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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Magenta (UK)

Metamorphosis

Review by Gary Hill

I’ve heard of this band for a while, but this is the first time I’ve actually heard them. Well, I have to look into them. This CD is without question the one to beat for CD of the year. In fact, it’s probably one of my four or five CD’s of all time – really. This is a masterpiece that is simply incredible. Fans of 1970’s prog will certainly feel at home with the CD’s layout. Four tracks are present here. Two are epics that weigh in at over twenty minutes each with the other two existing in considerably shorter durations. There is plenty of other things for prog purists to like here, too. I found a lot of this CD to have musical connections to Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd. Chistina Booth’s vocals are in a higher register and sometimes lend (along with the music) a bit of a Renaissance texture. It should be noted that there are a couple places where the music turns towards metal, but don’t let that turn you away. You have to give this one a chance. It is one of the best prog albums of all time and I’d put it alongside the majority of the catalogs of all the great of the 1970’s.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
The Ballad of Samuel Layne
At over twenty minutes in length, this is one of the disc’s two ballads, but it’s the shorter of the two. Ambient motifs start this out. From there they launch out into a fast paced prog jam that serves as the backdrop for a couple of vocal excursions. We get some intriguing instrumental work after that and then we’re back to the vocal section. This gives way to a dramatic new instrumental segment and then more vocals. Keys in the next portion remind me a bit of Genesis and I’ve heard some Steve Howeish guitar work here and there. It drops back to some extremely mellow balladic stylings for the next vocals. They fire it back up from there into quick paced melodic prog territory and we get washes of classical like textures over the top. They fire out into another, somewhat harder edged section and layers of vocals weave across the top of this. Keyboards dance across later and then it falls away to a short acapella section. Then they take us on a rather Genesis-like excursion. This again, isn’t there for long. We get a short classically tinged segment followed by some Steve Howe-like guitar work. Another brief instrumental movement takes us to a keyboard laden ballad structure for the next vocals. This builds gradually with classical elements coming over the top. The vocals get quite emotional and then they fire out to a Dream Theater-like segment that’s a killer. This drops down for a short respite and then screams back out for a keyboard solo. They turn it toward classically tinged epic metal, without the metal and then take us through a short variant on the theme. This gives way to a more melodic and mellower section that includes a keyboard solo that seems almost like theremin. Then we get a hard-edged guitar solo section that has a bit of a Pink Floyd feel to it. This resolves and gives way to a delicate ballad segment. This becomes  one of the most coherent and cohesive sections of the epic. They build it ever so gradually, eventually rising to soaring progressive rock. Eventually this takes us on a new instrumental ride and then moves out to a stuttering sort of shifting prog rock jam that has a bit of a Yes feel to it. A dramatic vocal build up gives way to a killer bridge-like section and then the track shifts toward the rather classical. The section that comes out from there has a definite Yesish element – due both to the bass line and the guitar work. They intensify this out and then crescendo. It drops away and a new ballad section rises ever so slowly upward. It’s gentle and pretty. Another consistent movement, this is slowly added to and gains power and emotion. Traces of Celtic sounds wander across. After a time they shift out into another hard rocking powerhouse prog jam. This one has more classical elements in the mix. When the bass begins to drive again it feels a lot like Pink Floyd to me, but the keyboard solo that comes over the top is closer to Genesis. In any event, those keys work through and drop away and we get another vocal portion. After this they shift it out into a growing section and it gets quite powerful before it shifts out to a new motif that builds and climaxes. Keyboards remain and take us out.
Prekestolen
At just over three and a half minutes this is the shortest cut on show here. It comes in very sedately and rises ever so gradually. The motif is of an electronic ballad. I can hear hints of early Marillion, but there is plenty of original sound here, too. It has some Broadway musical textures at times, but also takes on Celtic over tones. They do throw in a more full rocking rendition of it later and power this into a killer jam.
Metamorphosis
The other epic on the disc, this one tops out at over twenty three minutes in length – making it the epic of the epics. A fast paced progression starts it off. This is quickly worked out into a classically tinged movement that brings the first vocals of the disc. As it makes its way out from there this is fast paced and a bit punky. Layers of sound bring more classical elements and a lush texture. It drops way down to keyboards that are the central accompaniment for the next vocals. Then they shift out to a killer fast paced prog jam. We get a reprise of the last vocal segment and then scream back out into this prog instrumental motif. They rework it for a short time in something resembling a crunchy ELP. Then they drop it way back down to the opening riff and build up into a melodic progressive rock journey from there. It drops back to a driving bass riff with keys and percussion for the next vocal section. They work this back up as they carry onward. They take this through a more accessible rock jam and then drop back down again. Vocals take it all the way down and then keyboards rise up before they launch back out into the energetic song proper. A few changes take us back to another drop away. This time when it rises up we get a Steve Howe-like guitar solo. This eventually screams out and they use it as a springboard for another Yes-like jam. They work through another brief movement and then drop back to the mellow motifs again. This is worked and reworked through a few alterations and transformations. The vocals come in with a balladic approach over this as it shifts to just acoustic guitar. At times this is a bit Floyd-like. It grows gradually upward with more instrumentation, emotion and power added to it. They fly through another fast paced segment as they come out of this and then it shifts into a “Pink Floyd plays the blues” segment. Eventually a Genesis like soaring keyboard solo moves on to the next section and shifts out to another melodic vocal segment. We get a stuttering non-lyrical vocal section like Yes and Starcastle and then a shift into a new fast segment. This is quickly followed by a transition out to a harder rock, quick paced jam. A few alterations move them on to another keyboard solo section. Then we get a dramatic vocal mode. This works through and then gives way to another mellow motif of keys and bass. The bass drops away and the vocals join. They take this into a dramatic iteration and then shift it out to a powerful segment that reminds me a bit of Renaissance. This mode is built upon as they take it forward. After working through a few variations they drop it way back to more mellow motifs once more. This works through and a quick bass line heralds a drop away to ambient, but rather dark stylings. The next vocals come in over this as it gradually grows. A short, but quite potent, vocal build up gives way to the next shift – a new fully realized prog rock jam. This works through a change into a more melodic section with Howe-like guitar soloing. Then it evolves into the next vocal section. After a crescendo this drops away and we have another ballad-like structure that is gradually built upon. There are classical elements to this as they add instrumentation. Eventually they transition back out to more soaring prog rock. A more classically oriented segment enters for a short time and then it drops to just keys and vocals. After a while like this they power back out to Genesis-like music. As they work through this the bass does some dramatic stuff. They modulate and grow this segment without really completely breaking away. The vocal resolution on this is extremely powerful. In fact, all the instruments lend to the poignant quality here as this works its way towards its conclusion. It peaks and then drops away to rather classically styled keys to end – or rather segue into the next track.
Blind Faith
Keyboards left behind from the last number rise to start this off. As percussion joins it builds ever so slowly. The vocals come in over this sedate backdrop. This is pretty and perhaps a bit dark. They eventually shift this out to a purely metallic jam, but then it works its way to a melodic prog rock segment. They drop it back to an intricate Yes-like interlude. Then the bass pulls it onward from there. Eventually a keyboard dominated section takes over and serves as the backdrop for the next vocals. This is pretty and emotional. We get a repeat of the metallic movement and the prog section that followed. The metallic sounds return after a chorus, this time tempered by more traditional prog elements. This climbs upward and then peaks, giving way to more melodic, rather ballad-like motifs as they carry through more emotional vocals.  The power of this just keeps rising, upward and upward as they carry forward. Each iteration seems to pull it closer and closer to the stars. Then it abruptly drops away. Ambience remains and we hear a whispered, “wake up” to end the album. And all I can say is, if this is a dream I hope I never wake up.
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