I've come to approach Trent Gardner's work with both respect and trepidation. He's overseen epic and impressive projects with Steve Walsh (Glossolalia), D.C. Cooper (Explorers Club) and James LaBrie (Leonardo: The Absolute Man), and as the mastermind behind Magellan, the man created some of the most exhilarating prog of the Nineties (1991's Hour of Restoration, 1994's Impending Ascension and 1997's Test of Wills). But not every Magellan song works well; hell, some Magellan albums don't even work that well.
With an original title of Cranium Reef, which actually sounds more intriguing (and lends itself to more compelling cover art ideas), Symphony for a Misanthrope contains only seven songs ranging in length from two minutes to more than 18 minutes. And, true to form, some of them are effective and captivating; a few of them are not. "Symphonette" (featuring Walsh on keyboards) and "Pianissimo Intermission" are brief instrumentals that show off Trent's classical leanings, while "Why Water Weeds?" offers heavy drama and the wicked "Doctor Concoctor" borders on progressive metal. Elsewhere, "Wisdom" is a gentle acoustic piece that you'll really want to like. But, alas, it's not very memorable.
The album's literal centerpiece is the 18-minute "Cranium Reef Suite," which boasts a wonderfully atmospheric beginning that segues into pure Magellan: coarse signature changes, sweeping symphonic elements and a tendency to ramble. Trent's voice seems to have developed greater range, as he no longer always sounds like Ian Anderson and can now stretch his voice higher than before. And once again, Trent (who also plays keyboards and trombone) is joined by his brother, Wayne, on guitar, bass and backing vocals. Joe Franco plays drums, and guitarist Robert Berry guests on one song.
Lyrically - in case the album title isn't a clue - the brothers Gardner wallow in dark, somber territory. In the press material that accompanies Symphony for a Misanthrope, Trent cryptically reveals that the album's theme is "miserable performance and the end result of humanity." Granted, the Gardners underwent a devastating split with their first label, Magna Carta, a few years ago, and Magellan's music has never quite been the same since. But that doesn't mean Symphony for a Misanthrope isn't adventurous, ambitious or rewarding. It is, but in its own distinct way.
2) Why Water Weeds?
4) Cranium Reef Suite
5) Pianissimo Intermission
6) Doctor Concoctor
7) Every Bullet Needs Blood