Tag Archives: Magenta

Album Reviews – Autumn 2013 Roundup

A few recent (and not so recent) albums I’ve not had the chance to review in full, but are all far too good to be overlooked.

Blood Ceremony – The Eldrich Dark

The spooky Canadians’ third album has lightly less stoner metal riffing and more psychedelia, with less emphasis on fuzz-toned guitar and more on sinister Hammond organ. There’s no change in their focus on 70s horror film motifs, with song titles like “Lord Summerisle” and lyrics about crimson altars. With plenty of Alia O’Brien’s flute the end result is a cross between Jethro Tull on acid and Uriah Heep from Hell.

Goldfrapp – Tales of Us

This record is allegedly too “mainstream” for me, but it’s got a very similar vibe to albums like Luna Rossa’s “Sleeping Pills and Lullabies” and Odin Dragonfly’s “Offerings“. There’s no trace of the electro-glam of their earlier records here, the stripped down arrangements made up largely of acoustic guitar and strings emphasise the beguiling melodies of the songs and beauty of Alison Goldfrapp’s voice.

The Graveltones – Don’t Wait Down

This duo have been kicking up a storm on the live circuit, and their début album manages to capture the power and intensity of the band’s live performances. The combination of raw and dirty blues riffs and powerhouse drums as a lead instrument in the vein of John Bonham or Keith Moon make a glorious rock’n'roll noise. This a record that needs to be played loud for maximum effect.

Magenta – The Twenty-Seven Club

With song titles like “The Lizard King”, “Ladyland Blues” and “Stoned” the subject matter of Magenta’s sixth studio album ought to be obvious here. As with any Magenta record, strong echoes of Yes are never far away, with some very Steve Howe like phrases from guitarist Chris Fry. Similarly, Christina Booth’s sings in similar register to Jon Anderson, although her performances have a lot more emotional depth. One standout song is the beautiful ballad “Pearl”, its less-is-more simplicity contrasting with the more complex epics on the album, with a superbly emotive vocal. As a whole, the album takes a position midway between the dark intensity of “Metamorphosis” and the commercial Magenta-lite of “Chameleon”. As a distillation of a lot of what’s good about Magenta’s music this makes a very good starting point for new listeners.

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Magenta release promo for The 27 Club

Promo video for the forthcoming Magenta album “The Twenty Seven Club”, now available for pre-order at www.magenta-web.com.

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Magenta – Bilston Robin 2, 20th November 2011

Welsh progressive rock band Magenta have established a strong reputation over past decade, with five studio albums to their name. They don’t play live often, but they’re well worth catching on the rare occasions when they do. The Sunday night show at Bilston Robin 2 was only their fourth full-band appearance of the year, following on from a successful appearance at the Summers End festival back in October.

The Robin 2 in Bilston is one of Britain’s premier classic rock, progressive rock and blues venues outside the capital. Tucked away in the heart of the Black Country they always put a lot of work into promoting their gigs, so even for a Sunday night there was a good-sized crowd.

Support came from former Pallas vocalist Alan Reed, fronting a semi-acoustic four-piece band. They managed to sound very proggy at times for a band without electric guitars, although their bassist doubled up on electric cello on a couple of songs. Their set mixed songs from Alan’s recent EP “Dancing with Ghosts” with a couple of Pallas oldies, and he warned us they might have to eat one of the band if they didn’t sell enough CDs. His spirited and impassioned performance made me wonder quite what Pallas were thinking when they sacked him. Especially when compared with their own somewhat lacklustre set without him at High Voltage in August.

Magenta are now officially a trio, consisting of composer and multi-instrumentalist Rob Reed, vocalist Christina Booth, and lead guitarist Chris Fry. For live work, Rob plays keys, and they’ve borrowed Godsticks’ excellent rhythm section to expand to a five-piece.

They were incredibly tight for a band who perform live so infrequently, such that it was hard to believe they’d played together live so few times this year. This was full-blown symphonic prog, with swirling keyboards, complex multi-part song structures and dense arrangements. But it was also all-out rock at the same time, a huge level of energy and intensity throughout their lengthy set.

The set spanned their entire career, going from the dark and intense 20 minute epic title track of “Metamorphosis” to selections from their more streamlined and accessible new album “Chameleon”, to older material such as the lengthy medley from their first album “Revolutions”. Magenta may be one of those bands who wear their influences on their sleeves, but unlike some lesser bands they put enough ideas of their own to become far more than a derivative pastiche. Occasionally they will throw in a few bars of something recognisable from 70s Yes or Genesis, but all of these are, as the band once stated, quite deliberate.

The diminutive Christina Booth showed just why she frequently wins awards for best female vocalist, singing with a lot of power and precision and making full use of her impressive vocal range. Chris Fry reeled off some amazing solos. At times his sound is reminiscent of Yes’ Steve Howe, but much of the time his sound is all his own; avoiding the sometimes clichéd Steve Hackett-meets-Dave Gilmour of too many neo-prog guitarists. And you’d never know that the rhythm section were just hired hands given the rhythmic complexity of the music.

Despite the infrequency of their live appearances, they’re every bit as great a live band as any of their peers in the female-fronted progressive rock scene. Quite when they’ll hit the road again is anyone’s guess, but on the strength of this show, they’re definitely not a band to miss.

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Top Ten Albums of the Year 2008

I wasn’t originally going to arrange these in order, but in the end I did it anyway, just to annoy those people who hate ranked lists.

10. Van der Graaf Generator – Trisector
Reduced to a trio after the departure of David Jackson, this album proves the slimmed-down version of the 70s progressive rock veterans can still deliver an album in the same league as their 2005 comeback album “Present

9. Magenta – Metamorphosis
Magenta are very much old-school Prog, wearing their Yes, Genesis and Mike Oldfield influences on their sleeve, playing 20 minute epics with titles like ‘The Ballad of Samual Layne’. They get away with it though superior songwriting and arrangement, and stunning individual performances from Christina Booth on vocals and Chris Fry on guitar.

8. Josh and Co – Through These Eyes
This solo album from Bryan Josh of Mostly Autumn appeared out of the blue at the end of November. Has a similar sound and production to Mostly Autumn’s last album, but the songs are looser and more contemporary-sounding. Quite dark in places, playfully self-indulgent in others, and Bryan cuts loose on the guitar in a way that shows how much he’d been holding back on recent Mostlies releases; I haven’t heard him shred like that for ages. Although Bryan naturally handles most of the vocals, there are also some quite stunning contributions from Olivia Sparnenn which really make me look forward to the next Breathing Space album

7. Uriah Heep – Wake the Sleeper
Nine years since their last studio album, and the mighty Heep are back with a powerful statement that the hard rock veterans are very much in business. Ironically for a band who have spent much of their career in the shadow of the much bigger and more successful Deep Purple, they’ve now come up with something that blows away anything Purple have done in the last nine years. It compares very favourably with their best output from their 70s heyday, and I don’t think they’ve ever rocked harder than this.

6. Panic Room – Visionary Position
The debut from the band that grew out of the ashes of Karnataka, fronted by Anne-Marie Helder. Three years in the making, it’s a rich multilayered album with a real mix of styles from hard rock, folk, pop and full-blown prog which was well worth the wait.

5. Pineapple Thief – Tightly Unwound
Pineapple Thief are one of the new generation of progressive rock bands who mix elements of 70s progressive rock with more contemporary influences to give a streamlined modern sound rather than produce a pastiche of older bands. You can hear the influence of both early Radiohead and Porcupine Tree on this album, although thankfully we’re spared Thom Yorke-style whining vocals, and there is definitely no shortage of tunes.

4. Mostly Autumn – Glass Shadows
A strong release which is a marked improvement on the patchy and badly-produced “Heart Full of Sky” even if it doesn’t quite match their best work. Written entirely by Bryan Josh and Heather Findlay this time around, it’s more mainstream melodic rock than the celtic-tinged prog of their early work, but retains the 70s vibe that’s still a major element of their sound. Musically it has hard rockers, shimmering piano ballads, dreamy atmospheric numbers and soaring guitar-driven epics. Lyrically they’re certainly not singing about Hobbits any more, this is a true life story about heartbreak, joy, tragedy and hope.

3. Opeth – Watershed
2005′s “Ghost Reveries” wasn’t an easy album to follow, but Opeth managed to equal it with “Watershed“, which contains all their trademark elements; piledriving heavy passages alternating with delicate guitar harmonies, Mikael Åkerfeldt’s vocals swapping back and forth between harsh ‘cookie monster’ and heartfelt clean vocals, typically all in the same song. It’s not an easy listen, songs average ten minutes, and don’t have anything as crassly commercial as conventional verses or choruses. But when you get what they’re doing, the result can only be described as ‘symphonic’.

2. Marillion – Happiness is the Road
This double album is a vast improvement on last year’s patchy “Somewhere Else“. The two disks are conceived as two separate single albums; the atmospheric “Essence“, and the rockier “The Hard Shoulder“. Both contain plenty of gems and very little filler. Stylistically it’s the same contemporary sound as recent albums rather than a reversion to an earlier sound. Steve Hogarth is on great form, using his voice as much as a musical instrument rather than solely to express the lyrics, and Steve Rothery demonstrates in many places why he’s one of the best rock guitarists out there.

1. The Reasoning – Dark Angel
It’s difficult to choose just one album as my album of the year, but in the end I’ve settled for The Reasoning’s second album. Last year’s debut “Awakening” was one of my top albums of last year, a great mix of melodic hard rock with progressive flavouring, with three-part vocal harmones and a powerful twin lead guitar attack. This one takes things to another level, adding some metal to the mix, full of melodies that get stuck in your brain, sublime vocals from Rachel Cohen, and some amazing but never self-indulgent playing from new guitarist Owain Roberts.

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