Masqued | Light In The Dark
Label: Sleaszy Rider Records
Release Year: 2017
Country: Houston/Texas USA
Genre: Progressive Metal
Jon Allen – Drums
Drew Creel – Guitar
Shane Dubose – Bass/Vocals
Eric Halpern – Guitar
Steffany Johnston – Vocals
Adam Rawlings – Keyboards
When I relocated to Houston Texas from Los Angeles California in 1988 -89 I will admit that the Houston Texas metal, progressive rock scene etc … was a rather eclectic mix much more than Los Angeles. One night you could go see Houston Blues legend Freddy Everret out on the Northwest side off Jones Road, another night you could be a Club 6400 or Numbers watching local bands like ZLotZ and Helstar, the fledgling Galactic Cowboys or St Louis Missouri transplants Kings X. There was even ZRock that was a 100% all Heavy Metal and Hard Rock station.
As the 1980’s gave way to the Alternative 1990’s, Houston found itself in a musical culture that was either forcing the flavour of the month in rock n roll down the throats of its citizens. Soon modern rock formatted stations such as 101.1 KLOL would go from decent modern rock and metal to a full blown Espanol station. Outside Classic Rock radio and KPFT a non commercial station here as well. Then there were the record stores that seemed to be one of the few entities keeping any metal scene together. You had Catcus near the Montrose, Diamondhead Records and Vinyl Edge on the Northwest side. Yes for a while in the later 1990’s and early 2000’s the metal scene seemed to be a little bleak around here.
However something began to happen where the scene. With the rise in the internet and the explosion of small to larger venues, bands in any genre began to reclaim a foothold within the general conscience. The House Of Blues started to welcome local bands, the 19th Hole up in The Woodlands and BFE off Jones Rd, started to book national acts like Savatage, Fates Warning, Seven Witches among local bands like Well Of Souls and the subject of this album review Masqued.
Brief Biography Courtesy Of Masqued Official Website
The band was formed in 2014 by guitarist Eric Halpern (HELSTAR, LEATHERWOLF), bassist Shane Dubose, and keyboardist Adam Rawlings, all formerly with local Houston, TX legends Z-LOT-Z. They recruited drummer Jon Allen (SADUS, TESTAMENT) and second guitarist Drew Creel (MEVYN), with Steffany Johnston providing the missing piece after an extensive vocalist search.
The group have just put the finishing touches on their first album which was produced by veteran SF Bay Area studio whiz Juan Urteaga (Testament, Vicious Rumors, Machine Head). Expect an amazing piece of American metal: melodic, progressive, aggressive, unique and modern, with elements from ‘70s rock and jazz, till Bay Area-thrash! Release date will be announced soon.
Eric Halpern on behalf of the band stated the following comments:
”After several years of hard work, MASQUED is very excited to present our debut CD! We are also proud to release it on Sleaszy Rider Records, a well-known and respected label. Metal fans around the globe, with much love and respect, we sincerely hope you enjoy our new music!”
My initial introduction to the band Masqued is a bit blurry. I believe it was a word of mouth thing combined with some social media exposure. I had the privilege of seeing the band live in its infancy at least once. I knew they were going to be a good band but I did not know they would turn out as good as they have. Although the band have only been a unit for 3+ years, in reality they have been preparing for this their entire lives with other prior musical ventures and other bands. With a lifetime of musical and personal experience the band unifies their God given talent that makes for a well crafted album that is The Light In The Dark. Masqued explore subjects of faith, spirituality and provide very uplifting positive in their compositions.
It would be easy and cliche to compare Masqued with other American Progressive Metal bands. If I had to best tell you the reader and potential fan of Masqued, I would say they are a cross between Shadow Gallery meets the Wedding Party. Vocally Steffany Johnston is a female version coming of the late Mike Baker of Shadow Gallery. Her pitch perfect range is well balanced throughout the album. On the male vocal side Shane Dubose lends a very strong European flavour to the band reminding me very much of Andrea Ferro of Lacuna Coil. On the instrumental side of the band it is one of the top and stellar lineups in the industry today. This is due to all the time playing live as a band and really honing the craft prior to making a full debut album.
There seems to be hook and riff after hook and riff. I will note the highlights of every track going forward.
A New Beginning is a straight forward instrumental intro to open up the album. Its heavy Arabic scale lends a very unique and beautiful dimension to the album from the first note go. It seamlessly transitions smoothly into the next track The Light In The Dark.
The Light In The Dark explodes with a thunderous rhythm section right out of the starting gate off A New Beginning. This is also the official first single off the album. The chord progressions are very tight like the band have been together for 10+ years. There is no filler whatsoever. Every chord progression and rhythm portion all serve a purpose and do their own intended purpose. Steffany Johnston – Vocals and Shane DuBoise – Bass/Vocals really play tight off one another. Their vocal structure is also in perfect pitch with the melodic composition half of the this track. The vocals do not overwhelm nor appear to have once ounce of weakness with the melody and harmony of the song. Lyrically the band immediately establishes a much more positive and uplifting message that is sometimes lacking in progressive metal.
The Call begins with thunderous rhythm sections with some very beautiful ethereal vocal chants. It soon switches gears towards a more atmospheric progressive track and the beautiful yet uplifting female vocals come in and really play on key with the instrumental section. Lyrically the subject matter revolves around life choices and destiny. This is one of the more aggressive tracks on the album. It is not only a heavy track sonically but vocally it is full of passion and grace. The track contains some very insane chord progressions and time signatures that certainly qualify it as a progressive minded song.
Let Go begins with a very blistering introduction with various chord progressions met with some very intricate time signatures in the rhythm section. It reminds me a lot of Shadow Gallery’s Deeper Than Life off 1995’s Carved In Stone as far as the explosive riffs and emotion within the opening instrumental section. Once again the female vocal narrative is on perfect point and range. Steffany Johnston totally demonstrates full control along with Shane DuBose in the male vocal narrative. It seems that vocal control and orientation is becoming the rule throughout the album more than just some exception and Let Go is yet another perfect example of this.
Hypnotized is a perfect demonstration of the band’s uncanny ability to create something different with every song and a killer brainstorm in the mixing of the track. In perfect harmony between the opening instrumental passage in perfect harmony with the vocal the track is fades in gradually and seamlessly. This track is very heavy on guitar solo’s as the beginning starts as a solo. Both the male and female vocal narratives work much like a melodic dialogue going back and forth in various sections. The instrumentals are very brutal and heavy throughout the song serving as perfect filters for the various solo’s. The outro is a beautiful blend of the brutal rhythm sections with the beautiful ethereal vocals.
Bullet By Bullet starts off with the band’s signature deep thunderous rhythm section in melody with the beautiful piano styles of Adam Rawlings – Keyboards. There are some breaks in the early notes before the song begins to blister the senses. The blistering soon subsides to the beautiful soothing balm of Steffany Johnston’s vocals. The message again is one of very uplifting. Then the male vocal narrative of Shane DuBose switches in and out. This is also followed by brilliant solo’s done by Drew Creel – Guitar , Eric Halpern – Guitar, Adam Rawlings – Keyboards. Much of this track reminds me a lot of Dream Theater’s Awake in 1994 meets Teremaze’s Tears To Dust in 1998.
The Other Side starts out with a spoken word narrative before going into a opening passage that is very Iron Maiden style, especially with Hallowed Be Thy Name. It does level off into a progressive frenzy of various guitars solo’s and atmospheric keyboards within the background. You have this situation that allows both guitarists to display their great rhythm work. The guitars come from out of the stringed section and meet up more with the rhythm section in the song. The vocal harmony even plays off the rhythm section very fluidly. Of course a few intricate guitar solo’s appear but within in the context of the rhythm section more than a stringed section.
Broken can easily be a single much like The Light In The Dark. It has a beautiful verse bridge verse to it. Where it lacks in chorus it certainly makes up for with beautiful vocal work and intricate guitar work. I can see this one gain a foothold within in live sets as the band progresses and plays shows in support of the album.
Rise Up starts out seeing and hearing Jon Allen – Drums put on one of the best drumming clinics on a album I have heard in the last 20 years. He certainly sets the tone for the rest of the band to chime in instrumentally and vocally to give the listener a full all out assault on the senses of the next 6:05. Once again the vocal narrative between Stefanny Johnston and Shane Dubose is spot on perfect in melody to the instrumental. The unsung hero on the song being Jon Allen on drums.
In a year that did see Houston Texas battered by Hurricane Harvey this album was very needed within the Houston metal, progressive and general musical community overall. Masqued The Light In The Dark and the World Series victory of the Houston Astro’s in that order are highlights in what appeared to be a dark bleak 2017. I knew I had moved from Los Angeles to Houston for a reason. This album is among those reasons and blessings. Masqued The Light In The Dark is now on my very short list of Album Of The Year 2017 contenders right up there with Ayreon, Nad Sylvan, Quadrus, Scardust and Perihelion Ship. Masqued The Light In The Dark gets a perfect 5/5 for stellar work.