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The Red Masque

Live in Metuchen, New Jersey, November, 2006

Review by Julie Knispel

The NJ Proghouse series of concerts has been a boon to fans of progressive music in the NY/NJ metro area. Promoter Jim Robinson has presented a variety of shows, ranging from progressive metal to folk to avant progressive rock. Shows are generally in smaller venues, allowing the audience a much more intimate concert experience.
On 4 November 2006, the NJ Proghouse was host to Skeletonbreath and The Red Masque. Special guests for the evening were Paul Sears, drummer for the Muffins, and Dave Kerman, drummer for Present, 5UUs, and Thinking Plague, among other bands. The show was held at the Old Franklin Schoolhouse, a 200-year old one-room schoolhouse in Metuchen NJ. Venue capacity is listed at 75, and the night of this performance, it appeared to be comfortably 2/3 full.

The Red Masque hails from the Philadelphia area, and has developed a devoted following over the past 5 years. They have seen their share of lineup changes, but currently are a quartet featuring Lynnette Shelley (vocals and percussion), Brandon Ross (bass guitar and keyboards), Andrew Kowal (guitars, mandolin, violin) and Vonorn (drums, percussion, keyboards, theremin). As a result of recent illness, guests Paul Sears and Dave Kerman filled out the band at this performance on drums.

From the beginning of their performance it was apparent that the tech gremlins that visited during Skeletonbreath’s set were not satisfied with breaking a snare drum. Kowal was having extreme difficulty controlling feedback on his guitar; any time he turned his instrument up above a very low volume, it would feed back uncontrollably. Additionally, it seemed the band was having a hard time hearing each other on stage. Despite this, they soldiered on through a set filled with their unique brand of avant garde angualrity, tribal improv, and gothic darkness.

The Red Masque opened with “Carbon 14,” a track from their forthcoming album, Fossil Eyes. An incredibly heavy song, verging on heavy metal, this is a showcase of Ross’s bass playing, deep, distorted, and again Zeuhlish. While quite different in feel from anything the band has released previously, it is also an obvious continuation of their progression from the material on the band's last album, Feathers for Flesh. Shelley has a powerful voice, easily shifting from throaty contralto to a crystalline soprano, yet the difficult sound mix kept her voice, and Kowal’s guitar, from being quite as readily heard. Meanwhile, guest Paul Sears was holding down the shifting beats with remarkable ease; The Red Masque’s music can never be accused of being straightforward and easy to follow, yet he handled the always-changing meter without breaking a sweat.
The group’s second song of the night, “Passage,” opened propulsively, with Crimson-esque guitar and chorded bass over an equally quick drum pattern. From there the song shifted gears into a quieter, spacey vocal section, offering Shelley one of the first opportunities this evening to show off her voice to its fullest. Live, the song takes on a different personality from the studio version, which features layered vocals and a more medieval feel, but by no means is the piece worse for that change. “Passage” flowed into the first of two extended improvisations; this is an area the band excels in, taking songs into distant reaches where other bands often fear to tread. The group showed some restraint with their improvisation at this show, likely as a result of their difficulty in hearing each other play.

The second of two new songs followed this improvisation, titled “The Spider is the Web.” Again, the piece was heavier than any previous The Red Masque composition, and showed in part why the band changed guitarists prior to the recording of the forthcoming Fossil Eyes. They followed this with a second track from their 2004 release Feathers for Flesh, the album opener “House of Ash.” Live, the song evoked the laments of a lost and ancient god, and it is in many ways the quintessential TRM song, with fuzzed bass, angular guitar, primal drumming, and Shelley’s voice weaving a tale of praeternatural darkness.

At that point in the set The Red Masque bid adieu to Paul Sears. Replacing him was the groups’ second special guest for the evening, Dave Kerman, best known as the madman behind the drum kit for groups such as Thinking Plague, Present and 5 UUs, among others. His reputation for percussion insanity preceded him, and he wasted no time in living up to the expectations of the audience, abusing his kit, the walls of the schoolhouse, and fire extinguishers with hand mixers, wind up children’s toys, Barbie dolls, and occasionally even drumsticks. The group opened this final part of their performance with another extended improvisation, evolved with ease into the final composed piece of the evening, “Tidal,” a Lovecrafitan ode to the Great Old Ones that featured on the group’s debut EP from 2001.

Despite the obvious technical difficulties that affected the group’s normal musical fluidity and communication, The Red Masque put on a solid performance, and their new material bodes well for an impressive album to come.
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 6 at
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