Mago de Oz - Gaia 4/5

Reviewed: 11-12-04


1. Obertura MDXX
2. Gaia
3. La conquista
4. Alma
5. La costa del silencio
6. El arbol de la noche triste
7. La rosa de los vientos
8. La leyenda de la llorona
9. Van a rodar cabezas
10. El atrapasuenos
11. Si te vas
12. La venganza de gaia

I have always had a particular affinity for Spanish metal. In the late 90s and early 2000s, there was an explosion of Spanish power metal acts, most singing in their native tongue. While some found the language barrier distracting, I found the linguistic differences to be charming and endearing. I would infinitely prefer to hear a singer belt out foreign-language lyrics with confidence, poise and perfect diction than hear him struggle meekly through an English translation hampered by a thick accent and butchered pronunciation. So the language issue is really a non-issue as far as I'm concerned, although I certainly do understand why others might feel differently. Aside from the Spanish-language lyrics, Spanish metal is generally characterized as a crossbreed of the Italian and Scandinavian power metal styles. It takes the romantic flair and melodic sensibility of the Italian sound, flushes the annoying keyboards and wimpy warblers, and toughens up the guitars with more crunch a la the Swedish acts. Not as bludgeoningly heavy as the German sound, not as light-in-the-loafers as the Italian sound, the Spanish sound often strikes me as being just right, if I'm in the right mood.

With that lengthy preface out of the way, I'll turn to the task at hand. Mago de Oz are an atypical Spanish band because their music is derived equally from the power metal and folk camps. They are also staggeringly good, rivaling the mighty Skyclad for the title of best folky metal band ever to walk the planet. Mago de Oz's performance at the 2002 Bang Your Head Festival in Balingen, Germany was one of the greatest live shows I've ever witnessed, with a Spanish-speaking act utterly mesmerizing a massive German-speaking audience at an ungodly early hour of the morning. In addition to the traditional metal instrumentalists, Mago de Oz sports a flute player, a violinist, and a keyboard player who can also handle the accordion in a pinch. But make no mistake: Mago de Oz are absolutely a metal band, and the guitars provide ample heft and bite to bang that head that does not bang. And vocalist Jose Martinez Arroyo has an expressive, smooth and powerful mid-range voice that fits the music perfectly.

'Gaia' must be this band's 5th full-length studio album. Housed in a beautiful digibook with a bonus DVD including a killer video for "La costa del silencio" and a cache of Spanish interviews (sadly, without subtitles), this CD is eye-catching and extremely professional in layout and packaging. Musically, things get off to a slow start, as a dramatic but too long intro gives way to the epic 11 minute title track which is excellent but which lacks the uptempo, toe-tapping immediacy that is Mago de Oz's stock in trade. The listener's patience is rewarded though, because the classic Mago sound bursts from the speakers in track 3, "La conquista", although I would have lowered the keys a notch in the mix. The next cut on offer, "Alma", is excellent but confusing, because I can never decide whether I should be banging my head or dancing a jig. So I do both, at the same time. Hence my confusion. Track 5, "La costa del silencio" is one of the catchiest folk-metal songs ever written, a bit lighter on the metal-o-meter than much of Mage de Oz's catalogue, but unbelievably good. I've been known to walk around singing the chorus of this song to myself all day long, and I have no frickin' idea what it means.

The rest of the CD follows suit, so I'll spare you the track-by-track rundown. My only criticism is that, overall, the balance between the metal and folk elements has tilted ever so slightly in favor of the folk elements, as compared to the perfect equilibrium found on their 2001 opus, 'Finisterra'. Nonetheless, suffice it to say that 'Gaia' is folk/power metal of the highest order. Oh, forget about labels, 'Gaia' is music of the highest order. If you miss 'Irrational anthems' era Skyclad, if you can live with foreign-language lyrics, and if you don't mind an extra dollop of folk with your metal, then you owe it to yourself to check out this CD. For the uninitiated, a slightly preferable starting point might be 2002's 'Folktergeist', a brilliant double-live set that is surely this band's 'Alive in Athens' or 'Tokyo tales'.




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