Year of Release: 2008
Label: Tigermoth Records
Catalog Number: CDTMR006
Total Time: 53:15:00
You kind of know you are in for something different with the new Magenta album when you get your first look at the cover - a slightly disturbing image of a half-naked, tattooed male torso with no arms, and a slit running up the stomach. Let me assure you that they have not "gone metal," but at the same time...be prepared to rock.
There is a darker and more intense undertone to the album not previously heard on Magenta's music, as evidenced by the striking cover art on the CD. There is a lot going on here - I find the more I listen to the album I keep hearing little embellishments, such as sampled guitar, vocal and keyboard pieces running underneath the main instruments. It's a very good and very finely detailed production. The four songs are very loosely connected, revolving around the concepts of death and faith.
"The Ballad Of Samuel Layne" deals with a soldier going to battle and certain death - his thoughts, his memories, and his longing for his sweetheart back home. A long track, but thematically very solid and musically very dense. A sinister, foreboding, slowly-building choral sound pulls you in, and then it hits you right between the eyes. Strong, memorable themes are introduced, given gravitas by the string section and Troy Donockley's pipes. And then - whoa! It suddenly reaches a point where it really knocks you for six, with probably the heaviest instrumental section that the band have put on record so far, which comes just before the "War Brides Prayer" section - a very metal-ish guitar riff, which almost had me jumping up and bouncing around the room. This section leads into a great synth solo from Rob, and rounded off with some superb guitar from Chris Fry. The different movements of the piece are satisfying on their own, but I find they really work best as a whole if you know the lyrics - it helps to tie it all in cohesively, especially as its a 20 minute track and there is much to take in. I also like the way that Tina phrases her lines, and intertwines them with the instruments in a very appealing manner. She also has the ability to "inhabit" a character and give them form and emotion, which really helps to sell the songs. Mention should also be made of the excellent backing vocals, which are cleverly and imaginatively woven around Tina's main vocal and complement the instrumentation perfectly.
"Prekestolen" is the story of a couple contemplating a suicide pact from a cliff top (Prekestolen is an actual place, it's often called Pulpit Rock and is a very high cliff overlooking the Fjords in Norway - the band spent some time there in 2006 when playing a gig in Stavanger with Magic Pie). It opens with a compelling piano figure, repeated throughout which helps to anchor the song; and though laidback to begin with, slowly builds with the aid of understated strings and guitar into something very powerful, especially with a very expressive and plaintive pipes solo from Donockley. Short at just over 3 minutes, but it certainly does not feel like filler.
Title track "Metamorphosis" is another epic about a schizophrenic serial killer - the bad side kills and tattoos what he has done on his body to show the good side what he has done ? oooer! Chris Fry's double-tracked, phased guitar giving way to an off-beat rhythm, a brief vocal snippet from Tina and then we are into the song proper, with much heavy riffing going on. It's fair to say that the album as a whole is much more guitar based than previous albums, which is not to say there aren't some very good keyboard solos here and there. Soon the main theme of this piece is introduced, a magnificent, powerful, descending/sliding bass and guitar figure that pulls you in and hooks you instantly. A bit of Yes-influenced guitar and a light acoustic passage gives a brief respite from the musical onslaught, until a great little bluesy section perks you up again and gets the feet tapping until an interesting a cappella vocal section. More themes are introduced and carefully integrated and layered throughout the track, but it never feels forced or cluttered. I particularly like the little nod to "Tubular Bells" during the "So Far" vocal section. Vocally this is also the most challenging and lyric-heavy on the album, but Tina copes superbly, adding the required emotion and subtlety when needed, and her vocals are very well produced, sometimes very quiet, and at others very powerful and emphatic when the song demands. The last few minutes of the album build wonderfully, from an almost whispered vocal from Tina that builds in intensity and volume, with Mr Fry taking up the challenge with a gut-wrenching guitar solo bringing us back to that sliding bass/guitar theme, and climaxing with a great sing-song ending that I just know is going to have the whole audience singing along to at live concerts. Just occasionally some of the musical passages don't flow quite as well as others, but such is the nature of the track that you never have to wait long for something better to come around the corner.
There is a lot going on here; this is probably the most complex and intricate of all of the tracks on the album, but repeated plays seem to yield more listening pleasures and reveal aspects of the production that you had not previously picked up on. It is an extremely rewarding experience.
Final track "Blind Faith: is rapidly becoming a firm favourite of mine, dealing with the idea of people believing in something better after we die. A throbbing bass line and tremolo guitar bouncing across the speakers gives a deceptive impression of a quiet ballad, until a huge, chunky guitar riff comes in and catches you off guard, followed a deliciously catchy chorus. Some nice clean guitar lines from Chris here too, and some interesting, slightly dissonant chord structures eventually build to a stately, orchestral climax before coming to a very abrupt end... and then its time to "wake up"!
I really like this track - there is also a progression (sic) here, something very interesting going on, a bit of experimentation if you will. I feel that this is a very good sound for the band, and an aspect I would personally like to see them explore further.
I think this album is the culmination of everything the band have done up to now - there is the musical intricacy and epic nature found on the Revolutions and Seven albums in the longer tracks, as well as the shorter, more song-based material previously heard on the singles such as "I'm Alive," "Speechless," "King Of The Skies," etc and the Home album. It's also a foray into somewhat darker territory for the band, and occasionally heavier, too. I also find it a very easy album to listen to from start to finish, and let's be honest there aren't too many albums we can do that with. Without question, for me it's certainly the band's best album to date.
Ballad Of Samuel Layne (20:17) / Prekestolen (3:43) / Metamorphosis (23:15) / Blind Faith (6:01)
Rob Reed - acoustic guitars, electric guitars, bass guitars, keyboards, recorders, mandolin and backing vocals
Christina Booth - lead vocals
Chris Fry - lead guitar
Additional musicians: Tim Robinson - drums
Martin Rosser - detuned guitar
Troy Donockley - Uilleann pipes
Steff Rhys-Williams - backing vocals
Matthew Everett - violin
Helina Rees - violin
Claudine Cassidy - cello
Abigail Blackman - cello
Louise Evans - viola
Broken (ep) (2004)
Another Time... Another Place (2004)
I'm Alive (ep) (2004)
New York Suite (2006)
The Singles (2007)
Live At The Point 2007 (2008)
Seven (ltd CD/DVD, remixed/remastered) (2009)
The Gathering (DVD) (2005)
The Metamorphosis Collection (DVD) (2008)
Live At The Point 2007 (DVD) (2009)
Genre: Progressive Rock