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Subterranean Masquerade - "Vagabond" (CD)

Subterranean Masquerade - "Vagabond" CD cover image

"Vagabond" track listing:

1. Place For Fairytales
2. Nomad
3. Waves
4. Carousal
5. Kippur
6. Daled Bavos
7. As You Are
8. Hymn Of The Vagabond
9. Space Oddity (David Bowie tribute)

Reviewed by on September 14, 2017

"Long story short, if you like prog metal, genre mashups, or metal that's more uplifting than dreary, this the album you should be checking out."

As a reviewer who eventually hears just about everything from major label albums to totally unknown indie releases, I'm consistently surprised at the wide range of sounds encompassed by a term like “metal.” From politically charged thrash to gore-soaked death metal to meandering instrumental to 30 second grind tracks, there's so much to be found in this style that its almost useless as a genre identifier anymore.

Take the horror-themed symphonic black metal of Carach Angren's “This Is No Fairytale,” and contrast that with the light and uplifting “Place For Fairtytales” that opens Subterranean Masquerade's new opus, “Vagabond.” While Subterranean Masquerade doesn't skimp on the heaviness, they are absolute polar opposites in terms on tone, theme, and even instruments, yet both sit snugly within the realm of metal.

So where does “Vagabond” land on the sub-genre scale? I found myself wondering about that not long after the release of “The Great Bazaar,” which was easily the surprise prog metal hit of 2015 (anyone into either progressive music or melodic death metal who didn't spin that album a gazillion times is seriously missing out). It was hard to tell what sort of experience we'd be in for when guitarist Tomer Pink revealed he'd left Israel to go isolate himself in northern India for weeks on end to write the music and suffuse himself with a different culture.

What we have here with “Vagabond” is vastly different, but also a little familiar. The band nods to this phenomena in the music itself, with the line “it wasn't long ago we visited the Great Bazaar, so much has changed” in the opening track. The album features a strong mixture of a bubbly, uplifting style and extreme death metal. In a way, it reminds me of recent Devin Townsend material, but with a bigger focus on the metal than the backing orchestra and choirs.

That's all still there though. You'll hear jazz sax, tambourine, clear Tibetan influences, all sorts of world sounds you wouldn't expect from a metal album, and carnival polka music on “Ways” that would make early Finntroll proud. Interlude track “Carousal” is marked by smooth transitions from a Middle Eastern street parade switching to melancholy piano and strings, then somehow ending with metallic guitar. “Kippur” is what I've always wanted from any given Oriental metal mashup, and it somehow ends on 80's synths and bass lines. Just because we're in spacey and utterly out-there territory, of course the album finishes off with a cover of David Bowie's “Space Oddity.”

It took a full 10 years for the band to follow “Suspended Animation Dreams” with next album “The Great Bazaar,” but thankfully only another two and a half to arrive with “Vagabond.” Despite the much faster turnaround time, essentially nothing was lost in the quicker process. The album sounds like Subterranean Masquerade but offers up something different from the previous album with a bigger focus on world music sounds. Long story short, if you like prog metal, genre mashups, or metal that's more uplifting than dreary, this the album you should be checking out.

Highs: World music has never been so metal and SM ignores genre boundaries.

Lows: There are places where more of the extreme end could be present.

Bottom line: Subterranean Masquerade follows the surprise prog metal hit of 2015 with another stellar genre mashup album that's more uplifting than dreary.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)