Progressive rock is one of those genres that metal fans tend to either love or loathe; some find it way too self-indulgent, lengthy and unnecessarily complex, whereas others love the over-the-top , overwhelming musical structures, and the sheer creativity and imagination that goes into this type of music. Luckily, I fall into the latter category, otherwise reviewing this album would have been a mistake!
`Serpent of Wisdom’ is Magna Vice’s debut album, although you’d never know that from this slick, polished and professional release. It transpires that none of the members are new-comers; all of them have been in bands before (quite a list of bands in fact). Although I have not been able to find out too much information on this mysterious Finnish outfit (from Turku), I can tell you as an educated guess that at least one of the members must be over 40 years old. This is purely because Magna Vice’s music is firmly and definitively rooted in the 70’s and 80’s. If someone had told me that this was a re-release of an obscure rock album from 1982, I would have believed it.
Everything about the band’s sound harks back to those days, and for lovers of classic rock and metal, there is a lot to love here too. For a start, the vocals have a wonderful, dramatic warble, the like of which you just don’t hear it nowadays; to my ears it sounds like a mixture of Geddy Lee and Robert Plant, but not quite as high pitched. There are also some lush, multi-layered vocal harmonies which evoke memories of other 70’s and 80’s bands, such as Uriah Heep to name just one.
The rest of the music is a melting pot from those times too; Magna Vice really mix up classic, balls-to-the-wall rock with some nifty, slightly bonkers progressive rock, like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath meeting Yes and King Crimson in an alley for a fight. There are swathes of keyboards, which add majesty and pomp to the musical proceedings, plus also helping to root the music in that classic period. There are some fantastic swirly sci-fi keyboard effects used in the more epic songs (of which there are many), which also brings Hawkwind fleetingly to mind.
The bass is also used to wonderful effect too: something you don’t hear too often these days. There are some really great walking bass lines, weaving counter melodies under the hard rocking riffs and really driving the music along.
The musicianship is fantastic, as you would expect; jaw dropping performances from every member of the band. The guitar solos are divine; guaranteed to evoke some truly embarrassing outbursts of air-guitar from even the most stoical rock and metal fan.
This album is a grower for sure; I started off as a mildly curious listener and ended transfixed. For fans of all the classic rock bands from the 70’s, there is so much on this album to love it is hard to know where to start. The album even has an overblown concept, about a war veteran suffering from hallucinations. Most importantly however, it really, really rocks.
(8/10 Jonathan Butlin)