Over-the-top music knows no language barriers. Want proof? Listen to the Spanish Celtic-metal band Mago de Oz's fifth studio album, Gaia – the eight-member group's first disc since 2000's double CD Finisterra. The dramatic opener "Obertura MDXX" plays like a film soundtrack by incorporating eerie effects, an orchestra, chanting and opera singing. Then there's the epic title song and the closer "La Venganza de Gaia" - both clocking in at 11:03 and embracing everything from solo piano to violins straight out of a John Mellencamp song to dual-guitar power chords that'll knock you on your ass. And, if you haven't already figured it out, all of these songs are sung in crisp Spanish by a guy named Jose – lending the ballads additional tenderness and giving surprisingly more bite to the rockers.
Mago de Oz (meaning Magician of Oz, by the way) also knows when to slow things down, as on the beautiful ballad "Si Te Vas." And the band's deft use of such instruments as violins, flutes and whistles creates a rather organic sound, preventing Mago de Oz from becoming an overblown, self-indulgent European metal band in the grand tradition of Rhapsody and Stratovarius.
Already Platinum in Spain, Gaia is an emotional album – even if you don't speak Spanish. It overflows with multiple musical moods that transcend the spoken language, making Gaia a universal metal record that should invite listeners to explore Mago de Oz's back catalog. I know I'm going to seek out the band's cover of Kansas' "Dust in the Wind," adapted with Spanish lyrics.
(Note that Gaia comes with a bonus DVD that includes interviews with band members about the album's production and its concept, recording footage and a music video. I have not seen the DVD, as all I have is a promo copy of the CD in a flimsy cardboard slipcase. But judging from the promo photo of these Spaniards, decked out in fancy swashbuckling threads, I bet it's as over the top as Mago de Oz's music.)
1) Obertura MDXX (3:55)
2) Gaia (11:03)
3) La Conquista (5:07)
4) Alma (6:39)
5) La Costa de Silencio (4:40)
6) El Arbol de la Noche Triste (4:48)
7) La Rosa de los Vientos (4:16)
8) La Leyenda de la Llorona (4:21)
9) Van a Rodar Cabezas (6:31)
10) El Atrapasuenos (4:16)
11) Si Te Vas (5:58)
12) La Venganza de Gaia (11:03)
Running Time (72:41)