Morgana Lefay - Grand materia 3.5/5

Reviewed: 7-22-05


1. Grand materia
2. My funeral is calling
3. Only endless time remains
4. Hollow
5. Edge of mind
6. On the other side
7. I roam
8. Emotional sanctuary
9. Angel's deceit
10. The operation of the sun
11. Blind
12. My task is done

Throughout the 90s, I never viewed Morgana Lefay as anything more than a middle-of-the-pack metal band. Charles Rytkonen was quite impressive with his "Jon-Oliva-standing-on-red-hot-coals" vocals, and their mystical lyrics were a cut above many of their peers, but the chugga chugga riffs were a bit too modern-sounding and the overall vibe a bit too dry and clinical for these ears. Although I was disappointed to hear of the band's demise in 2000, I certainly did not view it as a tragedy for the metal world. Similarly, news of their reunion in 2004 registered little more than a passing blip of curiosity on my radar screen.

So imagine my surprise at discovering that these clever Swedes have turned in the most accomplished CD of their career in 'Grand materia', their 8th studio album overall (including the 3 they mysteriously released under the Lefay moniker during the Noise years, and excluding the s/t CD that a warring splinter faction -sans Rytkonen- issued using a hijacked band name during that same period). Lyrically, 'Grand materia' is a nifty concept album about a 14th century alchemist who inadvertently stumbles across the secret to immortality, and his ensuing trials and tribulations over the next 700 years before succumbing to time, a grotesque demonic figure that relentlessly pursues and torments him through the centuries. Detailed liner notes guide the listener through the plot, song by song, and the whole affair is quite well constructed. Of course, the best thing about this subject matter is that it affords the band the opportunity to paint soundscapes traversing a range of intense human emotions, from elation to loneliness to terror to rage to despair. Morgana Lefay mines this ground extremely well, effectively conveying this array of sentiments both musically and through the surprisingly versatile pipes of Mr. Rytkonen.

In addition to entertaining the listener, this intricate alchemy concept has goaded the band to elevate their songwriting a couple of notches ahead of anything they've done previously. Devastating cuts like "Hollow", "I roam", "My funeral is calling", and "Angels deceit" are finely polished gems of dark power metal that worm their way into the listener's cranium and never let go. I had the distinct fortune of seeing Morgana Lefay perform several of these tunes in a live setting at the Bang Your Head Festival in Germany last month, and can attest to the new material receiving a stellar response from the assembled metal minions. Singing the choruses to "Hollow" and "I roam" at the top of my lungs with thousands of drunk Germans in the south German sunshine was a definite musical highlight.

All of that said, 'Grand materia' is not without flaws. A few parts in the 12 song, 59 minute saga feel a tad uninspired, and cause the occasional lull. And the stiff Pantera-type riffing still surfaces from time to time, as do more than a few nods to various eras of Metallica (try to listen to the first notes of "Hollow" without thinking of "The thing that should not be"). This CD will not unseat fellow Swedish metal merchants Candlemass for comeback of the year, but it is a most worthy purchase for any aficionado of dark, emotive power metal. Longtime fans of Morgana Lefay can and should add a full point to my rating.




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