Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever
My first contact with Israel’s Subterranean Masquerade was in a small club in my hometown in Northern Germany, where they stopped by during their 2016 tour with Chaos Divine and Votum. Apart from (or because of?) the fact that Van, Luis and I made up for around half of the audience, it was a memorable evening, and despite band leader Tomer Pink making me dance in front of the stage, I was in love with this mix of traditional Middle Eastern sounds, metal, the epic voice of Kjetil Nordhus (know from Norway’s doomy prog metallers Green Carnation) and the pure joy and energy on stage. Just a few days later we had the chance to meet the band again at ProgPower Europe – where they surprised 500 people and made them dance and jump – a prog crowd!
5 years later and 4 years after their previous album “Vagabond”, we find the band presenting their 4th full-length album in a slightly different iteration, most prominently, Nordhus and Eliran Weizman, who was responsible for the growls, left the band and their replacement is one man alone. But do not fret – Davidavi “Vidi” Dolev is effortlessly filling the two footsteps left behind – his voice easily changes from a soft rocky tone to the deepest growls, from a whisper to screams and anything in between. A phenomenal singer (even when he’s dangling high above the audience from the stage light tower)!
On guitar, Omer Fishbein has fully joined Submasq and the band announced their new drummer Jonathan Amar after the recording of this album. But let’s not jump ahead too far. “Mountain Fever” is the name of the Israeli’s latest effort, a title that just fits an album that was written and partially recorded on a mountain in the Golan Heights. Also, the band has been feverishly waiting to get their new music out there, with the album being ready for over a year already. But like so many things, the release had been delayed due to Covid and the lack of touring possibilities to promote the album. Now, it’s finally published through Sensory Records.
And boy has it been worth the wait. “Mountain Fever” is a huge step forward for Subterranean Masquerade. The songs, while still breathing the spirit that the fans will recognize immediately, are more varied than ever, spanning from extreme and black metal all the way to gospel. But everything is deeply grounded on the Israeli and Middle Eastern musical tradition. You can always hear the band’s roots, or as Davidavi Dolev summed up in our Progtalks interview with Rune: “You can taste the Hummus.”
While the previous albums were transmitting a feeling of travelling the Middle East and beyond, creating a sense of life on the road and on the streets, “Mountain Fever” is taking more of a look inwards, contemplating the longing to travel while being confined to a place – sound familiar? The perfect Covid theme, written before any of us knew what 2020 had in store for us.
The wide range of human feelings and emotion is reflected in the variety mentioned above. Right from the beginning with what could be called a classical SubMasq song, ‘Snake Charmer’, the effort put into this record and the attention that was paid to every detail is immediately evident. From the first sounds of the guitar and the drums, which once again were recorded by Orphaned Land’s Matan Shmuely, the great quality of the production can be heard (No wonder: the drums were recorded in Sweden at Fascination Street by David Castillo – just as, to give you a short but impressive list, Leprous, Katatonia or Opeth.) Also, the album was mixed by Jens Bogren and mastered by Tony Lindgren.
Small musical details create a super tight atmosphere, background singers add flavour and “Mountain Fever” drags you into its 55 Minute long journey. ‘Snake Charmer’ blends seamlessly into ‘Diaspora, My Love’, a constant crescendo building up to a smashing end.
In the title song, ‘Mountain Fever’, the band doesn’t even try to hold back and delivers the perfect “Subterrranean Masquarade” song. Period. The SubMasq trademark sound with brass instruments, woodwinds and tribal drums is accompanied by a melody with earworm qualities, growls, female guest singer Jackie Hole (The Super Things) and a djenty instrumental section to kneel down to. Yep, that’s it, best song of the album, over, out!
Oh, wait… that was just around ¼ of the record, and the driving ‘Inwards’ with its dramatic and musical-like ending reminds us that the band is far from finished.
Things get totally out of control in ‘Somewhere I Sadly Belong’. After a klezmer intro, we’re facing death-metal screaming courtesy of Ashmedi Melechesh (Melechesh) which is answered by Jackie Hole’s gospel singing, all framed by a desperate Hammond organ – what? A wonderful mess, just as the topic: The song is dedicated to all fugitives and displaced people in the world. The band published the video for ‘Somewhere I Sadly Belong’ just before the album release:
Subterranean Masquerade – Somewhere I Sadly Belong (click here if the video does not play)
The beautiful ‘The Stillnox Oratory’ gives us a little time to breathe and once more admire the versatility and – did I mention it? – phenomenal vocal abilities of Davidavi Dolev.
Those who watched The Progspace Online Festival – Holiday Edition, which was headlined by Subterranean Masquerade, will probably remember the next song. ‘Ascend’, the album’s first single, was played live for the first time back then. A more straight-forward and maybe the most “traditional” melodic metal song of the album, but always with that little taste of Hummus back in the mouth. And while Dolev’s voice once again shines, the instrumental part towards the end is stunningly arranged as well and the “Oioioi”-section surely will be a new live favourite.
Subterranean Masquerade – Ascend (click here if the video does not play)
Speaking about instrumental sections – the best one is still coming: ‘Ya Shema Evyonecha’ is sung in Hebrew and has ‘Isreal’ written all over it, and so does the instrumental second half with its diverse string and brass instrumentation. At the same time, it contains one of the heaviest sections of the album – go figure.
More is always more, though, so why not start the next song, ‘For the Leader, With Strings Music’ with black metal? Sure! And for some odd reason, it works and blends seamlessly into more traditional SubMasq sound after a while, while still having that darker tone. Oh, and there’s guttural singing, too, so that’s a check! How they manage to drop all this into a functioning and highly enjoyable song is a mystery to me.
The album ends with the second single, ‘Mångata’, the video for which (made by Costin Chioreanu) reached almost 130000 views on Youtube at the time of this writing. A melodic metal ballad, it has (not only in the title) a Scandinavian vibe and sounds like a nod to the previous singer, the majestic Kjetil Nordhus. An epic ending but for me one of the weaker songs of the album – though I might have gotten spoiled by the firework that was burned up in the 50 minutes before it.
Subterranean Masquerade – Mångata (click here if the video does not play)
“Mountain Fever” sees Subterranean Masquerade at the peak of their creativity. It is wild, experimental, over the top and exaggerated, but at the same time solidly based on the band’s roots and trademark sound and put together so well that it just works. If it makes one thing clear it is that the days of Subterranean Masquerade being a niche band playing in front of less than a dozen people should be long gone. They deserve a place on bigger stages – and the stage is where their music belongs, so let’s hope for tours to be possible soon again!
- Snake Charmer
- Diaspora, My Love
- Mountain Fever
- Somewhere I Sadly Belong
- The Stillnox Oratory
- Ya Shema Evyonecha
- For the Leader, With Strings Music