Year of Release: 2005
Catalog Number: IOMCD 206/SPV 085-40852
Total Time: 46:57:00
While it's been out a few years now as I write this, and the band already have a new album out (Innocent God), here goes my take on Symphony For A Misanthrope. This is a very thick, dense album. Though the band doesn't get to thrash metal heaviness, the oppressive atmosphere is very much the same. In fact, the effect is very much like the colour scheme of the cover art - grays and blacks, wrapped around you like a blanket of gloom. There are holes in the blankets - some lighter keyboard tones/effects that appear throughout - in brief bursts during "Doctor Concoctor" for instance, and the intro to "Every Bullet Needs Blood," which is a bit Kansas-like, though a bit heavier; and not just because of the violin-like keyboard passages. Steve Walsh is a guest, but "Symphonette," which begins things in a darkly epic fashion - a short percussion and keyboard symphonic overture with lots of widdly keyboards, lots of symphonic keyboards ? maybe too widdly. But I do like the dramatic interplay between these two elements. About a minute-fifteen in however ? well, not so appealing, as we get some distorted, squishy keyboard sounds that then get quiet throaty and squelchy (ugh). The final dramatic flourish is so over-the-top, and yet it also reminds me of Kansas' "Hopelessly Human" -- a breathy, in/out phrase -- which wasn't over-the-top at all (and no, there's no sarcasm intended there; take it at face value). Other guests include Robert Berry (drums, bass), Joe Franco (drums, orchestral percussion), and Dave Mannion (keyboards).
No, not thrash; and I wasn't expecting it to be so. My favourite Magellan album is and remains Test Of Wills. And Symphony? hasn't shaken that album's status. I'd say that's part of the reason why I've not reviewed it sooner ? I was expecting a concept album about a man so disenchanted with the world, or his world at least, and the people in it, that he has entirely withdrawn from it, but in the end perhaps finding some good about it, some ray of hope. Well, it is and it isn't. What we have are a series of commentaries that would make one feel rather dyspeptic about the world. Or, taken from another angle, as series of commentaries about someone who must surely hate the world because he's allowed this, that and the other thing to happen, or doesn't care that this, that, or the other thing has happened. I guess the closest to what I thought the album would be concept wise is the epic "Cranium Reef Suite" ? though there's no redemption or anything at the end. Not in this piece and not on the album, no bright spot. Like might happen in real life? Well, rather than go down the psych road and talk about depression (esp. as I'm no train psychiatrist or psychologist, nor do I play one on TV), let's talk about the album itself.
Aside from this claustrophobic feel, this is a fairly typical Magellan album. Take Trent Gardner's vocals for one - his particular way of singing is intact; phrasing and tone both. I still think he signs like he's playing the trombone? which he does play, though I hear none of it here. But close your eyes and just listen to how he sings, you can imagine the slide moving up and down, back and forth? I guess whatever angle you envision it in. A typical Magellan song is "Why Water Weeds," a commentary on the haves' view of the have nots, where the haves are the ones in power; one line probably references, and not too thinly, the current administration: "cause the father raised an idiot" (and I don't disagree). Naturally, I'd make that assumption because the Gardners are from the US, but it's a generic enough statement that perhaps it could be any world leader that can be viewed as an idiot. About the music, there's a rather cool percussive throb to this that is spoilt by some way too shrill guitar or keyboard (or both). In the end, while promising, in the end rather disappointing. Another fairly typical Magellan track is "Every Bullet Needs Blood" - a commentary on, at the very least, the US's presence in Iraq, if not more generalized about combat.
Disappointing also is the centerpiece, "Cranium Reef Suite." It begins attractively enough with a nice guitar intro, mid-tempo percussion and bass, and nicely placed beds of orchestral keyboards in "Part 1 - Youthful Enthusiasm" - it's a more prog rock beginning than Magellan's usual metal-esque approach and is probably the best part of the whole album. It melds easily into the second part, "Psyche 101," which brings in some classic Rush-like textures, bass coming more to fore, under resonant, chiming guitar. But after this, it gets thicker, denser and rather monotone and plodding, despite some jangly guitar that occasionally pops up above the sea of sound. This as we get deeper and deeper into the inner thoughts of the misanthrope, but it's a track that just feels 14-15 minutes too long (it is 18 minutes in total). The furious ending is pretty good and would have made a good beginning to something aggressive, energetic, instead in dissolves into silence.
There are two out-of-the-norm tracks here. Acoustic guitar begins "Wisdom," an intro that sounds a bit like Queensryche's "Silent Lucidity," acoustically rendered naturally. It's a song that sounds pleasant enough, even the "woo-hoos" of the chorus, but lyrically? well, it's making a point, but? I think could have been better "drawn," so to speak. "Pianissimo Intermission" is exactly that, a short track that is a classical piano piece; rather pleasant and quaint, recalling the 18th or 17th century, at least for me. Courtly 17th century, naturally; the aristocrats spending their idle hours in the salon or in the grand ballroom, entertained by some up-and-coming composer receiving patronage from some wealthy lord or lady? Although I said there was no light moment, that was not entirely true and this would be it. It's cheerful and sprightly, a sugary confection to freshen the palette in preparation for some heavier meal ahead.
Magellan show their metal meddle in "Doctor Concoctor," well, only for the first few seconds. Keyboards dominate dropping shards of crystal over a pulsating, robotic rhythm. Only the occasional rumble and throb of bass and guitar maintain any metal feel. Distorted vocals attempt some menace, but? don't quite do the trick for me (reading the lyrics, I envision someone like Karl Rove? that is truly scary). It's not their shining moment. If "Pianissimo Intermission" was sugary sweet, this is rancid meat. Well, okay, maybe not that bad.
In the end, I find that there's very little to like about Symphony For A Misanthrope. It's not the worst thing I've ever heard; the performances and production are great, as we've come to expect (if not always get) from InsideOut. But it's just has left me without enthusiasm. Not that the subject matter has sucked the life out of me; heck, I'm pretty misanthropic myself, but I just don't think a "downer" of an album should leave the listener down about the album itself.
Symphonette (2:51) / Why Water Weeds? (8:31) / Wisdom (4:24) / Cranium Reef Suite (18:05) / Pianissimo Intermission (2:08) / Doctor Concoctor (4:13) / Every Bullet Needs Blood (6:42)
Trent Gardner - vocals, keyboards
Wayne Gardner - guitars, bass, backing vocals
Joe Franco - drums, orchestral percussion
Robert Berry - drums, bass
Steve Walsh - keyboards
Dave Mannion - keyboards
Hour of Restoration (1991)
Impending Ascension (1994)
Test of Wills (1997)
Hundred Year Flood (2002)
Impossible Figures (2003)
Symphony For A Misanthrope (2005)
Innocent God (2007)
Genre: Progressive Rock