finish.
Overall, Suspended Animation Dreams is full of experimental flair and is an example of how great unconventional music can be. If you’re a fan of progressive or avant-garde music, this album is a must. If not, though, tread carefully. This album is quite a challenging listen and not particularly accessible if you’re not familiar with avant-prog. If you’re a fan of, say, maudlin of the Well, Opeth, perhaps Haken, then you’ll probably really enjoy this album. To me, it’s a definite 5/5.