Mago de Oz - La ciudad de los arboles 4/5

Reviewed: 3-14-08


1. El espiritu del bosque
2. La ciudad de los arboles
3. Mi nombre es rock & roll
4. El rincon de los sentidos
5. Deja de llorar (Y vuelvete a levantar)
6. La cancion de los deseos
7. Y ahora voy a salir (Ranxeira)
8. Runa llena
9. Resacosix en la barra
10. No queda sino batirnos
11. Sin ti seria silencio (Parte II)
12. Si molesto me quedo
13. El espiritu del bosque II (Outro)

I've been enchanted by the folk-metal alchemy of Spanish gypsy-bards ever since I witnessed their spellbinding live performance at a German festival in 2002. I guess that makes me something of a fanboy. But I'm also a crusty old-school metaller who bristles at the notion of his favorite bands selling out. So I certainly have not been impervious to the withering criticism leveled at these Spaniards in recent years that their metal quotient is dwindling with each successive release in their prolific careers. It seems that many in the denim-jackets-and-patches crowd were ready to throw Mago de Oz under the bus after their recent 'Gaia' and 'Gaia II' epics. No doubt, those CDs do not represent the epitome of blistering true heavy metal; nonetheless, the blend of power metal, folk, classic rock and other influences, all wrapped in intoxicating melodies, has continued to mesmerize me.

So what's changed on this 'La ciudad de los arboles' CD? In a word, nothing. The cryptic liner notes (all in Spanish, but ably translated by my better half) written by drummer/band leader/main composer Txus allude to the band's sadness and heavy hearts, but you'd never know it from listening to this CD, as this 11-piece Spanish ensemble carries the listener on a rollicking, upbeat journey of merriment and unbridled joie de vivre (yeah, I know, wrong language, but the expression fits) from beginning to end. The versatility of the material is dizzying, from the Maidenish harmonies of the title track to the contagious folk strains of "Deja de llorar" to the 70s rock-flavored "Mi nombre es rock'n'roll" to the exquisite balladry of "Sin ti seria silencio", Mago demonstrate sheer mastery of a wide range of styles and an unerring ear for catchy melodies that make the listener want to grab a beer and dance a jig in the middle of the living room on a random Saturday afternoon. As always with Mago de Oz, the lyrics are in Spanish, but who cares? The exuberance of the songs easily bridges the language barrier and draws the listener in to the fantastical world of Mago. And this reviewer would be remiss without once again offering a reverential tip of the cap to lead singer Jose Andrea, surely the most expressive and versatile (there's that word again) frontman on the Iberian peninsula. Whether it's a heartfelt ballad, a delirious folk tune, or crunchy heavy metal mayhem, Jose delivers his vocals brilliantly, providing just the extra oomph that each song needs.

Now that we've gotten the effusive praise out of the way, let me reiterate that I'm not wearing blinders when it comes to Mago de Oz. Yes, some of this material is awfully light in the loafers, for lack of a better term. Yes, the guitars are often buried in the mix behind the violin, flute, accordion, and other folk instruments. Yes, 'La ciudad de los arboles' is not even as "metal" as the pair of 'Gaia' epics that preceded it. And yes, the best songs on this CD neither eclipse nor even match the high points of Mago de Oz's distinguished oeuvre (dammit, this band is Spanish, not French). My rejoinder is that I don't care. Listening to this CD, like everything else that Mago have released since 1998's 'La leyenda de la mancha', makes me smile, tap my feet, and generally feel happy to be alive. Whether the genre police approve is none of my concern. Long live Mago de Oz.




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