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Sub Science - 2008 - "A History of Hysterics"

(45.49, 'Sub Science')


****+
                 
TRACK LIST:                   

1.  Hole in the Ocean 3:29
2.  Hysterics 3:14
3.  Comfort 3:58
4.  Fire in the Hole 3:23
5.  Distracted 3:12
6.  Hyde 4:30
7.  End It All 4:13
8.  Shallow Home 4:55
9.  Paralytic 3:34
10. The Descendants 5:25 
11. The Shame 5:56

LINEUP:

Sebastiaan Paskalis  vocals
Leander Tschakalov  guitar 
Juan Manssens  bass
Jeroen Rau  drums 

Prolusion. Formed back in 2001 in the Belgian city of Antwerp, SUB SCIENCE is a quartet with an extensive history of live activity in their native country. Following a number of successful demos, their debut album, A History of Hysterics was released in 2008.

Analysis. Like in any form of human activity, in every artistic movement there are the leaders, and then there are the followers. Throughout its forty years of existence, progressive rock has proved no exception to this rule. Just as its founders spawned their share of clones (Starcastle, anyone?), every subsequent prog era has seen the rise of genuinely creative bands, and those instead who have been content to follow in those bands footsteps without really developing a distinctive style of their own. Nowadays, alongside those bands and artists (often labelled as retro) who reproduce more or less faithfully the sounds made popular by the likes of Yes, Genesis, ELP and their ilk, there are a number of acts who while conveniently gathered under the umbrella of modern prog are very diverse from each other, though distinguished by an authentically innovative impulse. It will not come as a surprise that, just like the giants of the Seventies, each of those acts has inspired a whole slew of followers, whose resemblance to the original is sometimes nothing short of embarrassing. In the case of Sub Science, while calling them, mere copyists may sound unduly harsh, even a casual listen to their debut album, A History of Hysterics, will make comparisons to The Mars Volta inevitable. The shadow of the seminal US band looms large over the album, just like it does over a good number of other recent releases. However, unlike other bands, who welcome other influences into their sound, Sub Science seem to so be uncannily faithful to their model that their album could easily be tagged as TMV-lite. On the other hand, unlike TMV (often an easy target for accusations of self-indulgence), Sub Science are nothing if restrained the longest track on their album falls short of the 6-minute mark, with most of them between 3 and 4 minutes in length. This is a far cry from TMVs sprawling epics, which sometimes sound as if they were throwing the proverbial everything but the kitchen sink into a single track. Sub Science keep a tight rein on any kind of jamming or improvisation, and their songs are basically rock songs showing a recurring pattern frequently shifting from fast to slow, from harsh, abrasive riffing to looser, more atmospheric passages. This pattern, though indeed quite recognizable in TMVs compositions, is only one component of their infuriatingly intriguing sound. Another obvious point of comparison is the vocals. Singers with high-pitched voices seem to be a dime a dozen on the modern prog scene, but very few of them can really claim to leave their mark. While Sub Science vocalist, Sebastiaan Paskalis, obviously models his singing style on Cedric Bixler-Zavalas, his voice is not as versatile or commanding, and more often than not comes across as slightly whiny. Cedrics vocals, while (like Geddy Lees) very much an acquired taste, possess a substance and clout that Paskalis has yet to develop. Given all the factors illustrated above, it is not easy to pick out any individual songs for analysis. Interestingly, there are no slow numbers on this album, though the spacey Shallow Home and closer The Shame adopt a more relaxed stance than most of the other tracks. Fire in the Hole comes across as the most accessible item, with an almost infectious chorus and a nicely muscular bass line. As a matter of fact, bassist Juan Manssens is possibly the real star of this album, holding the bands sound together with his nimble, powerful playing, perfectly synchronised with Jeroen Raus pyrotechnic drum work. Examples of the excellence of this rhythm section can be found throughout the album, as the jagged, stop-start nature of the compositions requires. Guitarist Leander Tshakalovs work, on the other hand, is rather understated in the first half of the album, then comes to the fore in the second half, especially in the last four songs - his finest hour being possibly The Descendants, where he wrings all sorts of weird sounds from his instrument. Though undeniably derivative, A History of Hysterics is a very accomplished offering, played with skill and enthusiasm, and remarkably well produced for an independent release hence the rating.

Conclusion. Fans of The Mars Voltas sound may find A History of Hysterics worthy of attention unless they are put off by the similarities between the two bands. Sub Science are undoubtedly skilled musicians, and there is a lot of potential lurking beneath those eleven songs. However, as is the case with many modern bands, they will soon have to find a voice of their own, if they wish to become more than yet another independent band sounding a bit too much like a famous one.

RB=Raffaella Berry: July 6, 2009
The Rating Room


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