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Magellan: Test of Wills

I have an interesting story to tell, if you'll indulge me: a few years ago, I took a Saturday afternoon and went from record store to record store, searching in vain for any albums by Magellan, a band I had been hearing much about on the usenet newsgroups I was frequenting. Naturally, I was having absolutely no success: pimple-faced teens at Camelot looked at me as if I spoke Hebrew when I told them the name of the band I was looking for ("Magellan... Magellan... did he used to be in NWA?"); our local alternative record store, the one that prides itself on having everything (I won't mention any names, but you probably have their bumper sticker on your car, in some configuration), had never heard of them.

So I was on my way out of the last store on my list, the local "superstore", and chanced to look across the bargain cassette bin. What should be laying on top of the pile of Milli Vanilli and Stephen Bishop albums? That's right, a pristine copy of Magellan's brilliant debut album, Hour of Restoration. The price? 25 cents.

In the car on the way home, listening to the breathtaking song "Magna Carta" (still my favorite Magellan song), my wife made this astute comment:

"Why is this stuff in the cutout bin, and 'Peaches' [by the Presidents of the USA] is on the radio?"

I had no good answer at the time, and I still don't. Magellan seemed destined to be the redeeming light of rock music: complicated rhythms, shifting key signatures, intelligent lyrics and a simple passion that was evident from the first, Magellan has gained a devoted following through two full-length albums (including the critically acclaimed Impending Ascension) and countless contributions to various tribute albums, including the Genesis tribute Supper's Ready.

So it is with great sadness that I sit down to write this review of their latest album, Test of Wills, an album that is a disappointment all around.

Renaissance man Trent Gardner has always seemed to be the heart and soul of the band - similar to the relationship Ian Anderson exerts over Jethro Tull. In the past, that has always been a good thing, for Trent is an incredibly talented keyboardist with a much better than average voice.

But on Test of Wills, the very elements that made Magellan memorable in the past are overdone in the extreme. Syncopation is one thing; having no discernable melody is quite another, and it is very possible for songs to quickly become too complicated for their own good. That's the disease that songs like "Walk Fast, Look Worried" and "Gameface" suffer from.

Magellan shines the brightest during the numerous and lengthy instrumental bits, opportunities for these three men to show off their considerable talents. It's as if the need to create vocal melodies puts constraints on the song writing process - you can virtually hear the band stiffen up when the interludes end, and the vocals return.

My heart hurts as I put these negative thoughts into writing, for Trent, Wayne and Brad are so obviously passionate about their work, which has been indispensable in the past. For a glimpse at true brilliance, try to find a copy of Hour of Restoration by this band.

Added: January 1st 2004
Reviewer: SoT Archives
Related Link: Web Site
Hits: 2533
Language: english

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