Dutch Progressive Rock Page
After creating a great deal of interest in prog circles with their 2005 debut Motions Of Desire and even more so with the 2007 follow up Circus Of Life, Magic Pie appear to have let the momentum slip of late. Album releases are not the only focus of a bandís activities of course and theyíve certainly remained busy on the gigging front including visits to the US and UK. With a near four year gap separating The Suffering Joy and the last album it was important that they came up with a strong successor. All the requisite ingredients are certainly in place with the line-up remaining virtually unchanged from the previous two releases. The one exception is Eirikur Hauksson (lead vocals) who replaces Allan Olsen although the change is perhaps less apparent than would be initially expected. Otherwise its business as usual with Eirik Hanssen (vocals), Kim Stenberg (guitars, vocals), Lars Petter Holstad (bass), Gilbert Marshall (keyboards, vocals) and Jan Torkild Johannessen (drums).
The albumís contradictory title is for me symbolic of the band itself, mixing as they do contemporary symphonic prog and prog-metal with classic 70ís rock. Like fellow Scandinaviansí Moon Safari they also recognise the value of strong vocals in addition to strong musicianship. Similar to its two predecessors, the albumís twenty-five minute core piece A Life's Work is subdivided into individually titled songs. As the cover artwork suggests, it concerns the approach of old age and reflecting on the complexity of a life thatís gone before. The opening Questions Unanswered is a short but poignant vocal and keyboard arrangement that leads into the prog-metalish instrumental Overture which is reminiscent of Dream Theater and Neal Morse at their overblown best. In stark contrast is the reflective A Brand New Day which could have easily been the work of The Flower Kings with delicate harmonies and a beautiful (Mellotron) flute melody.
As its length would imply, the title song The Suffering Joy goes through numerous twists and turns incorporating themes from the previous three tracks. The memorable chorus is surrounded by some particularly fine individual sections both vocal and instrumental. In the former category is a lengthy section that utilises crunching riffs and female backing vocals (courtesy of guest Maria Bentzen) to add a definite Ayreon flavour to the proceedings. There is also some very fast and flashy guitar and organ interplay that sounds like itís meant to impress and if thatís the case it succeeds. The ending for me however is a little disappointing, not sounding anywhere near as grand as it might have done.
Headlines makes good use of the bandís multiple vocal talents with Haukssonís bombastic delivery complemented by superb but not over elaborate counterpoint harmonies. The uplifting instrumental midsection is a real joy with guitar and synth blending so precisely itís hard to tell which is which.
Endless Ocean is the albumís token acoustic diversion but itís a good one with another strong chorus and west coast harmonies in the style of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Slightly Mad on the other hand lives up to its title with impressively frantic instrumental work that brings to mind Liquid Tension Experiment and Spockís Beardís Skeletons At The Feast. The jazz-funk mid section is equally well played particularly the guitar solo but the laidback song part that concludes (again featuring Maria Bentzen) means that for me the track overall is a little too fragmented for its own good.
In addition to A Life's Work the albumís other epic contender is Tired which despite the downbeat title opens with a stirring synth fanfare. With its repetitive lines and spoken samples, the vocal arrangement admittedly borrows from Pink Floydís Eclipse but thereís enough fresh ideas going on to justify its fifteen plus minute length. Again the harmonies are effective without being overdone and yet more metal guitar and organ shredding features showy musicianship particularly from Stenberg. Itís worth noting at this point that Stenberg is responsible for writing and arranging all the songs on the album in addition to the production and mixing.
The concluding In Memoriam has a distinct retro feel with a suitably sinister vocal and sprawling bluesy guitar work. The chorus is however more uplifting than the title would suggest with Haukssonís raunchy vocal bringing Bruce Dickinson readily to mind. The closing, half spoken lines ďIs God the maker of this complex scheme, Am I his decoy through my suffering joy?Ē reprises the lyrics from the opening song Questions Unanswered, effectively bringing the album full circle.
This is another impressive release from Stenberg and co. demonstrating their acute ability to blend a variety of styles (albeit mostly in a prog vein) into an entertaining whole. If I had to add one note of criticism then for me itís the occasional lapse into prog-metal clichť usually following a lyrical vocal section. The intention here Iím sure is to emphasis their ability to create light and shade which I have to concede they do remarkably well. Otherwise there is little to fault here and certainly new man Hauksson adds an extra dimension with his dynamic delivery. Like the two previous Magic Pie releases this comes highly recommended.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10