SubRosa show entirely new side of their dynamic, emotional art with ‘Subdued Live at Roadburn’

Roadburn is one of the great annual destination festivals in all heavy music, a sentence that might be the most obvious in this site’s history. The event takes place every spring in the Netherlands, and it has become a who’s who of amazing bands that have taken their stage and delivered unforgettable performances, often released in physical form for the buying public, many who couldn’t be there.

There is no secret one of this site’s favorite bands is Salt Lake City-based doom quintet SubRosa, and really, they’re much more than just a representative of that subgenre. They’ve been making some of the most emotional, imaginative, gripping music in all of metal, and their last record “For This We Fought the Battle of Ages” was our No. 1 record of last year. Their inclusion at Roadburn makes a ton of sense, and this past year, they delivered a set that not many people outside their hometown ever have witnessed. The “SubRosa Subdued” performances find them pulling back and delivering more musically subtle versions of their work, and their seven-song set is being released on CD and digitally, with a vinyl version due out in March. If you’re a fan of the band, this is a must-hear set, a presentation of their powerful songs that, while still holding that edge, take on an entirely different personality.

Usually we go track by track on album reviews, but it seems weird in the case of a live record. Instead, let’s concentrate on what makes this thing so good, which is the dynamic quality of their playing and the delivery that makes you digest these songs in an entirely new way. Opener “Whippoorwill” is one of my favorite songs by the band, and to hear it in this environment is like getting to know it all over again. Guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon calling, “I know there’s no turning back,” sounds sadder, more vulnerable under these circumstances, and when she pulls back on her singing, it makes the ambiance more reflective. “Borrowed Time Borrowed Eyes” swells with Kim Pack’s and Sarah Pendleton’s strings, and Andy Patterson’s work echoes as if off the side of cave walls, which is the same case for “Cosey Mo,” where the chorus gets weightier for the added quiet to Vernon’s desperate calls.

“Sugar Creek,” the opening track from their debut “Strega,” gets a chance to shine under the spotlight, which is great because not enough people seem to pay attention to that record. Perhaps having that included here will get people to dig back into that one. Same goes for “Mirror,” a track from their 2006 demo “The Worm Has Turned” that gets an even more folk-flourished treatment than the original, and it really shines here, especially as a sonic change of pace before the incredible “No Safe Harbor,” the album closer on “More Constant Than the Gods.” This one stands as a final chance for the band to display why they’re such a special act and why seeing them live is an absolute must, even if you’re on the fence about the band. You won’t be once you witness them in the flesh.

This record is a perfect addition to anyone’s SubRosa collection, especially considering most people hearing this will be experiencing this approach for the first time. “Subdued Live at Roadburn” not only is notable for how unique it is, but it’s also one of the best live Roadburn releases, which is saying something in that it’s a healthy catalog of great stuff. This performance is perfect for a night in, with the blinds drawn, a dark ale, and nothing for you to worry about other than emotional absorption.

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