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
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
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
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
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