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Magic Pie: Circus of Life

There used to be a time when, say 8 or 10 years ago, prog fans used to salivate over the idea of a new CD by The Flower Kings, for example, who in their early days were good at creating magnum opuses littered with soaring, memorable melodies and stunning instrumental interplay. Not that Roine and company still don't do that today, but there was a certain "magical" quality about their earlier releases that they've had a hard time duplicating in recent years. A few years ago, a band from Oslo, Norway called Magic Pie burst on the scene with a CD called Motions of Desire, which quickly won the hearts of many a progger worldwide, even becoming Sea of Tranquility's Top Release of 2005 in our reader poll. Now, fast forward two years, and this little band (well, not that little, as they do have six members) are back with their follow-up, titled Circus of Life. Is the "magic" still there? Let's find out.

On the bands debut, their mix of symphonic prog with hard rock muscle (think Deep Purple meets Kansas with a little Yes thrown in) that combines soaring vocal interplay, virtuoso guitar work, and vintage keys, produced stunning results. Here on Circus of Life, you can expect more of the same formula, yet these songs sound nothing like what you heard on the debut. The opening 45+ minute epic five part title suite "Circus of Life" is a powerhouse of modern prog, with each part having an identity of its own, yet it all makes cohesive sense in telling its story. Kicking off with "Welcome", a charming and lush little melodic number with acoustic guitars, cello, Mellotron flutes, and great vocals, this one sets the stage for the fireworks to follow. Lead vocals in Magic Pie are handled by Allan Olsen, Eirik Hanseen, and keyboard player Gilbert Marshall, with backing vocals provided by guitarist Kim Stenberg and bassist Lars Petter Holstad. The band then charges in with the raging instrumental "Freakshow", a hard hitting number with searing Hammond, beefy guitar riffs, and wild guitar & keyboard interplay. Again, imagine a marriage of Deep Purple and Kansas here on this one. Stenberg literally rips on the guitar, as does Marshall when he lays down a tremendous and somewhat fusiony synth solo. The band then moves into symphonic and dreamy prog territory on the alluring "What If...", a memorable piece that has a solid Pink Floyd feel to it, with emotional vocals from Allan Olsen, spacey keys, and Stenberg's biting guitar lines. The lush backing vocals from the whole band on this one are quite stunning, as layering the vocals is something Magic Pie do so well, almost sounding like a prog rock version of Chicago at times.

This then segues into the main part of the suite, the near 22-minute "Trick of the Mind", which is just a mind-blower of powerful progressive rock. Stenberg's melodic and tasty guitar lines kick things off, supported by Mellotron flutes and the intricate drum work from Jan T. Johannessen. This part is made up of four acts, so the band takes you through many changes here, and it's a journey you'll want to revisit over and over. Soaring vocal harmonies, complex instrumental interplay, and some of the most memorable & heart tugging lyrics & vocal lines you will hear on any CD this year:

"The bigger events can have smaller causes,
The minor wins can have major losses,
Stand behind your beliefs,
Keep an open heart and a clear mind, and the rest will take you anywhere".

"One Long straight, two narrow paths to elsewhere,
Which one do you choose, do you want to know what's out there
Remember how the saying goes
Keep an open heart and a clear mind, and the rest will take you anywhere".

Just beautiful stuff. Then, just when you have your eyes closed, with perhaps a tear falling and singing proudly along with the band, they launch into a furious musical barrage and change in tempo, even throwing in some Uriah Heep-like "ooh ahs" for good measure. Guitarist Stenberg really shows later in the piece why he is probably one of the hottest young axe players on the prog scene. This guy has it all, chops, tone, and taste. If you like your prog with loads of gorgeous melodies, symphonic and often times complex arrangements, plus plenty of solos spots, you need to hear this tune. The suite closes out in grand fashion with "The Clown", an atmospheric number with Marshall's gentle piano and Hammond laying the groundwork for Stenberg's monstrous guitar solo and layers of emotional vocals from the whole band. Marvelous stuff.

It's almost pointless to have any other songs on a CD after such a rousing and emotional roller coaster that is the "Circus of Life" suite, but Magic Pie did throw two other tunes on this album. "Pointless Masquerade" is a quirky 9-minute number that combines Gentle Giant like complexity with the firepower of Deep Purple, but it also goes through a morphing stage by the time you get to the end of the song, as the band adds in plenty of their own style to this outstanding number. Heavy guitars, flashy keyboards (including a wicked Hammond solo), and tricky rhythms from Johannesen and bassist Holstad. The ending near 10-minute "Watching the Waters" features a great vocal from Eirik Hansen and a nice 70's styled symphonic arrangement. As with all their material, melody is the key, and this one's as memorable as you can get, with some really hot keyboard and guitar work as well.

Epic is probably a good way to describe Circus of Life, but it's much more than that. We all know that 5 star ratings don't come easy here at Sea of Tranquility, but this one is more than deserving. With this release, it's a good bet that Magic Pie are going to set the standard for prog rock albums from here on out. There's absolutely no reason why this band shouldn't be considered one of the elite after folks hear this release, giving them litterally two stunning CD's right out of the gate, not something that is easy for a relatively new band to accomplish. It won't be long before fans will be saying "I can't wait for the next Magic Pie CD", and at that time we'll know that this band is no longer ROSFEST's little secret.

Track Listing
Circus of Life-Parts 1-5
1) Pt. 1- Welcome (3:25)
2) Pt. 2-Freakshow (6:14)
3) Pt. 3- What If... (8:04)
4) Pt. 4- Trick of the Mind (21:50)
5) Pt. 5-The Clown (6:07)
6) Pointless Masquerade (8:57)
7) Watching the Waters (9:31)

Added: May 11th 2007
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Progress Records
Hits: 8086
Language: english

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