IQ - Subterranea

Year of Release: 1997
Label: Giant Electric Pea
Catalog Number: GEPCD 1021
Format: CD
Total Time: 102:31:00

Summary of history:

There are such releases that everybody is looking forward too with groping, greedy ears, and this must be one of them. Especially when everybody knew that the next IQ album would be their most adventurous ever, being a concept double album, anxiously the release has been awaited. It is my solemn duty and unholy pleasure to announce ... Subterranea

The album:

Let me get one thing straight ... from the neo-classical tuning of the instruments and the instrumental showcase called "Overture" until the twenty minute "The Narrow Margin," this must be one, if not the, most important progressive releases of 1997. I was never all that satisfied with Ever, mostly because I found the album lacking in the melodies. It seems now the band has been hoarding their melodies for Subterranea, which is IQ's Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (for instance, as with Genesis, this is their sixth studio album, although I'm sure you will also know the differences as well as I do). Of course both are concept albums, but more importantly for some, I have been told by someone who saw the live show, that this might give people a good idea of the Lamb show. BTW with respect to the sound of the album, the album does continue the line of Ever, but in a better way with better songs and (vocal) melodies.

A hard point is always what to talk about when you review an album like this. Like I said, the "Overture" starts with some neo-classical stuff and continues into a melting pot of melodies and themes that will recur in the following. In fact lots of times during the album I get deja-vú's from earlier IQ album, but don't worry they're not plagiarizing. Every single instrument is allowed its place and in some cases, like "Subterranea," a saxophone has been added for good measure. The vocals of Nicholls are still plaintive and maybe not to everyone's liking, but in my case it is a sound that I have grown up with. A good example of the music on this album is "Sleepless Incidental:" soft acoustic parts, aggressive rhythm guitars, layers of keyboards, great up-tempo and slow solo's on the keyboard, varied drumming, and melodic guitar solo's to round it all off.

"Speak My Name" is entirely different and is in fact a very soft ballad with only keyboard accompaniment and an acoustic guitar middle part. This is in fact one of the songs that the band played on their last tour in Holland. Still after the relative hectic first tracks it is good to have a breather.

Well the album continues like this and not surprisingly themes recur along the way, which of course is what a concept album musically is about. Some of the songs like "Tunnel Vision" are slow in developing, developing a thread that goes over a number of tracks and as such some of the songs will not lend themselves easily to being played out of context. Other tracks such as the instrumental "State of Mine" shine, in their one short, bombastic and energetic outburst.

Continuing now with the second disc we get "Laid Low," a repetition of "State Of Mine," but now quieter and plaintive (a la Camel) on piano. A beautiful melody. The contrast with the pouncing "Breathtaker" is very noticable. In my opinion this is the weakest song on the album, with a rather weak vocal melody. The next one "Capricorn" is the first climax with humming bass work, a great melody, some great emotional saxophone work and a long closing guitar solo. "The Other Side" is more like a tribute to Geoff Mann with a wobbly guitar.

I must be listening to too much music, because although the guitar in "Unsolid Ground" sounds so familiar I can't for the life of me remember where from. "Unsolid Ground" by the way is rather a standard rock song. "Somewhere In Time" is better with a soft beginning and a strong continuation with the guitar on the fore. After the also great "High Waters," the album closes with the twenty minute epic "The Narrow Margin". Opening softly with slow percussion, vocals, piano and wailing guitar we get into a poppier part with good melodies. It will not surprise you if I say that this song is the climax of the album with great melodies, intricate playing, raging guitars, loose drumming and diverse themes fighting for dominance. BTW there are a few hints to Camel's Nude in the guitar parts. The song ends on a low key like "Provider" and the sound of a drain cover being put back into place.

A little talk on the concept itself then: it isn't easy to get at the particulars, because the lyrics of Nicholls are quite vague. It is about modern day life with all its possibilities and contradictions. I have a distinct feeling there's something religious going on in there and even have the impression that the main person might be some sort of messiah. I hope to be able to give a less abstract appraisal of the story after seeing the concert.

The artwork is professional which is no wonder for a release like this. I would like to note that one symbol can be found throughout the booklet, a combination of the Japanese flag and a domino stone.

I do ask myself whether an album can have too many emotional climaxes. If so we might have an overdose here.


The previous five studio albums have culminated into the organic Subterranea, which turns out to be as good as they say it is. My advice is: buy it.

This review courtesy Jurriaan Hage of Axiom Of Choice -ed.

Disc One - Overture (4:38) / Provider (1:36) / Subterranea (5:53) / Sleepless Incidental (6:23) / Failsafe (8:57) / Speak My Name (3:34) / Tunnel Vision (7:24) / Infernal Chorus (5:09) / King of Fools (2:02) / The Sense of Sanity (4:47) / State of Mine (1:59)

Disc Two - Laid Low (1:29) / Breathtaker (6:04) / Capricorn (5:16) / The Other Side (2:22) / Unsolid Ground (5:04) / Somewhere In Time (7:11) / High Waters (2:43) / The Narrow Margin (20:00)

Peter Nicholls - lead vocals, backing vocals
Mike Holmes - guitar, guitar synth
John Jowitt - bass, backing vocals
Martin Orford - keyboards, backing vocals
Paul Cook - drums, percussion


Tony Wright - saxophone

Tales From The Lush Attic (1983)
The Wake (1985)
Nine In A Pond Is Here (1985)
Living Proof (1986)
Nomzamo (1987)
Are You Sitting Comfortably? (1989)
J'ai Pollette D'arnu (1991)
Ever (1994)
Forever Live (1996)
Subterranea (1997)
Seven Stories Into 98 (1998)
The Lost Attic (1998)
Subterranea: The Concert (2000)
The Seventh House (2001)
The Archive Collection - IQ20 (2003)
Dark Matter (2004)
Frequency Tour CD 1 (2008)
Frequency Tour CD 2 (2008)
Frequency (2009)
The Wake: Live At De Boerderij (2010)
The Wake (Deluxe Edition) (2010)
Re:Mixed (2011)
The Archive Collection - IQ30 (2012)
Tales From The Lush Attic 2013 Remix (2013)
The Road Of Bones (2014)
Live On The Road Of Bones (2016)

Subterranea: The Concert Video (VHS) (2000)
Subterranea: The Concert DVD (DVD) (2002)
IQ20 - The Twentieth Anniversary Show (DVD) (2004)
Live From London (DVD) (2005)
Stage (DVD) (2006)
Forever Live (DVD) (2007)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: July 25th 1999
Reviewer: Jurriaan Hage

Artist website:
Hits: 1723
Language: english


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