Magic Pie – The Suffering Joy

Have you ever listened to a record that you knew was very good, excellent even, but no matter what, it just does not click with you? For me, much modern traditional prog falls into this category, and while I can quietly respect it for its musical virtuosity, there is very little excitement in it for me, and next to impossible to foster an emotional bond with the music. Scandinavian progressive rock band Magic Pie’s latest album is a perfect example of this sort of album, and as I dive into the seventy minute work that these Norwegians have created here, I see that I really have reasons for being unable to feel the music on anything more than an academic level.

Undoubtedly, this is not the most positive way to open up a review, but see it as something of a disclaimer; while I can certainly appreciate ‘The Suffering Joy’ for its vintage flair and complex approach, I usually have an averse reaction to the whole scene of prog that tries to revive the sound of the ’70s. Indeed, if anything, that is one of the things that Magic Pie do best. Looking past a professional and modernized production varnish to the sound, the core of the band is based in the same sort of prog that was going strong in the early 70′s. Of course, there are many who can still appreciate the music for what it is, and if I could look past the fact that this sound has been recycled again and again over the course of forty years, I could see myself loving what Magic Pie do here.

A fairly long album, Magic Pie barrages the listener with prog epics left right and center. The first four tracks here comprise the ‘A Life’s Work’ suite, although for all intents and purposes, the fourth track is the one that people will be talking about; a seventeen minute section where Magic Pie pulls out every trick from vocal harmonies to crunchy guitar tones to a variety of vintage synth sounds. Then there are a number of mini-epics to trail the centerpiece, including the fairly heavy ‘Slightly Mad’, or ‘In Memoriam’. It is made very clear what the band was going for here, and for the most part, they are able to pull off the sound very well. There are many ideas in each epic, and especially in the guitar solos, a sense that Magic Pie is out to impress.

All this time, it feels evidently clear that Magic Pie are taking themselves far too seriously. That is not to say that they should not be pursuing their music with as much focus as they do, but the emotion in their music seems to be blocked by a contrived sense of songwriting and performance that seeks to dazzle rather than really touch the listener. This even shows in the album’s length, and there are several points in this album where ‘The Suffering Joy’ may have ended quite nicely, but they decide to throw in another fifteen or nine minute long epic into the fray to keep the train running along. While only the guitar solos (which are admittedly incredible) really astounded me from their technical brilliance, the sheer amount of ideas in each track does not hide the fact that the ideas are not used well. The lyrics are fairly bad, reverting to using single syllable rhymes, and plodding on with rather mechanical takes on fairly human things like emotions and philosophy.

Really, in the end, what can I say about this album? It is a perfectly capable piece of ’70s prog rock, released in 2011. Although there are still better bands doing the same thing out there- Transatlantic and Beardfish come to mind- Magic Pie really do nail the sound down, and there are ideas aplenty here to keep the vintage prog afficionado up for many a night. But as unfortunate as it is, when there is nothing new being offered, it is difficult to recommend this over any progressive music that is actually doing something new, rather than looking back on the old masters. End rant.

Tracklist:

1. A Life’s Work (Part I) – Questions Unanswered (1:16)
2. A Life’s Work (Part II) – Overture (3:32)
3. A Life’s Work (Part III) – A Brand New Day (2:28)
4. A Life’s Work (Part IV) – The Suffering Joy (17:09)
5. Headlines (9:29)
6. Endless Ocean (3:11)
7. Slightly Mad (9:48)
8. Tired (15:21)
9. In Memoriam (8:39)

Line-up:

* Eriikur Hauksson – vocals and guitars
* Eirik Hanssen – vocals and guitars
* Kim Stenberg – guitars
* Lars Petter Holstad – bass
* Gilbert Marshall – vocals and keyboards
* Jan T. Johannessen – drums

Links:

http://www.magicpie.net/

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