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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Magellan

Innocent God

Review by Gary Hill

I've always really enjoyed Magellan. This band, in many ways, is the quintessential neo-prog band. Certainly they've always put a lot of old-school progressive rock into their mix of sounds. The thing is, they've also consistently pulled in plenty of original sounds and modern textures. The end result is one of the most perfect marriages of newer and older progressive rock styles. Without question they've also consistently released one great album after another. It always seems that they've just released their best disc, when they come out with the next one and it's another step upward. Such is the case with Innocent God. This one may well be the quintessential Magellan album. Of course, that's until the next one comes out.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Invisible Bright Man
After a percussion intro a cool fusion-oriented mode with a rather funky bass line takes over. As the verse enters it resembles rock a lot more. Later in the track a killer soaring instrumental passage accompanies the vocals. This builds in an almost Yes meets The Beatles approach. It drops back later to the rhythm section with layers of keys for another set of the singing. There is a cool (albeit very short) keyboard segment that serves to link this part of the song to the next. A percussive section takes it into a reprise of the Beatles-like mode, this time with a very cool Yes-like progression building the intensity with each measure of music. We get another tasty retro keyboard burst and then a resolution back to the song proper. Variations and revitalizations of the musical motifs make up the next mode. Then it drops back to a keyboard based, balladic structure to carry forward. The vocal arrangement as they power this back up is great, as it is through the rest of the track. This is a great example of neo-prog based heavily on classic progressive rock textures. The number drops to percussion for a brief outro. This is a great tune and an excellent start to the disc.
My Warrior
Percussion leads this one off, too. It quickly gives way to a bouncing acoustic guitar jam over which the vocals emerge. This is especially evocative and powerful. Layers of instrumentation emerge over the top of this motif, intensifying and solidifying it. These elements bring the track to new levels of emotion and power. A great retro keyboard sound is laid over the song later. A killer instrumental excursion takes it still later in the composition. This doesn't really move far from the central song structure, but instead works it up by adding vitality and energy to the general structure. At least that's the motif for the first three-quarters of the track. After this, they pound out in a hard-edged jam that might have a bit in common (at least in terms of general musical style) with Kansas. Then it drops to a cool scat section (accompanied by percussion) that finally ends the piece.
Innocent God
At almost nine and a half minutes this is the longest track on show. Once more percussion begins it, but this time it feels more techno in nature. A cool guitar riff, that almost feels like AC/DC, takes it. The vocals come over with a very dramatic and powerful style in a sort of “call and response” approach. Elements of more traditional progressive rock are merged with this more stripped down rock mode, and it feels a bit like Kiss in a way. This grows upward as they move it forward. They turn it towards pretty balladic stylings later. More and more layers are worked in on this arrangement as they carry on. It shifts into a killer metallic stomper later. An awesome keyboard solo takes over for a while, then they drop it back down the mellower section to move forward. When they drop it to a bouncing jam later with the vocals from the first section back into the fray it reminds me a bit of Talk era Yes. They move it back out into a reprise of the earlier rocking modes before dropping back to just percussion for a time. Vocals and sound effect type keyboards come over as this carries on. The keys start to build up into something more substantial and the cut is transformed into an intriguing, rhythmically based movement that has waves of sound coming and going across this backdrop. As this continues onward, working within and stretching out this motif, it eventually serves as the closing volley.
Found
In a now familiar pattern, percussion once again leads off the festivities. This time keys are woven over the top and the cut is built up within this motif. At about a minute and some change into the track they turn it to a more full rock arrangement, but still maintain the general structure of the cut. The vocal performance here gets very emotional. They drop it way back again and start working back up in the same way. While the same basic pattern is used again, the result is not a carbon copy of what came before. They do move this out into a killer new jam later that gets quite strong. Cool instrumental excursions wander over the top as do some interesting vocal patterns. This fades down to end.
Who To Believe
While not the most dynamic cut on show, this is a great ballad that reminds me of a cross between The Beatles and Yes (like the rest of the disc, much of the vocals call to mind Chris Squire quite a bit). This is evocative and powerful and a great piece of music.
Sea of Details
The drum pattern that starts this reminds me quite a bit of the intro to Kiss' “I Love It Loud.” As the Eastern tones that make up the patterns of the other instruments join, though, all reference to that track are gone. This is a dramatic piece of music that is very different than the rest of the album. This moves out into more melodic sounds that are more in keeping with the rest of the disc. This is very melodic and pretty. It moves out in new ways and this instrumental is another strong cut on a CD that has no shortage of potent material. There are a number of changes and differing musical themes and approaches here. I particularly like the dramatic “movie music” segment that takes it in the middle. Those cool Eastern tones (I'm a sucker for Eastern-tinged music) take it again later.
Slow Burn
A fast paced riff that reminds me of Rush starts things off here. This powers up into a real smoking piece of music. It has a definite rock and roll approach. The chorus has a definite blues rock approach. The guitar solo feels like it could come off of any number of hard rock discs from the 1970's. While the majority of the cut doesn't really qualify as prog, they turn it out around the 2 and a half minute mark into an ELP-like jam. This doesn't stick around long and they move back into the modes that preceded it. The closing riff of the track really feels a lot like vintage Black Sabbath to me. This isn't the most typical progressive rock you'll ever hear. It's not even typical Magellan. The thing is, both of those things make this a great surprise. I'm not 100 percent sure it was the best choice for disc closer, but it's a killer tune and shows that Magellan is far from a one-trick pony.
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