"This is one of those rare albums that grabs
you by the ears on first listen then improves with every playing. A
stunningly eclectic song cycle, Circus of Life has so much going on
that it's likely to appeal equally to fans of 70's melodic prog, British
folkrock, ambient space music, fusion and symphonic rock.
"It was with a bunch load of high expectations the new album from Magic Pie called "Circus of Life" reached my CD-player. The high expectations were all because I saw this Norwegian band do an unforgettable act earlier this year (in June 2007) at Sweden Rock Festival in Sölvesborg, Sweden.
All the guys proved they had musical skills way
beyond the common limits and the live performance turned out to be tighter
than a mices ass (Oooops!). The musical influences seemed like
a happy marriage between bands like Exception, Yes (the 70s style),
Kansas and King Crimson with a trace of Pink Floyd there, as well. The
needle of my built in complexity meter peaked constantly through-out
But now, I asked myself, could this contemporary progressive rock band with its heavy, jazzy and non-contemporary influences really live up to my expectations on an album? I mean compared to what they did on the marvellous live performance... Could they really transfer the same intense, glow and magical sound to the album?
Well, Im glad to say the answer is: Yes, they could! Cause even though the songs on the album Circus of life without doubt picks up a hint or two from bands playing down the "Memory Lane", it all comes with a fresh package and plenty of well suited own moves. Its modern progressive rock at its very best. Thinking about it, there's not many bands having succeeded in this musical genre since the late 70's. Among modern rock bands I think Magic Pie is musically most related to bands like The Flower Kings and Spock's Beard.
Back to this album; After listening to it a couple
of times I can tell you I'm completely knocked out!
Since I play keyboards myself I very much enjoy
Gilbert Marshalls roaring epic organs, reminding
The powerful basses (Lars Petter Holstad) and drumming (Jan Torkild Johannessen) is really tight and intricate, the lyrics are great and the vocal parts with three lead singers Gilbert Marshall, Allan Olsen and Eirik Hanssen are extremely tasteful, bringing a unique texture to the vocals. Just listen to the vocal part on a song like What if, and you'll know what I mean.
This album is very well put together, every song
fits into the puzzle. It´s fresh and its vintage
all at the same time. So if you are into progressive rock music and
likes a tight and groovy symphonic sound, but still dont want
the exception of beautiful and emotional melodies - go buy this record,
it´s the essential purchase of the year!
"The album is more than an hour, but as
when you a see a great movie, time flies"
I marvel at the obstinacy with which many people at this website continue to follow the trend and dedicate so much time to bands like DT while true gems not worse than the classics ofthe 70s are often left unnoticed. MAGIC PIE is truly a phenomenal band: they seem to have absorbed some 20 best prog bands in their sound and yet you will not find their two albums derivative or full of musical clichés. Sometimes it's even hard to decide if they play symphonic, or neo, or metal prog, which is another characteristic of a high-quality band (think of PT). All MAGIC PIE's songs are fresh and powerful, with great melodies. Absolutely no filler material. Another important point, which equally applies to their two albums, is very intelligent, kind, and inspiring lyrics. Aren't you fed up of the dark, constantly whining bands or those that breath "death and destruction"? Want to feel so light and positive as after YES? Then MAGIC PIE is certainly for you. The vocals are great. The guitarist is a genius.
"Circus of Light" contains seven tracks,
all soaked in majestic keyboard and guitar passages. No
"A wonderful success"
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,
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."
"I'd not heard of Magic Pie before 'Circus
of Life' turned up for review, but a quick glance at the press release
accompanying the CD reveals the band formed five years ago in Norway,
and this is their sophomore effort following 2005's debut release 'Motions
of Desire'. With influences listed as Yes; Spock's Beard; The Flower
Kings; Deep Purple; Uriah Heep; and The Beatles, my curiosity had been
stirred, and I listened with high expectations. The main bulk of the
album is formed by the 'Circus of Life' suite, an unequivocal metaphorical
concept for life as a circus, and comprises 5 pieces of music with part
IV, the epic 20+ minute 'Trick of the Mind', broken down into a further
four 'acts'. There are also two more lengthy tracks, peripheral to album's
title concept, which extend the overall playing time to well over an
hour. I sometimes think so called concept albums tread a fine line between
pretentiousness and credibility, but when the music is as good as on
'Circus of Life, such a consideration becomes insignificant. The Spock's
Beard influence (and I would argue Neal Morse era SB) is prominent in
Magic Pie's compositional style in terms of the retro/contemporary dichotomy.
Opening track 'Welcome' serves as an effective intro with it's skilfully
woven prog-folk essence before letting rip with the technically complex
instrumental piece 'Freakshow' full of virtuoso playing; engaging time
signatures and scalar diversity. Kim Stenberg's guitar leads impress
throughout, and his wah-wah infused solo towards the end of the Floydian
'What If...' is a fine example of poignantly expressive playing, and
a nice contrast with the more clinical technicality present in other
songs. 'Trick of the Mind' belies its lengthy duration and passes by
in no time at all, which is testament to Stenberg's compositional skills,
while 'The Clown' has overtones of Pain of Salvation's 'Dea Pecuniae'
from their conceptual epic 'Be' with vocals similar to those of Daniel
Gildenlöw. It would be apposite to suggest Magic Pie are progressive
generically rather than actually progressive, though the Norwegians
achieve a perfect balance between old and new on 'Circus of Life' that
outshines many of their peers and have made an album that will have
huge appeal to the contemporary prog fan en masse.
"SOUNDS LIKE ...
"A group that confirms its potential with
a second very successful album"
"Norway's Magic Pie created a bit of a stir with their debut album Motions Of Desire back in 2005 gaining quite a few recommendations as prog rock album of that year, despite some criticisms of there being rather too many overt references to their musical influences. However, in the intervening two years, the group has honed, even created, its own style inevitably helped by taking to the stage and performing to enthusiastic international audiences. The line-up has remained unchanged since the debut release with Kim Stenberg providing guitars and the bulk of the song writing (in conjunction with lyricists Tommy Stenberg), Gilbert Marshall on keyboards and vocals, Allan Olsen and Eirik Hanssen on lead vocals, Lars Petter Holstad on bass and Jan Torkild Johannessen on drums.
In days gone by, this album would undoubtedly have just been a single track, split over two sides of vinyl. The benefit of digital technology means that the whole 45+ minutes of the title track of The Circus Of Life can be enjoyed in its entirety in one go. Progressive rock is often derided for bands producing long meandering pieces of self-indulgence that lack coherence and structure. Although it is true that there are far too many bands who think that for a 'epic' tracks are an essential component of any progressive rock album and so over-extend pieces past limits of endurance and beyond the parsity of ideas they contain; never mind the quality, look how long it is! When extended pieces are done well they can be sources of great musical excitement, sublime and emotive passages and vehicles to transport the listener into other dimensions. Fortunately, Magic Pie have grasped this fact and have successfully managed to link five relatively disparate sections to form a coherent and entertaining piece.
From the opening scene-setting of Welcome, through the heavy prog-credentials to the fore instrumental of Freakshow, via the lovely, almost melancholy, harmony singing on What If... to the epic-within-an epic of Trick Of The Mind. Act one Song of Decision makes great use of the three lead vocalists in the group, each bringing a slightly different texture to their vocal parts. Despite the initial guitar onslaught, the bulk of the track is backed by glorious Hammond organ, although Stenberg's guitar becomes more prominent as the track progresses. A synth solo leads into a reprise of the chorus and then it is into Act II Song Of Anger, which really should be called Song of Bitterness with the opening lines "I blame it all on you; you're the reason for my failure". The anger/bitterness is musically demonstrated by the heavy riffing. Although Stenberg is being lauded as something of the latest guitar hero in some circles (some even rating him in the same league as Gilmour and Beck) I have to say I am far more enamoured with Marshall's keyboard contributions. That is not to say Stenberg is not good, if not great, as there are plenty of places where he excels, such as in the passage introducing Act III Song Of Sharing.
Starting with a more sedate vocal passage, a dose of slide guitar leads into a very 1970s hard rock guitar and keyboard passage before things are ramped up further into some furious riffing that will find favour with metal freaks. Holsted's rumbling bass gives the section gravitas with guitar and keyboard solos coming fast and furious. The energy in this piece is quite phenomenal with every musician giving their all. Act IV Face To Face reprises the chorus section of Song Of Decision with a nice harmony section bringing Trick Of The Mind to a tumultuous end. In case you had forgotten, there is still one final part of The Circle Of Life to go, Part V The Clown. Wrapping things up neatly and in grand style, with a choir provided (single-handedly!) by Kor Artig, the scale and ambition of The Circus Of Life is worthy of the subject matter. And am I deluded or is the outro fairground music the same as appears on the intro to Queen's Brighton Rock?!
If that was not enough the album closes with Pointless Masquerade and Watching The Waters. The first of these plays heavily on the vocal arrangements, passing through some a cappella sections (more in the vein of Spock's Beard aping Gentle Giant than the might Giant themselves) to lovely harmony sections. Musically, the piece is a bit of a mish-mash but engaging enough to warrant its nine-minute playing time, with a fine solo by Marshall making the piece all that more special. Speaking of the keyboard player, he is the sole writer of the last track on the album which is probably the least involved on the album. With a certain resonance to classic Kansas the piece provides a fine end to the album.
Overall, Magic Pie have proved themselves a band
to watch out for. Hopefully with Progress Records behind them they will
thrive and prosper. With Circus Of Life the Norwegians have made a great
contender for the album of the year lists."
"The CD opens with the long title track
that contains five parts and has a running time around the 45 minutes.
The climates range from dreamy with acoustic guitar, violin and warm
vocals (part 1 and 5) to compelling with soaring keyboards (organ and
Fender piano) and fragile wah-wah guitar (part 3) to bombastic with
propulsive drums and guitar, a long fat sounding Minimoog-like synthesizer
"Buy it now!"
"Fans of Flower Kings and Karmakanic will
most certainly embrace this release, as the music includes all of the
highlights we have known and loved for so long. Magic Pie however hails
from Oslo, Norway, and is therefore a nice change from the suffocating
power of Swedish prog. As an illustration of the band's ambition the
album starts with the epic "Circus Of Life," which is composed
of five separate pieces. The opening section "Welcome" is
an acoustic little beauty which blends mellotron with real cello where
the catchy vocal melody reminds me of ACT. You hear this song for the
very first time and it
With "What If
" the calm sets
in, turning towards hazes of drifting Pink Floyd sounds. With two different
lead singers the band also injects a nice variety in the vocal department,
which in some cases is the stumbling block. Here however the vocals
nicely blend together, leaving behind traces of Alan Parsons Project
along the way. I don't think any other group before them has ever included
an "epic" within an "epic"? The lush 21:50 long
"Trick Of The Mind" is the fourth part of the "Circus
Great bands don't shun any influence so it is such a great pleasure to hear some Spanish guitar find it's way in the fierce "Pointless Masquerade." Guitar and synth introduce the more poppy intro for "Watching The Waters" which closes this incredible album. Tribal drums steer this song towards an early end where, after a minute of pure silence, the rhythm sets in again this time accompanied by mouth organ and bluesy guitar delivering yet another slice of the versatile Magic Pie. Without a shadow of a doubt Circus Of Life is already my "album of the year"!
In 2006 they performed at ROSfest, whilst this
year sees them take the stage [again at RoSFest 2007, but also] at the
Subtacto Prog Festival in Oslo [in August] and most of all, at the internationally
acclaimed Sweden Rock Festival, next to names such as Aerosmith, Scorpions,
REO Speedwagon and Motörhead. For sure the Magic Pie star is rising
fast so be sure you catch them as quick as you can!"
"Circus of Life" is an album that I
will be listening to frequently."
"Circus Of Life is Norwegian prog sensation
Magic Pie's second album. Their debut album "Motions Of Desire"
released in 2005 was one of my favourite albums that year so I approached
the new album with great expectations.
"The Norwegian prog band serve up another
fantastic slice of Magic Pie with this release, Circus of Life
"Magic Pie impressed me, in the fine (and
superior, but let's pace the words of eloquence) register of
The alive color of the album's psychical and
emotional composition is a wide-opened symphonia, in more retrieving
nuances a usual mind can focus on, but in a clear sound-scenic arrangement
too. The music is warmly fuzzed, the instrumentality is at a principal
dignity that has consequence in powerful touches, delicate art or, rather,
the soft beat planante. The rock groove inside is more fleshy than usually,
but that's a great dynamic impulse. Majorly, glamorously, or most dramatically
(to the shape), the concept is broadening the mind and the heart, upon
listening to this album, but the music is doing much more than great
riddles or fantastic upholds. It's a expression of no dull touches,
it's a fully understood language. The secret is almost viable and sensible,
but, by the instrumental full quality, I'd say Circus Of Life is a hidden
full message of music creativity, whilst the band is much more comfortable
behind the royal sound. Greatly enthusiastic is the evincing total flavor,
in a clean order of thought music and in a free-to-impress heavy (accentuated,
better said) seasoning.
Four stars for the new Magic Pie. Symphonic glaze,
bit of Art Rock, modern vibings and timings, short alternative nazel,
plus a lot of cream-tasty composition and imagination, to hold on music
made entirely of good sounds, perfect dynamics and the small, incipient,
symbols. Fairly impressive and impressionable, the ensemble is on high
"I have waited very anxiously for the successor
of the debut album Motions of Desire of Magic Pie, one of
the best releases of 2005. It is by no means a sinecure to equal the
quality of such a top album, or even to surpass it. This Norwegian band
has fulfilled my expectations again, although they have taken a slightly
different musical turn point/ Naturally, it remains progressive rock,
The ballad Welcome begins in a Mostly
Autumn style, but then tends towards the more quieter (emo)rock of the
seventies, bands like Uriah Heep and Kansas had those kind of songs
on their repertoire. In Freakshow it becomes a bit heavier
and more complex, progressive rock with vintage Hammond, loads of guitar
and a heavy rhythm section, certainly some influences of The Flower
Kings are noticeable, although the guitar riffs sound a bit harder than
their fellow-countrymen. And What if breaths out the atmosphere
of the seventies as well, again a ballad with references to Alan Parsons,
The Eagles but also to a lot of hard rock bands of that era, beautiful
vocals with an excellent distorted guitar solo on top. What
a contrast with the epic Trick of the mind, starting in
true progressive metal
I don't know if it's on purpose, but after each
heavy track there is a moment of rest, but the splendid guitar solo
of The Clown grabs you immediately, top quality melodic hard rock. Pointless
Masquerade is a nice piece of progressive rock, like Spocks
Beard tend to bring it nowadays, heavy but with a lot of
feeling for melody, and also a Gentle Giant feeling, like
Beard also integrates on all of their albums.
The band also uses a lot of sound samples, like
for example at the beginning of Watching the Waters, a song
completely in the vein of the Swedish school, especially of the label
Progress Records with bands like Grand Stand, Cross and Galleon. Catchy
melodies with a lot of keyboards and guitars, a bit strange is the silence
of about a minutes between some drums and harmonica, after which it
Overall Magic Pie brings the perfect mix between
progressive rock, hard rock and melodic metal, a better description
would be progressive classic rock, especially because of the links
with the past. I am an unconditional fan of this kind of music, not
always easy for the listener, but the integration of several music genres
makes it very interesting. Hopefully we can see them once live in our
"A tight and well produced album that will
give you pleasure for years."
"Magic Pie are one of those bands that fall
into the modern/retro progressive camp along with the
One thing that sets The Pie apart for my tastes, is the quality of the songwriting, and again, Kim Stenberg's guitar playing, which is in a league beyond what you hear from the playing on these other bands' cds. Yes it's a matter of taste and all of that, but Stenberg has an aggressive side that takes the band out of their straight away progressive rock sound, and adds some fusion and virtuoso delights to the music. It's progressive music all the way, with no lulls or filler, and is a variety of prog that can easily invite non-progressive rock fans based on the energy, musicianship and melodic hooks.
The 21 minute epic - Trick of the Mind, is the
kind of song that might get the 'classic' tag because they really put
everything into it, it's is reflective of everything progressive music
stands for in the more conventional sense, each singer is utilized,
and there are some fantastic instrumental sections, and it's the kind
of song that seems much shorter than it really is. Other songs are quite
lengthy as well, two in the 9 minute range, on over 8, and two shorties
at over 6 minutes. Needless to say, they are not writing and radio hits
on this cd. And even though the songs are long, they never drag on,
mainly because this band has so much to say as musicians, in the tradition
of YES, ELP, or Tull and Genesis, we came to love those bands for their
ability to write songs that featured their collective musical skills
as well as the lyrical aspects. Magic Pie has this same formula, only
with their own signature, as each of those bands did."
« Back to MAGIC PIE "Circus of life"