The day after Game of Thrones ended, one of my favorite bands, SubRosa, announced they were calling it quits (for now) on Facebook. I doubt the decision by the band had anything to do with the show, but I find it fitting because SubRosa were the closest thing music had to Game of Thrones. Their songs were epic in scope and had a sound that was both brutal and beautiful, which always took me to a medieval fantasy-type setting similar to the HBO series. Also like Thrones, I thought SubRosa’s music, while foreboding and dark on the surface, contained a lot of empathy and humanity, which is part of what made me like it so much compared to other metal.
One of my earliest posts on the blog came after I discovered SubRosa and declared them “the metal band of my dreams.” When I first heard “Borrowed Time, Borrowed Eyes,” it practically blew my mind. It was heavy and intense, but it also had those feminine vocals and the two electric violins which created the otherworldly sound that was their signature. It made me interested in metal for the first time and I began looking deeper into the genre, trying to discover other bands that sounded like SubRosa and could scratch that itch. I never found them.
Over their next two albums, More Constant Than the Gods and For This We Fought the Battle of Ages, the band expanded their sound even more, creating 10-15 minute epic songs that showed just how much potential metal has and how rarely it lives up to it. I thought (and wrote) a lot about what distinguished SubRosa, why they appealed to me so much when I couldn’t really get into other metal. Of course, part of it was the sound, which had that crushing beauty dynamic that I love, almost like My Bloody Valentine and other shoegaze. But I think it went deeper than that: this band played with a purpose. They weren’t interested in clobbering the listener with noise just to be edgy or shocking. I think they were very attuned to the idea of earning emotion and catharsis, and their songs often built drama through the dynamics, which went from lovely whispers to bone-crushing doom metal. Even their longest songs never for a moment felt self-indulgent.
SubRosa also fixed the other issue I have had with metal, which is how the lyrical content usually is incomprehensible or focused on darkness to the point of cheesy self-parody. The massiveness of their sound and the length of their songs allowed them a lot of room for almost novella-like storytelling, and they explored themes of suffering, power, and love in a way that was much more nuanced and sophisticated than typical music. A song like “Wound of the Warden” tells an entire story about surveillance, power and free will.
When I first started writing, I just made posts about old albums I liked and wasn’t going too deep into new music. SubRosa was one of the first bands I found where I had the feeling of wanting to champion something new that wasn’t necessarily being heard or talked about by many people. When I looked on their website and saw that they had actually quoted my first post about them, it made me feel like maybe writing about these obscure bands wasn’t such a waste of time and energy after all. I liked that I had given the band something, no matter how small, and that it was genuine and not some paid review where I was just giving it a high score or trying to craft the most flattering pull quote for them.
Because of their genre, SubRosa was rarely the subject of much discussion in the music circles I’m kind of in and isn’t going to be appearing on any of those best of the decades lists that people read. But I don’t think there was a better rock band in the last ten years. In a genre that often seems to embrace homogeneity by delivering its fans the same grunting vocals, “shocking” lyrics and constant noise, they dared to sound different and explored real themes in their work. But I don’t want this to sound too much like a eulogy: in the Facebook post, they explain that the members are all working on new projects that will be heard soon. Maybe then, there will finally be some other music that sounds like SubRosa.