Mago de Oz - Gaia ll: La voz dormida 4.5/5

Reviewed: 3-17-06


Disc 1:
1. Volaverunt op. 666
2. La voz dormida
3. Hazme un sitio entre tu piel
4. El poema de la lluvia triste
5. El callejon del infierno
6. El paseo de los tristes
7. La poseda de los muertos
8. Desde mi cielo
9. En nombre de dios

Disc 2:
1. Incubos y sucubos
2. Diabolus in musica
3. Manana empieza hoy
4. El principe de la dulce pena
5. Aquelarre
6. Hoy toca ser feliz
7. Creo (La voz dormida parte ll)
8. La cantata del diablo (missit me dominus)

Nearly 3 years after their critically acclaimed 'Gaia' opus, Spanish folk/metal titans Mago de Oz are back with the 2nd installment of their ambitious epic conceptual trilogy. This news is most welcome to me, as these wizards rank among my favorite bands on the planet. Of course, it's not like they've been dormant for a long time; to the contrary, since the release of 'Gaia', they have carpet-bombed the marketplace with both an odds'n'curiosities compendium entitled 'Belfast' and a corking double-live package, 'Madrid Las Vientos'. From the published reports, it appears that public opinion on 'Gaia ll' (which garnered a European release date several months ago, but is only now seeing the light of day on these shores) has swayed wildly, with some fans hailing it as the Magos' finest hour while others have derided it as their weakest outing in ages. Your intrepid Metal CD Ratings scribe was deployed to the trenches for a closer inspection.

Mago de Oz have not made it easy for reviewers to classify, categorize, summarize and describe their latest output. Indeed, 'Gaia ll' is a sprawling, exhausting piece of work, spanning 2 CDs, 15 tracks ranging in duration from 36 seconds to 21 minutes, and bearing a running time in excess of 95 minutes. But the overwhelming nature of this listening experience does not derive solely from the quantity of music on display. Sonically, this opus is extraordinarily diverse, with the band augmenting their traditional/folk metal base with a bewildering array of styles. There are raging speedy power/symphonic tracks ("La voz dormida"), exquisite delicate ballads ("Creo"), tunes with chunky downtuned guitars ("El poema de la lluvia triste"), neo-classical inflected instrumentals ("El callejon del infierno"), campfire sing-a-longs ("Hoy toca ser feliz"), the mother of all drinking songs ("La posada de los muertos"), and a 21 minute epic/power/progressive/folky masterpiece ("La cantata del diablo"). As if keeping up with the 9 full-time Mago musicians were not a sufficiently complex endeavor, 'Gaia ll' also features more than a dozen guest performers, including several female vocalists (most notably among them Beatriz Albert of Ebony Ark), male vocal luminaries from the Spanish scene such as Victor Garcia (Warcry) and Leo Jimenez (Saratoga), plus a host of others. You need a scorecard just to know who's on first. And then there are the exclusively Spanish lyrics, which appear to my untrained eyes and ears to be laden with odes to freedom and stinging indictments of the failure of organized religion and any supreme being to alleviate suffering and improve the lot of mankind, especially the poorer and less fortunate among us.

The sheer volume and diversity of the material, together with the foreign-language lyrics, demands patience. On first listen, I was cursing the Magos for throwing so many curveballs at the listener and demanding more than an hour and a half of my time just to wade through it all. However, subsequent spins reveal the true genius embedded in these songs. No matter where they go stylistically, everything Mago de Oz touches on 'Gaia ll' turns to gold. Vocalist Jose Andrea reinforces his position as the best, most emotive, most powerful and most versatile singer in the Spanish metal scene, arguably turning in the strongest performance of his career. Every song is well written, well arranged and well thought out. And several tracks will undoubtedly be enshrined as all-time classics in the Mago de Oz discography. "La voz dormida" is a brilliant barnburner opener rivaling "Satania" off 'Finesterra'. "La posada de los muertos" is an unbelievably catchy (albeit rather lightweight) song that equals "La costa del silencio" off 'Gaia'. And the 21-minute "La cantata del diablo" is simply jaw-droppingly good.

When all is said and done, 'Gaia ll' finds an extraordinarily talented band at the top of its game. To be sure, the "eat iron chains, drink molten steel" crowd will grouse that it's too wimpy, the cookie-cutter power metal fanboys will bemoan the relative lack of double-bass insanity, and the ADD-afflicted will complain that it's just too long, overblown and self-indulgent. And they'll all be right. 'Gaia ll' is not a true metal extravaganza, a speed junkie's dream, or in any way a concise, to-the-point effort. But it is uplifting, powerful, beautiful, creative and innovative, without ever straying too far from the folk/metal foundation that has been Mago de Oz's stock in trade for years. And to my ears, it is quite possibly Mago's best CD to date. To quote one of my favorite choruses, "Hoy la libertad!"




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