Release Date: August 2002, Big Balloon Music.
Available format: Pay-What-You-Want Download.
LINE-UP: Brandon Lord Ross, Vonorn, Lynnette Shelley, Steven Blumberg, Nathan-Andrew Dewin
1. Victoria and the Haruspex
The Red Masque's CD, Victoria and the Haruspex, includes the 24-minute improvised piece "Haruspex," which features, among other oddities, musical china doll, toy piano and operatic vocalizations in an unknown language. The darkly psychedelic "Birdbrain" features lyrics by Percy Bysshe Shelley. "Afterloss" is a flamenco-influenced song featuring acoustic guitar, concert harp, percussion and vocals, with lyrics taken from Shakespeare's Sonnet 90. A fourth track, "Cenotaph," features solo concert harp material by The Red Masque's Nathan-Andrew Dewin. The full-length album has a total running time of 48 minutes.
In 2002, The Red Masque's first full-length album Victoria and the Haruspex was released. It's both similar to and different from Death of the Red Masque. The first cut, "Haruspex" is more than 20 minutes long. It's part "sound collage" (music boxes, toy pianos and other odd sound sources) mixed with vaguely musical guitar, bass, drum and concert harp musings. The only vocals in this piece are Lynette Shelly's Gilli Smyth-like moaning and breathy wordless vocalizing. This is the least "traditional" piece on the CD, and will undoubtedly be the most difficult going for those interested in vocals, harmony and melody. However, I loved it ... of course, I'm the guy who thought "Earth Dreams" on the second Persephone's Dream album, Moonspell was the best piece on the album, though most other reviewers panned it as "pointless noise".
Actually, Persephone's Dream isn't too bad of a reference point for the rest of Victoria and the Haruspex, with the female vocals and gloomy "goth" vibe. But Victoria is darker and less accessable (what can you expect from a band who prints "The Red Masque would like to thank and hail Cthulhu" on the back of their CD?). The rest of the pieces remind me a band I had only one EP of ... Moev (sort of a dark ambient new-wave band), who also had a female vocalist (Madeline Morris) and sang songs about rotting geraniums and other nasty stuff. Victoria and the Haruspex is an excellent second outing for this up-and-coming avant-garde band. But if you play it just before bedtime, you may suffer from dark dreams. Noit Noit. Kiss Kiss.
— Fred Trafton, Gibraltar Encylopedia of Progressive Rock
Every now and then a band comes along that practically defies description, that avoids categorization, yet is falls firmly within the realms of what progressive rock listeners want to hear. The Red Masque, a unique ensemble from Pennsylvania, creates dark, mesmerizing music, that at times is as dissonant as it is harmonious. Victoria and the Haruspex is the bands first full-length CD, although they have been around the scene a while. They manage to sneak in little snippets of their influences here and there, but for the most part this is highly original music that is hard to digest at first, and certainly not an easy listen, but extremely rewarding after repeated playbacks.
The band goes for dark, dramatic moods throughout most of the CD's 4 lengthy tracks, at times popping in improvisations that bring to mind early 70's King Crimson. The opening epic "Haruspex" is a jarring and at times unsettling piece of work, as the band throws all sorts of styles at the listener. Starting out quiet and somber, eventually raging with odd noises and outbursts, I was reminded more than once of Univers Zero with all the different goings on. The vocals of Lynnette Shelley are very intriguing, as here she bursts forth with wordless utterings as creepy keyboard, guitar, bass, and percussion effects blast behind her. To say that this tune would be the perfect soundtrack to a nightmare would be an understatement. The heavy bass rumblings of Brandon Ross are superb, acting as a lead instrument to go alongside the shards of Fripp-like guitar solos. Add in some creepy organ noises and you have a real winner of a track to open this CD (Goblin fans take note-this could easily be a welcome addition to a Dario Argento horror film soundtrack!)
"Birdbrain" is a total prog-rock gem, highlighted by the Annie Haslam-meets-Grace Slick vocals of Shelley and huge walls of symphonic keyboards that sound like they could have come off of a classic 70's Italian prog album. It's interesting how the band does a total "about face" from song to song here, never sticking to the same theme for more than a track before crossing into a totally different style. Lot's of lethal guitar lines from Steven Blumberg compliment the whispy vocals of Shelley on this one-I just wish the song was longer. "Afterloss" is a tender acoustic guitar piece that also includes some soaring vocals, and the closing number "Cenotaph" is a solo concert harp piece from Nathan-Andrew Dewin. Both tunes kind of give you a "winding-down" feeling after the dark and bombastic themes on the first two tracks, but are enjoyable nontheless.
The band was kind enough to send a CD-R of their latest single, to be included on the soon-to-be-released album Feathers for Flesh. Comprising the studio/album version of "Beggars & Thieves", which is a gorgeous yet dark acoustic piece featuring the haunting vocals of Shelley, who sings the medieval lyrics with mystical brilliance,as well as a mammoth live version of another tune from the new album, titled "Yellow Are His Opening Eyes." Fans of Wetton/Bruford era Crimson will get a big kick out of this extended and metallic improv, featuring thundering bass grooves and jagged guitar solos. Based on these two tracks, I think we are soon to be in for a real treat...
— Pete Pardo, Sea of Tranquility
Philadelphia's The Red Masque is moving in some unusual directions. The 25-minute opening track of Victoria and the Haruspex, for instance, is a strange and amelodic sonic pastiche that brings together free jazz, mid-70s Crimson improvisation, and the trippier side of German space rock. The band showed a bit of interest in this kind of free sound creation o its debut EP, but there was nothing there to compare to this extended conglomeration of noise-scapes, intense bass/guitar jams, wordless vocalizations, and strange and unidentifiable noises. The place neer seems wholly stable - as soon as a tangible melodyor rhythm seems to be taking hold, it seems to dissolve itself into its bare componenents which are then mixed up with new, random noises that are constantly being introduced. It all seems to hold together, flowing from one moment to the next almost effortlessly. Of the remaining three tracks, "Birdbrain" is the most conventionally proggish, with the same VdGG-meets-Tale Cue feel fo the their demo EP. The last two tracks,however, change things radically; the nine-minute "Afterloss" features Lynnette Shelley's powerful (yet slightly off-key) vocals backed by acoustic strings (guitar, harp, mandolin etc.) while "Cenotaph" is a solo harp piece. These two change the mood of the disc, bringing it a soft, melodic and acoustic denouement that seems worlds away from the opening track. A very intriguing, if somewhat schizophrenic, release.
— Jim Chokey, Expose, Issue No. 26
Not more than once a year / few years I am confronted with a release from which I immediately say :wow, what a monster, this definitely is a classic on its own, a must have heard. This is such a release.
There is not much avant garde like opening structures music with a basically acoustic character. Recently the Hirsche Nicht Aus Sofa releases (from the eighties) have been reissued, with "Küttel Im Frost" and also "Melchior" as highlights. This CD starts very experimental, covering all kinds of genres listed in the famous Steven Stapelton list of collectors items that crosses musical borders (with hints to Saint Just, Opus Avantra,..), without being just avant garde. In stead this is a highly listenable / enjoyable release. This first track, "Haruspex" is structured in its improvisational manner and should interest Steven Stapelton for sure. This might not be the easiest / most accessible way to start a CD but still is tremendous (with its contributing el.guitars, organ, female voice,..) and beautiful all 25 minutes.
After this track the music changes into more easily recognisable structured music. "Birdbrain" with organ, very up driving rhythms, electric guitar outbursts, heavy female progressive rock voice (hints to Julian's Treatment and the likes), is a track that gets me shivers all over my back. This is mindexpanding and Kundalini stimulating music with beautifully varied and also quite passages, recalling all my favourite 70's prog groups (Saint Just indeed, but with a more powerful voice). "Afterloss" starts wonderfully and harmoniously with acoustic guitars / harp fingerpickings to with additions of the heavenly powervoice of Lynnette Shelley accompanied by flamenco like acoustic rhythm guitars / more fingerpicking and harp. Also the melodies / workouts are speaking very much to the heart too, in a way like flamenco can. "Cenopath" is a very beautiful harp track (dedicated to a member (Nathan-Andrew Dewin)'s brother Alan).
A must have heard release. Unmissable in any open minded progressive music collection.
— Gerald Van Waes, Psychedelic Folk
A real nice debut full-length album that really delivers on the promise of their previous EP. Moody, dark prog in the vein of VDGG, The Gathering, Third & the Mortal, etc. with hints at avant garde and some spaciness as well. A real nice singer that sounds like a cross between Grace Slick and Sonja Kristina with just a hint at Annie Haslam when she reaches upward. Musically it is really hard to pin down, but that's good! And I can say we are happy to find an American band who doesn't fit into one of the traditional American prog molds so much.....
— ZNR CDs
Note: translated from the original Polish to English by the reviewer for The Red Masque.
mark: 9 (out of 10)
Quite recently I had the pleasure of reviewing the debut EP from this young avant-prog band, that made a really positive impression on me. After it's release The Red Masque haven't been idling their time and quickly got to the studio to record another mini-album, that was supposed to while away the time of waiting for their first full-length work. But a funny thing happened and the planned as an EP material has grown to almost fifty minutes! And I must admit that I'm very pleased with this situation, all the more that I have been (again!) very positively surprised with "Victoria and the Haruspex"… Surprised, because The Red Masque have done enormous progress for such a short period of time… As a matter of fact only one track and quite loosely reminds of the debut album, as the whole is more acoustic, melodic and spatial, sounding very fresh and interesting. Anyway, every of the four tracks included here deserves an individual mention…
Opening the record "Haruspex" is an over twenty four minute long improvisation, but in contrary to "Ended Ways" from the previous album, this one is decidedly more in the vein of minimalism. It begins… with the sounds of winding up a musical China doll, that, judging by the picture and annotations on the cover, had a strong influence on the final shape of this work. ;-) The track develops quite slowly: the sounds seem to be like hang up in space, sometimes playing together, sometimes separately… constantly appearing and vanishing just to make room for other noises… And so it carries on… The whole is however performed with a magnificent feeling, which results in a surprisingly cohesive track - the musicians skilfully control the sounds and the atmosphere building up the tension to the very end. In "Haruspex" one can also most fully experience the richness and instrumental variety of The Red Masque's music, as the band uses such diverse instruments as: concert harp, didgeridoo, psaltery, chimes or from the more odd stuff: the aforementioned China doll and toy-piano (!!). Anyway the "usual" instruments are also often used in quite untypical way, creating a conglomeration of strange, but extremely hypnotizing sounds. Opening the record with a track that lasts longer than all the other put together is a risky solution, but The Red Masque managed to do it perfectly!! A great beginning, presenting a palette of varied and interesting sounds, that keep one's attention for the whole twenty four minutes.
The next one is, already known from the band's concerts "Birdbrain" but in a new, rearranged version. This is the song that reminds me the most of "The Death of the Red Masque" EP: it's dominated with the electric guitar and entangled rhythm, but there are some surprises as well… One of them is almost classically art-rock guitar solo and the other a magnificent trance-electro-psychedelic section, that starts and ends in a very unexpected way. But the highlight of this track are the phenomenal vocal parts. Lynnette Shelley proves that she has a troumendous voice: strong, clean and with a wide scale… and as her vocal arrangements are quite original and interesting as well, the whole makes a truly huge impression…
After the dark "Birdbrain" we're back into more calm and acoustic mood, as "Afterloss" is mostly based on great dialogs between acoustic guitar and a harp, with floating vocals of Lynnette "above" them. Despite that it's quite traditional and, as for The Red Masque, melodic song, the band has once again displayed their creativity. There are some nice flamenco inspired guitar parts (especially when confronted with Shakespeare's lyrics) and quite successful use of male voices (however mostly because there's not too much of them ;-)), not mentioning the complex structure with lots of tempo changes and an obligatory bizarre / experimental section. :-)
The last one is "Cenotaph", a solo piece on concert harp from Nathan-Andrew Dewin, the track that's the hardest for me to describe, as it's based only on changes in the sound of one instrument. Most of the time it's quite calm and nostalgic with rather delicate string touches and warm sound of the instrument. Unfortunately what strikes the most is the high level of noise, which in this song is especially audible, however the whole sounds quite pleasant… Well maybe it could be a little shorter too…
I must say one thing: I haven't expected it… to be that good!!! The band has done a great progress since their debut EP and on "Victoria and the Haruspex" it sounds very mature and interesting. For The Red Masque has managed to keep the dense and dark atmosphere of their tracks and the spirit of experimentalism, simultaneously making their music more spatial and melodic, what gave a troumendous result!! If equally with great melodies you can precious innovation and creativity in music, if you can see a challenge in it, than I warmly recommend you this album, that has already a place in my own top 5 of this year… It tempts me to give "Victoria and the Haruspex" a maximum note, however I believe that such creative and talented people as The Red Masque's musicians can do even better, so let's reserve it for the next release…
— Dr Alcibiades, ArtRock.pl
...Four tracks of dark, ritualike music to scare the neighbors with. — Jedd Beaudoin, Ytsejam.com
Wow, I can't believe how much this band has grown since their 2001 release, Death of the Red Masque. The Red Masque started playing in 2001. Influenced by prog bands like Van Der Graaf Generator, King Crimson, Gong, St. Just, and avant-garde classical music the band released an EP that quickly got the attention of the avant-prog world. Now, just a year later, the band is back with a powerful full-length CD. For a band this young, Victoria and the Haruspex is quite an accomplishment. The CD starts off with a 24-minute track entitled "Haruspex". This piece slowly builds from avant-garde experimentation to Crimson-like jamming. The first thing that struck me was how colorfully rich the sounds coming from my speaker sounded. The band's palette of sound is larger than most other modern bands. Toy pianos, a musical China Doll, Harp, lo-fi synth, and kitchenware mix freely with the traditional electric guitar, bass, and hammond organ set-up. The 24-minute epic seems somewhat composed to my ears(or at least certain sections sound composed structurally), but it's possible that it was completely improvised. If so, the band recorded an inspired session. My favorite compositions follow the epic. "Birdbrain" will be regarded as one of the band's classic. This piece sort of reminds me of some of Peter Hammill's early solo work mixed with a Morricone-esque 70s Italian sound similar to bands like Biglietto Per L'Inferno and Banco's Darwin. The beautiful "Afterloss" quickly follows, and features melodic interplay between acoustic guitar and harp. This piece could be compared to the sound on St. Just's first album, with its dark psych-folk influence and melodic beauty. "Cenotaph", a darkly romantic classical composition for solo harp, closes the CD.
I read many reviews of Death of the Red Masque, and it seemed that some people either liked Lynnette Shelley's vocals, or didn't get it. On Victoria and the Haruspex, Lynnette's vocals tend to be less avant-garde and deep. Instead, she prefers a clearer avant-girl sound similar to groups like U Totem, After Dinner, Hatfield and the North, and National Health. And the use of backward vocal reverbs and a made-up language during some sections adds a scary, out of this world, element that I've rarely heard in rock music. Victoria and the Haruspex is in my 2002 Top 5 list. This avant-prog album takes its influences to a new level without falling trap to cliches and imitation.
— Steve Hegede
How long is your attention span? In regard to that and patience, Victoria and the Haruspex separates the "long" from the "short" and the "haves" from the "have nots." This CD from the Philadelphia-based progressive music band, The Red Masque, could send commercial radio programmers running and screaming for their lives.
It isn't just that the first song, the nearly 25 minute "Haruspex," lasts longer than the rest of the songs put together, either; they'd be terrified that the intro to this song takes a good three or four minutes, which is just about the lifespan of most chart toppin' hits.
But wait, there's more to the story. Versatile lead singer Lynette Shelley alternates between mountain singing, operatic singing, chanting and seemingly singing in tongues. Mate that with the band's tendency to travel through the twilight world of percussion and you can divide people who hear this CD into two groups: those who relish these lengthy compositions of bizarre music and those who will cover their ears and run in the opposite direction. Just for kicks, instead of the usual thundering bass occasionally heard throbbing in the car next to me (or you) at a red light, it might be fun to hear some Red Masque music blaring instead.
"Haruspex" is impossible to categorize, but until you hear it and make up your own mind, anticipate it as a sort of cosmic hoedown having no connection whatsoever with country music. It begins and ends with what sounds like the tinkling musical sounds of a mobile attached to an infant's crib. Between those ends lives a circus of sounds. "Why David, whatever do you mean?" you will inquire. Well, there's chirping, swirling, sliding metal, a crazed push-button phone, the banging of pots and pans, and the electronic plucking of chicken feathers; all of which (and more) sounds are made with musical instruments.
Coming from a clearly talented musician named Vonorn are various drum rhythms through much of it and Shelley's vocals take strange flights that enhance the otherworldly ambience of this opening cut. The idiosyncratic "Birdbrain" recalls Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine," but isn't close enough to render it bedridden with a case of plagiarism. While "Birdbrain," "Afterloss" and "Cenotaph" (for those who can't get enough of harp solos) are more accessible than "Haruspex," this disc is for patient adventurers of strange musical journeys.
— Dave Lilly