REVIEW: Subterranean Masquerade - “Temporary Psychotic State”

By Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Chain Border

So you think it's criminal to hear bands such as New Found Glory and Incubus labeled as "alternative?" Well, sad to say, but it is. Take hope, friends. Both Morrissey and The Cure have returned in 2004 and enter now a promising outfit with as much a legitimate stake to calling themselves alternative as, say, Blur or Catherine Wheel, a highly unconventional yet convexly intelligent band calling themselves Subterranean Masquerade. With more than a mere debt to Pink Floyd guiding their two-track, seventeen minute-plus EP, Temporary Psychotic State, Subterranean Masquerade is a culmination of instrumentation and chilling lyrical content that is a seriously entertaining voyage nonetheless.

The title track with a subtitle of "(A recollection of where it all began)," begins with a gleeful opening narration that tricks the listener into thinking he's about to embark on a familiar trip with Mr. Bungle, yet almost instantaneously, nods of Pink Floyd and The Cure join the Mike Patton-flavored spirit with a swarming gangbang of acoustic, bass, violin and a seventies-minded guitar lead. The beat drives the track, treading cautiously into gloom yet immediately rescues itself amidst such powerful lyrics as, "I wish my fingers to bleed from a touch of grace," and, "Passionate to paint my dreams in daylight, beyond the fields of grief, a path." The flotilla of instrumentation really conveys the journey the narrator is taking us on, a plea for hope as insanity and despair threatens to, and ultimately engulfs, him. Witness the progression as the vocals shift from monotone to death metal growl as the track sucker-punches the listener with hard delivery, while the story succumbs to its fall from grace with the cryptic, "Immortal, I'll become one with the dust...Forgive me as I'm losing." The brilliance of this epic is punctuated by the dénouement stanza, "Do you know how it feels to be awakened as water covers my eyes?"

Observation Through Metamorphosis picks up the narration from the previous track and rockets with a sensory overload of instrumentation in early Pink Floyd tradition, as the violin temporarily flirts with the melody of My Favorite Things until the pace is abruptly halted and sent on a different spiral. The yowling vocals past the two minute mark take on an irrefutable Floyd Dark Side ambience while the instruments resume their homage to early Floyd. They become trippy and somewhat ambivalent, yet they work, just as they did on the title track. Subterranean Masquerade's talent for switching gears and taking the listener to the edge is undeniable. The sweeping transitions from serene and aquatic to aggressive is nearly flawless, as the hammering double bass of the drums leads the track into a brief coupling with heavy metal, as the guitars threaten to blitz with the outraged vocals. Meanwhile, the narration spookily tells us, "Mirrors upon mirrors of my soul trapped in a maze, but it's useless to express the pain...Room 63 is silent tonight...Behind the door, you can barely hear...Footsteps to another dream...From here..." and a mantra of, "Will you hear?" shakes the track asunder as a melancholy violin takes the rest of the instruments by the hand into a satisfying fadeout, accentuated by a maudlin but oddly soothing Mellotron.

Dedicated to "the woodpecker in your head," Subterranean Masquerade intermittently declares itself a musical outlaw. In this respect, it deserves to be considered alternative, not the sellout drippiness of a once-great punk unit, AFI. Alternative is a state of mind, as it was often claimed in the original movement. Doesn't mean it has to have peacock hairstyles, black pajamas and slippery mascara. It just means it has to defy the status quo of mainstream music in such a vibrant – and often morose – demeanor. Subterranean Masquerade succeeds on both levels. Dare we say, since music critics feel the impulsive need to categorize, that Subterranean Masquerade should be called prog-alt? Perhaps. Perhaps not. In either case, this group is alternative the way it was meant to be.

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