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(45:21 / Muse-Wrapped Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Invisible Bright Man 6:18 2. My Warrior 6:51 3. Innocent God 9:20 4. Found 6:55 5. Who to Believe 5:13 6. Sea of Details 6:00 7. Slow Burn 4:42 LINEUP: Trent Gardner - vocals; keyboards Wayne Gardner - guitars, bass Robert Berry - drums; bass, guitars; b/v
Prolusion. The cult US cohort MAGELLAN is back with their seventh studio album, "Innocent God", following "Symphony for a Misanthrope" (2005), "Impossible Figures" (2003), "Hundred Year Floods" (2002), "Test of Wills" (1997), "Impending Ascension" (1993) and "Hour of Restoration" (1991), of which I've heard the first and the last three. It also should be mentioned that one significant event has taken place in the Magellan biography since their previous release. They quit Inside Out Music and formed their own label, Muse-Wrapped Records, jointly with Jack Foster III, their longstanding friend and collaborator.
Analysis. Six songs and one instrumental piece form the content of this album which, while being not quite up to the level of "Impending Ascension" or "Test of Will", is on a par with "Symphony for a Misanthrope". Of course, those who appreciate Magellan above all for their earlier creations, as I do, might find this remark to be a poor consolation, but that's how things are. Regardless of their general constitutions, i.e. compositional and stylistic attributes, most of the tracks are vocal-heavy, which makes me think their instrumental contents were accommodated to the lyrics, and not vice versa. Besides trying to keep the focus on the songs, the trio often enters realms that are normally associated with contemporary mainstream Prog, the first two numbers, the rhythmically pronounced Invisible Bright Man and My Warrior, both being especially striking in this respect. There are only a couple of brief instrumental interludes to be found on each, these serving exclusively as bridges between their vocal sections. It is only Trent Gardner's specific singing, plus some organ alongside-the-vocals leads, which imparts a distinct Magellan flavor to these songs, well, barring My Warrior's finale where his jazz-like vocalizations leave the impression of being a supplement to the drum solo. On its instrumental plane, or rather in its soloing department, the music tends to be more dominated by keyboards than guitars whose solos can only be heard on three tracks, being only fluid in most cases, otherwise appearing as riffs which, in turn, are not everywhere both strong and impressive, but those on the title number (and also on the last two tracks) definitely are. The title track begins in a typically hard-rock fashion, but soon reveals, well, some of the best and, at once, most original symphonic doom-metal movements I've heard this year. Later on the band touches on some softer, piano- and strings-laden arrangements, having had time to return to each of the previously performed sections before treading the path of electronic Space Rock (somewhat reminiscent of Hawkwind's "Out & Intake" or "Space Bandits") in the finale. In all, five different thematic storylines don't seem to be quite enough for a piece stretched out for almost 10 minutes, but there are some truly fascinating moments on the title track sure to please probably anybody into heavy progressive music. Found follows Innocent God with electronic percussion appearing more prominently than an acoustic drum kit. The strong world-music sense reminds me somewhat of Peter Gabriel's solo work. Overall however, there is nothing groundbreaking on that song, save for the bass solo, - think "better a small fish than an empty dish". Who to Believe is something I'd never have expected from Magellan: only vocals and slow piano chords, with not even a tiny instrumental interlude during the more than five minutes of the song's length. It's hardly good enough to be even included into an ordinary 'Rock Ballads' collection. The last two tracks, Sea Of Details and Slow Burn, are both excellent to my way of thinking, no matter that the latter is Hard Rock. This is truly progressive Hard Rock in fact, the only one piece with really virtuoso guitar solos, something that Sweet could have done in the mid-'70s ("Fanny Adams" or "Give Us a Wink"), except for the harmony vocals which remind me of Beach Boys. The instrumental Sea Of Details is indeed just what its title suggests, at least compared to any of the other compositions here. Which is not to say this is multi-layered music, but it is multi-sectional that's for sure, and is in a near-constant state of evolution. When listening to the instrumental, I was reminded slightly of Led Zeppelin's In the Evening (from "In Through the Out Door"), "Wildhoney" by Tiamat and Hawkwind's "Out & Intake" again, but overall this is unmistakably Magellan, just exploring new areas. Excellent is the word.
Conclusion. It would be a thankless deed to assert that Trent Gardner and his band mates are currently more concentrated on adapting their music to the notorious demands of the time than ever before, but anyway much of their latest release suits better my concept of mainstream Prog than you know what. I can't rate "Innocent God" lower than I did, but it's to a greater degree due only to the band's professionalism, which is striking in everything they do, regardless of any genre labels.
VM: October 10, 2007
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