Subterranean Masquerade – expect the unexpected. There’s always something unexpected on a Subterranean Masquerade album. The band’s main line-up is normal enough as you look down the list of members – there’s of course guitarist Tomer Pink (the band’s founder), notably there’s also Kjetil Nordhus (Green Carnation etc.) handling the clean vocals and Eliran Weizman weighing in with the grunts. Quickly scanning down the list of other band members there’s another guitarist, obviously a drummer and bassist, a keyboardist…oh, and a flute/sax/clarinet player. O-kaay… Then there’s the guests – bazuki, cello, violin, accordion and something called a whale guitar! Yep, expect the unexpected…

Now OK, maybe there’s nothing too abnormal nowadays about a band including traditional instruments on their Metal album, but it’s how Subterranean Masquerade use them that makes them different. Many songs have an Eastern flavour, with a doomy edge, a psychedelic twist and a progressive attitude. A song can be plodding along quite nonchalantly, minding it’s own business and suddenly it’s mugged by a saxophone wrestling a clarinet, egged on by a gang of angry violins! Modern music, it’s all Sax and Violins eh… [oof Editor in pain but well played] Every time I decide to pick a track to describe in detail I fail. I just want to say “Listen! This is what I’m on about, that’s the bar-room piano with a flute lead over mighty Power/Doom Metal just after the saxophone break!”.

As is often the case with Subterranean Masquerade, it’s their cover versions that tend to be a way into the vibe of the album and highlight the attitude they are applying to other songs. This time around the album closes with a rather fabulous tribute to Bowie in the shape of ‘Space Oddity’. It’s a great tribute because it’s more than possible that this is the mood Bowie always intended the song to have, but knew he needed to write a hit. Subterranean Masquerade totally capture the pure despair and despondency hidden within the original, driving home the mental anguish that the lyrics portray. This version is slower and darker, crowned with Kjetil’s trademark melancholy delivery perfect for this version.

Taking this vocal style and attitude on board, it then becomes clearer that the previous tracks too are in essence dark and brooding, but the arrangements and instruments deliberately lend them an opposing air, a foil for the moments where this mood is pushed to fore. Basically, at times it’s like early Pink Floyd with latter day Beatles tunes being Metalled-up by Tristania and Orphaned Land. If that sounds fun to you and if like me, you like to expect the unexpected in an album of open-genred, open-minded Metal, then Subterranean Masquerade will certainly wet your whistle! (There was probably one of those on the album too…)

(8/10 Andy Barker)