Subterranean Masquerade - Mountain Fever
Sensory Records
Progressive/Folk Metal
10 songs (53:58)
Release year: 2021
Subterranean Masquerade, Sensory Records
Reviewed by Goat

Coming back for album number four, Israeli ensemble Subterranean Masquerade have gone through a few line-up changes, replacing known and respected vocalists such as Kjetil Nordhus (Green Carnation, Tristania) and Paul Kuhr (November's Doom) with new guy Davidavi Dolev. It's a risky move, but it's a pleasure to be able to say that Dolev mostly knocks it out of the park with a performance full of the passion and emotional intensity that we're used to hearing from the band. Sure, some of the harsher moments can be a little shaky (and yes, it can still be a little jarring to hear a progressive folk band including harsh vocals at all, even with knowledge of the more metallic earlier releases) but all in all it's a tremendous effort, matching the instrumental side in terms of how well the band plays together. And the usual mixture of genres that the band blend together so well is expanded here, from the ska and klezmer-tinged trumpets of the title track to groovy MENA-infused rock with saxophone freak-outs (Inward).

There's a lot to like in terms of songwriting, Tomer Pink and co always capable of writing an ear-snagging guitar melody that always seem to manage to blend well with the vocal lines. Little touches of psychedelic rock here and there, such as on the pretty opener Snake Charmer or the languid acoustic follow-up Diaspora My Love, give the air of an Eastern Pink Floyd. The latter builds wonderfully from a soft opening not a million miles away from Avantasia territory to snarling vocals atop a complex acoustic and Eastern backing before ending a little suddenly. It can be deflating for songs to end like this, and Mountain Fever suffers a little from erring too much towards the mindset of leaving the listener wanting more instead of supplying it. Yet each new song has its own delights that rapidly charm, a little hand percussion interlude here, a violin or keyboard trill there, and the album as a whole is so melodic and listener-friendly (even with the growls) that this is sure to be the most accessible release yet from the band. It was hard for your reviewer, taking notes on initial listens, not to find something to love about each and every track present, considering each for inclusion in the Killing Songs© box below on its own merits. As a whole, Mountain Fever is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable and plain fun listens of the year.

Which is not, of course, to say that it is without faults. Dolev's more higher-pitched vocals here and there may annoy those unused to them, for instance, and the yelped punk-styled verses on Somewhere I Sadly Belong are quite System of a Down-y, and not in a good way. Yet there are always balances, such as the growls and gospel-esque chorus on the same song, which give the sort of avant-garde vibe not seen since the band's debut Suspended Animation Dreams. And the melodic doomy build to The Stillnox Oratory suffers only slightly from the range of vocals, since the performance is so clearly heartfelt (and, again, with more than a hint of Sammet-y theatrics). Some may want the band to be a little more metallic and heavy, yet that could feel a little shoehorned in if not done right and it's hard to feel the absence too keenly. This is especially true with moments like the more riff-focused take on the traditional Jewish Ya Shema Evyonecha ("God, hear your wretched") or the outright extreme metal overtures to the opening of eight-minute epic For the Leader With Strings Music, which can only be described as mid-period-Arcturus-but-Israeli! After that, closer Mångata can feel like something of an anticlimax, yet it's hardly a bad song and ties the 50+ minute album off well without feeling like its length. This would be a career-best release from many other bands; those who prefer 2015's The Great Bazaar for its tighter, more emotionally-impactful songwriting can't be blamed, but Mountain Fever certainly is a strong showing.

Killing Songs :
Snake Charmer, Diaspora My Love, Ascend, Ya Shema Evyonecha
Goat quoted 83 / 100
Other albums by Subterranean Masquerade that we have reviewed:
Subterranean Masquerade - The Great Bazaar reviewed by Goat and quoted 85 / 100
Subterranean Masquerade - Suspended Animation Dreams reviewed by Alex and quoted 80 / 100
Subterranean Masquerade - Temporary Psychotic State reviewed by Alex and quoted no quote
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