A cathartic album. Nick Magnus' latest album, Catharsis reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
For a fuller understanding of the ideas behind this album, read the fascinating interview Nick gave to TWR about it a couple of issues ago. Here are my thoughts on it after digesting it a fair few times…
Similarly to Steve Hackett's latest album which was reviewed in our last edition, this one is inspired by a certain region; in this case the Ariege region of Southern France. A region with more than its fair share of bloody history, and indeed one of those episodes is the story which opens the album…
Red Blood On White Stone, ostensibly is the story of a mason at work...but as usual with Mr Magnus, there is more to it than that. This mason is a CATHARTIC at work on the fortress refuge of Montsegur. I am not about to go into the tortuous history of that particularly bloody episode in the world's history and besides, Nick tells the story so much better in the interview you can read in a preceding issue of TWR. Suffice to say, that the story is evoked in a suitably dramatic setting with lyrics and music getting the album off to a dramatic start.
Next we move to another equally historic setting, the city of Foix and it's castle, dominated by Three Tall Towers. Once again, we have a cinematic musical vista of the subject etched out in suitably flamboyant music and equally descriptive lyrics.
For me, the next track, Convivium is a pure joy. A medieval musical romp with sackbuts, shawms, and everything else thrown in as the Court of Sir Nicholas Magnus enjoys an evening's entertainment from their very own minstrels. This one simply has to be listened to with a glass of wine or some similar spirit and something to nibble on perhaps? Imagine if Blackadder had his own band - it might just sound like this!
No album by Nick is complete without some thought provoking tracks, and of the ones on this album, The Devil's Bridge is the first. Nick has managed to combine the legendary story of how villagers Dr the Devil into building a bridge for them with the much more dramatic story of the thoughts of someone possibly contemplating suicide. Life has become too much and can you resist the urge to jump? Tony Patterson delivers a tour dear force vocal on this one with just the right amount of bathos.
As the album is a travelogue of sorts, or as Nick calls it; a Progalogue, it is no surprise that we are soon taken on a guided tour of The Market Of Mirepoix. Once again, music and lyrics pick out the detail and in particular Steve Unruh's demented gypsy violin leads us through the stalls and sights and sounds ...not quite the smells though… of the market like a veritable Pied Piper.
Gathering Mist, as its title suggests, is an altogether more sombre and evocative piece, dramatic and melancholy leading us nicely to…
A Widow In Black, which for me is a stunning sonic portrait of a person and a place, both of which have seen the best and worst of life and have survived it all. The lyrics, brilliantly sung by Amanda Lehmann's bring the story and its central character, vividly to life in a truly remarkable effort.
The album closes with its epic and there is no other way to describe Mountain Mother than epic! The tale of a prehistoric rite of passage as a boy finally comes to manhood - a Neanderthal San Jacinto perhaps? The track is set in one of the numerous caves of the region and manages to evoke the cloying sense of claustrophobia and the fear and exhilaration that the young man feels as he undertakes the first of life's many trials - one which he thankfully survives and, as the lyric says…"I went as one, I left another…" Although set in prehistory, the song has a deeper resonance just as valid today I think.
The end result is another wonderful album, a truly remarkable mix of history, mythology and geography all rolled into one. It definitely makes me want to visit the region of France which inspired it and who knows, maybe one day I will. In the meantime, I have this superb album of music to listen to and for that, I am deeply grateful.