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IQ - Subterranea CD (album) cover





3.97 | 635 ratings

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Cygnus X-2
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Like I mentioned in my previous review of Spock's Beard's Snow, most groups at one point try to create an innovative story and expand over two discs or in the old days two vinyls. While some concepts are easier to digest (for example Spock's Beard's Snow or The Who's Quadrophenia) others are terribly cryptic and the story is extremely hard to follow (Pain of Salvation's BE). This album lands more on the cryptic and dense part than the easy to digest, in my opinion. In fact, it was only recently (when I asked an IQ fan) what the story for this album was. Despite the incredibly dense story line, musically this album has some real shining moments, but like most concept albums is wrought with the problem of overuse of ideas. Nicholls is the dominating factor on this album with the vocals being more of a lead instrument than ever. But that doesn't mean that the rest of the group is just backing, the musicians in the group worked as hard as ever creating music to give a backdrop to the certain atmosphere of each piece, be it the ambient Provider, or the rocking and somewhat heavy epic of The Narrow Margin. I guess in the end it all comes down to opinion.

At this point I think it'd be best if I tell you the story from the source I've heard (forum member Richardh), "Secret Underground Lab. People are kept there from birth for observation/experimental purposes. Then they escape. Our protagonist lives on the top ..finds love along the way ...then all the escapees get captured and are all burnt to death trying to get away (The Narrow Margin) apart from our protagonist who decides he doesn't like the world above and volunteers to go back down..but he is the only one left. End.".

The album is about 100 minutes long and split essentially evenly onto two discs, with the first having the bulk of the album. Opening with the instrumental piece Overture (like most conceptual pieces do anyway) from the get go one can see a more concise and to the point IQ musically. The hardest thing to digest about this story is the vocals, which in my opinion require looking into heavily if you even want to find a trace of the storyline in them. Pieces like Subterranea and Failsafe could be stand alone pieces, though, they have that edge over the rest of the pieces, which seem like a more cohesive whole. You can also hear a budding experimentation in the group in The Sense in Sanity, which utilizes what I believe to be marimba for the entire piece (which plays a solid 7/4 motif). Musically. the guys haven't changed their sound drastically, they still bow down to the same cliche that they have been for their entire career, but they've always been able to make it work and it is no different here.

The second disc could have used a bit of self editing and the album would have made a fantastic single album, by the way. Laid Low is essentially an instrumental that could have been cut out because all it is is a repitition of the same theme from State of Mine (the song that ended the first disc). Still, though, there are a few tracks that are really quite good and I couldn't imagine the album without them. Somewhere in Time has a fantastic main melody and Nicholls' vocals are quite soothing at times. Mike Holmes is also fantastic on this track performing in his style that has become quickly identifiable these days (for me at least). The Narrow Margin is the final, and longest piece on the album running at exactly 20 minutes. And like most IQ epics it runs at a formula, but any trace of said formula can be only found in minute places. I actually couldn't imagine a more fitting ending to the album, as it runs the mill of emotions and ends essentially with what began the album (the Provider theme is repeated again with the same lyrics).

So I guess in the end it all comes down to if you can take long concept pieces where most of the time you'll be unaware of a concept unless you really look into it. Musically, I love this album as it is short and to the point, but they're not afraid to let loose and really get something going at the same time. If you're expecting an album like The Wake or Ever you'll come up a bit short, but for those who really want a rollercoaster ride of emotions, then this album may be the one for you. Me? I'm in the middle, as I find a lot of this album to be interesting, but a few fatal flaws mar it from being anywhere near a masterpiece (this is all my opinion, though). 3.5/5.

Cygnus X-2 | 3/5 |


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