Masqued – The Light in the Dark (Sleaszy Rider Records)Sunday, 12th November 2017
A sextet of musicians from the Houston, Texas area, Masqued contains some veterans within the underground metal scene, especially to those who follow power, progressive or thrash. Guitarist Eric Halpern has ties to Helstar, Destiny’s End, and Leatherwolf, drummer Jon Allen with Testament, Sadus, and Dragonlord, plus bassist Shane Dubose and keyboardist Adam Rawlings spent time with Eric in Z-Lot-Z. Masqued is the latest foray together, rounding out the lineup with second guitarist Drew Creel and vocalist Steffany Johnston. Actively writing and getting some shows under their belt, the band signed with Greek label Sleaszy Rider and issue their debut full-length The Light in the Dark – a solid initial record that showcases a potent blend of progressive metal with traditional and symphonic edges.
One distinction that comes to the forefront is the choice for Adam to embellish his symphonic/orchestral duties with real keyboard/piano passages that add texture and a human touch to the proceedings – “The Other Side” and moodier “The Call” clear examples of his proficiencies and song first, showcase later approach. Steffany as a vocalist prefers to let her natural power register shine – much of her work aligning with Veronica Freeman of Benedictum, holding court with her higher reaches in splendor, up to the challenge on a more neoclassical driven, progressive arrangement like “Let Go” as easily as the dramatic, back and forth clean to heavier “Broken” (which includes tradeoffs with Shane on the vocal front). Masqued aren’t afraid to allow the guitarists a chance to seek the spotlight, injecting twin harmonies and layers of counterpoint aspects to fill out the sonic landscape. Those who miss the Destiny’s End days will find closer “Rise Up” especially exciting, the double bass action and high-octane guitar/vocal interplay very spirited with lots of intriguing twists over the six-minute long arrangement.
Seeking out Juan Urteaga (Testament/Machine Head) on the production front with assistance in tracking by Brian Baker ensures a modern, professional sounding full-length – and at 46 minutes, tidy enough to keep continuous playback interest. You don’t hear many bands like Masqued in today’s era – powerful and progressive enough, while keeping the symphonic nuances in the background. The Light in the Dark could be a hidden gem for those who love US metal with bite and solid songwriting.