Lately, and due to Spock´s Beard´s “Snow” review I wrote for progVisions, I exchange some interesting e-mails with the only person (a girl, by the way) who wrote me an e-mail motivating (not insulting like others) why she thought that “Snow” was a good conceptual album. For me, the difference between a collection of good songs linked with a concept (“Snow”) and a conceptual album (“Hundred year flood”) is that a conceptual album keeps a homogeneous fluidity along the whole album as well as a relation between music/lyrics during the whole listening. Naturalness is the key. And although “Hundred year flood” is not the definitive conceptual work you can listen to it in a row and quickly you´ll get into the concept.
Gardner brothers, Trent (vocals, keyboards and that eternal progressive trombone) and Wayne (guitars and bass) are the basis of Magellan along with drummer Joe Franco. There are some guest stars… Ian Anderson´s flute, Tony Levin´s bass, Robert Berry´s guitar and bass, and George Bellas´ guitar. An amazing team for a tribute-homage to Jack Elroy Gardner´s memory, who died in Vietnam when he was 21.
When you put the Cd on the Cd player you´ll notice that there are fifteen tracks on the display… but there are only three in the booklet.. that´s why tracks 1-13 belongs to the long suite “The Great Goodnight” (34:27), track 14 to instrumental “Family Jewels” (5:53), and the last cut is “Brother´s keeper” (10:52).
“The great goodnight” is the highlight of the album. Its shocking start point with polyphonic vocals a la Yes/Gentle Giant foretells a good listening. And I am not wrong. There are lots of variations with sweet and powerful parts with the same leiv motiv (the word “brother” and year 1966). Lots of bombastic progressive a la Shadow Gallery with great guitar solos and keyboard layouts with Hammond and mellotron sounds (samplers?), and – fortunately – we won´t find that rococo Magellan´s style. Of course Gardner doesn´t discover gunpowder and has lots of influences such as, for example, the helicopter´s sound sampler (the most sampling sound in progressive history along with the sound of a telephone line). From eighth track on the music becomes more rhythmic and, finally appears Trent Gardner trying to demonstrate us again that trombone can have a place in progressive rock. Ninth track is very hymnal.. Jon Anderson would be happy singing this melody.. but tenth track brings back the powerful progressive style of the first tracks, interrupted by a nice vocal melody, until track number thirteen. In this track there is a kind of climax that intercalates energy, emotive moments (a drumming with march tempo, a voice whispering “this is for you” as sounds a nice solo of acoustic guitar). The fact that this song is inspired by a real event makes the history very real.. if that history wasn´t real Vietnam´s subject is a little bit boring for european people (we´ve also passed through lots of wars).
Llega el momento de la instrumental “Family Jewels”. You can buy the album only for the short flute intro courtesy of (on your knees, please) Ian Anderson. But this is not the only good thing of this track.. we can also enjoy with the most symphonic Magellan to date with Emerson-like keyboards and lots of symphonic sounds. A very beautiful interlude.
The album ends with “Brother´s keeper”, another song far from the typical Magellan style, with a nice acoustic guitar intro that quickly takes us to a song not very original in the melody but extremely original in the arrangements, with a slight industrial aroma thanks to Tony Levin´s roaring bass. The slow moments are the necessary counterpoint, so the track is not boring at all. As it is usual (unfortunately) there are some minutes of silence until the end, where Trent says that this album is dedicated to his brother.
Well.. I must admit that Magellan have never been one of my favorite bands; in fact I consider “Impending Ascension” as one of the most soporific albums in progressive rock history. The band has convinced me with “Hundred year flood” and they show that they´re able to record a good conceptual album. Anyway Magellan´s music is not easy to assimilate, so I recommend you a previous listening at your local store.