Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
IQ - Subterranea CD (album) cover





3.98 | 678 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

5 stars (9/10)

Wow. Just wow. From the first song ("Overture") it is very clear that this will be an album of grand ambition. "Subterranea" is a gargantuan concept album, weighing in at over 100 minutes. There are many highlights in this album. I want to keep this review a reasonable length, so I will try to mostly talk in broader terms about that album in it's totality. After all, it is a concept album, and will stand or fall on this criterion above all others. I will say though, that amongst the many great songs, my personal top 5 (unordered) would be "Overture", "Subterranea", "Failsafe", "Capricorn" and "The Narrow Margin".

Some have compared this album to Genesis' also double concept album "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway". Well, okay, insofar as this is a progressive concept album over two discs, with repeated music themes running through the songs, telling one big story. This is really the whole of the similarity. Musically, they are two very different beasts. In fact, I would be so bold as to commit the possible heresy of saying that this is the superior album.

Okay, I probably just lost a bunch of readers right there, but I am willing to explain this (perhaps 'bold' is the nicest way of putting it) assertion. Firstly, I should say that I really like both. Obviously the musicianship and especially vocals in both the Genesis and IQ albums are the some of the strongest you will hear. Where I feel "Subterranea" nudges ahead is that it presents us with a more unified sound, a far more compelling story, effectively utilised modern sound and production values, and far more attention is paid to the structuring of the album.

Some examples of the thoughtful way the album is structured would be: we have a really exciting overture, presenting us with a taste of much of the greatness to come; the clever way the different versions of the same melody in "State Of Mine" and "Laid Low" move us between the two discs, shifting the mood; and using a 20 minute song to give the album a really epic ending. The album itself feels very self-contained. Musical themes that run throughout the album feed out from the overture, and as time goes on, feed into the final epic ("The Narrow Margin"). This goes for the lyrics as well, the first words are "Are you inside, Provider, or am I" and the last words are "Provider, are you inside or am I?" ? much like the nameless hero, we end up in a place strangely like the start.

Our hero is a nameless adaptation of the real life person Kaspar Hauser, who was also portrayed in the intelligent and enjoyable German film "The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser". The protagonist is similarly the subject of some mysterious experiment (that leaves him cut off from all contact with the rest of the humanity since birth), and is suddenly released into the outside world. The story diverges in "Subterranea" when he interacts with the outside world, finding others like himself, and searching for the mysterious puppet master 'Mockenrue', leading to a dramatic confrontation in the climax of the album.

I'm not even getting into any of the details along the way. If you don't follow the plot straight away (or maybe before you listen to the album) I would suggest reading the wikipedia article for this album, as it actually has a very good summary of the story. It will be worth it, this is one of the most interesting stories a concept album has ever told. I don't think I've seen the story aspect done so well, and fused with such consistent songwriting apart from on "Operation: Mindcrime". It's dark, and thought-provoking. As it happens, it is even being made into a feature length film in the near future, which you should look out for as it seems it will be a fascinating piece. I'm proud to say I personally donated $55 to the kickstarter campaign to make it happen.

Musically, everyone is strong here, and we carry forward the traits that made previous IQ albums great (e.g. strong fusion of melody and rhythm) whilst adding some new things too. The unique vocals of Peter Nicholls drive the developing moods of the story forward in an emotive manner. Martin Orford, whilst retaining his individual skill is now even better at facilitating the sound of the rest of the band. This is John Jowitt's second album on bass, and he really makes his presence felt, with excellent use of fretless bass, especially on the title track, "Subterranea". IQ are also moving towards a heavier and darker sound, with passages of brooding atmospheres. The addition of saxophone is welcome, and it is blasting powerfully on "Capricorn", leading in to one of Mike Holmes most dramatic guitar solos. Never before had IQ achieved such a big sound. There are so many recurring musical themes, but they are woven together skilfully. The long songs are all gold, no exceptions, and the short ones hold the album together as a cohesive whole really effectively.

I'm not going to pretend that "Subterranea" is a simple album to get into. It will take time to digest, but it will be time well spent. Without doubt, a lot of IQ's strongest material is within this album. Whilst some songs stand alone better than others (for example, "Failsafe" is a fantastic song however you play it, whereas I really feel "The Narrow Margin" needs to be heard as part of the album, in particular), to get the full effect you must listen to "Subterranea" as one continuous piece. Given time for the music to sink in, it becomes apparent that this is what it sounds like when huge ambitions pay off.

ScorchedFirth | 5/5 |


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Share this IQ review

Social review comments () BETA

Review related links

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives