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Magic Pie

Symphonic Prog

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erik neuteboom
4 stars I can remember two often returning words from the many reviews about the acclaimed debut CD Motion Of Desire by Norwegian band Magic Pie: "varied" and "dynamic". And you can organize a progrock quiz with the subject "how many bands influenced Magic Pie on Motion Of Desire"?! But seriously folks, listening to their new album I notice that Magic Pie has moved more towards an own direction. The CD opens with the long titletrack that contains five parts and has a running time around the 45 minutes. The climates range from dreamy with acoustic guitar, violin and warm vocals (part 1 and 5) to compelling with soaring keyboards (organ and Fender piano) and fragile wah-wah guitar (part 3) to bombastic with propulsive drums and guitar, a long fat sounding Minimoog-like synthesizer solo and great interplay between guitar and keyboards (part 2 and 4). Especially the closing section in Part 4 (entitled Trick Of The Mind) I am delighted about because of the swirling Hammond organ and biting wah-wah guitar. Then follows the second composition Pointless Masquerade (alternating and dynamic with splendid keyboard work, a fiery guitar and a beautiful interlude with Spanish guitar) and the final track Watching The Waters (lots of wah-wah guitar and a surprising final part with bluesy mouth organ and guitar). On this CD there is an important role for the 3 lead vocalists but Magic Pie their trademark is the blend of heavy progressive/prog metal and symphonic prog and the tension between the mellow and bombastic parts, very entertaining and often exciting!

Report this review (#125582)
Posted Tuesday, June 12, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is the second album of the Norwegians whose first album ("Motions of Desire") was a stunning debut and which indicated that a new symphonic prog band of an exceptional quality had been born. I think "Circus of Life" confirms this claim. I could also add that MAGIC PIE's live performance (where they played "Circus of Life" in its entirety) was by far the best at the most recent Rites of Spring festival in Phoenixville, PA, making such well-known "veterans" as PENDRAGON and SPOCK'S BEARD rather bleak in comparison.

I marvel at the obstinacy with which many people at this website continue to follow the trend and dedicate so much time to bands like DT while true gems not worse than the classics of the 70s are often left unnoticed. MAGIC PIE is truly a phenomenal band: they seem to have absorbed some 20 best prog bands in their sound and yet you will not find their two albums derivative or full of musical clichés. Sometimes it's even hard to decide if they play symphonic, or neo, or metal prog, which is another characteristic of a high-quality band (think of PT). All MAGIC PIE's songs are fresh and powerful, with great melodies. Absolutely no filler material. Another important point, which equally applies to their two albums, is very intelligent, kind, and inspiring lyrics. Aren't you fed up of the dark, constantly whining bands or those that breath "death and destruction"? Want to feel so light and positive as after YES? Then MAGIC PIE is certainly for you. The vocals are great. The guitarist is a genius.

"Circus of Light" contains seven tracks, all soaked in majestic keyboard and guitar passages. No pointless solos. The instrumental passage which starts at 14:17 on the 4th track ('Trick of the Mind') makes me jump out of myself with delight, so great it is. I keep rewinding and listening to it over and over again every time I put on the album. I remember my friend's word at a MAGIC PIE concert when they were playing this 4th track: "I can't believe what I'm hearing". No doubt, five stars. One of the best new albums I heard in 2007.

Highly recommended (I can't imagine anybody not liking this album. Well, but then there are people [even at this website!] who don't like "Selling England ...", "Close to the Edge", or "Wish You Were Here" ... :))

Report this review (#130378)
Posted Thursday, July 26, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Has it moments but falls short.

"Circus of Life" is an ambitious album combining mostly a hard rock sound with classic symphonic. It certainly has its moments and I am comfortable calling it an OK album from a band with potential but I do feel the 5-star dog pile it has achieved is a bit much. On one of our competitor sites known for being more critical of the "flavor of the month" bands, one of the reviewers calls this album "kitsch" and after playing this thing to death I can see his point. Let me run you through the tracks on this briefly:

The album begins with a 5-part suite which is nice to see, nothing like shooting for the stars! "Welcome" opens with the giggles and sounds of children as the positive vibes begin with a lovely acoustic. Then there is some lovely cello and percussion as the vocals begin. This short opener is probably the highlight of the album for me as the melody sounds natural and unforced. At this point it feels like great things will happen but the sentiment won't last long.

"Freakshow" is a heavy riffing instrumental that is an exercise in uninspired futility. I guess this is the announcement that the band can wail on their instruments. There is no denying these guys can play their arses off but if you are a fan of something like YYZ, let's just say that "Freakshow" is not going to usurp YYZ as your favorite rock instrumental.

The first minute of "What If" is another highlight with its dreamy spaciness and perfect guitar..this first minute is an example of the instrumental they could have given us instead of wasting 6 minutes on the previous track. But alas the singing begins along with the pattern of convention that will plague the rest of the album. This is however the best song on the album with its passionate vocals, a sound that I'd describe as a joyous version of Alan Parsons, and the best guitar work both at the beginning and later on with the excellent solo. Sadly, with the opener "Welcome" and this song we have reached the peak of "Circus of Life" and there's still a long way to go!

"Trick of the Mind" is the longest piece at over 20 minutes-wow! It begins with a wild DT-like flurry as the band seeks to assure it has the chops to interest the fireworks fans. After several versus and filler, and towards the end the band will kick it up a notch as guitarist Kim Stenberg proves he can play anything Petrucci can (though they can't match DT in composition.) As this is the beef of their album it is here where they need to grab you but they fail to convince. You essentially have many fairly pop verse/chorus sections that are nice but nothing special, tied together by a few nice instrumental flourishes. It is simply not necessary to spend 20 minutes on this section.

"The Clown" starts like a bit of a hangover from the epic "Trick" but after the reprised Magic Pie chorus it kicks into an upbeat guitar solo and then into a nice ending of vocal harmony.

"Pointless Masquerade" begins with a nod to the Gentle Giant bounciness both instrumentally and vocally though with a bit more of a metalish edge to the guitar. The verse music features a strummed acoustic with some tasteful leads in the background. There are some extended jamming sections in the second half but they are not very memorable, in fact quite generic.

"Watching the Waters" begins with some news soundbites before the upbeat beginning of the Styx-like track on the album, this one has the sound of an outtake from "The Grand Illusion" updated for 2007. Again though the formula is the same with the catchy verse/chorus/verse and the obligatory leads thrown in here and there. And they just couldn't resist one final tired trick: leaving a gap of dead silence towards the end of the track before coming back to finish the song. Puhleeeeze.

"Circus of Life" will please the pop-prog crowd but beware. They have great musical talent but their composition lacks true excitement, truly memorable songs, and authentic progressive spirit. Fans caught up in the moment will likely blast my sentiments but we'll see in twenty or thirty years if anyone remembers "Circus of Life." I don't think they will. Another problem I have with this album are the lyrics which just seem to regurgitate endless sappy affirmations. My favorite, repeated countless times is "stay clean, stay healthy, stay alive, have a piece of Magic Pie." Heavy.

I have tried to figure out what it is about bands/albums like this that so fervently grab so many people with what seems like schlock to some of us. I think it has to do with ease of accessibility. Albums like this are so instantly apparent and pop-pleasant that they excite you, which is not such a bad thing if there is something of substance that will make you care after 100 plays. Other prog albums can take 20 plays before you can even begin to understand the beauty of what the artist is doing and many people won't make the commitment. Magic Pie doesn't require that commitment but perhaps they should think about making their next album more intellectually difficult and more musically stimulating. That isn't meant to be a putdown though of course it sounds like one. These guys have such potential but can never seem to step out of the adrenalin riffing and hokey choruses long enough to truly explore a dark alley. I find this really frustrating. Think about it like this: Many Porcupine Tree fans accept and enjoy Wilson's more pop offerings like Lazarus and Sound of Muzak because they know he's gonna break loose soon and take them places that that are unfathomable and interesting. Magic Pie never does that, they stick with the happy vocals for the most part separated by instrumental sections that are lacking in imagination and depth until they quickly usher you back to the verse so you can sing along again. And even then the sing along parts are not as interesting as better pop music.

Whenever I'm having trouble deciding if my instincts are right about a piece of music I like to turn to my better half for her completely unbiased take on what I'm playing, as she's not obsessed with tunes like we are but still has good taste. On this album, she replied "It's OK. Pretty repetitive. Kinda boring." I had to laugh because she essentially summed up my thousand words in just 6.

Recommended only to people who like stuff like Spock's Beard or similar. If you think an album like "V" is a classic, you should RUN to pick this up. 2 ¾ stars to my ears rounding up for impressive chops.

Report this review (#136652)
Posted Thursday, September 6, 2007 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
4 stars Magic pie´s second efford is almost as perfect as the first one. Well, I´m saying almost for personal reasons. Some of my friends claim this album is in fact superior to Motions Of Desire. It´s hard to tell, really, since I think they are both similar and they are also excellnet prog records by all means. There are two songs that I label a little under the five star rating, while on the debut they were all top notch.

Anyway this fantastic sextet from Norway has made another great work. Strong 70´s sounds and atmospheres still lead the band´s compositions and playing, but the group´s music is quite original on itself. I really love Kim Stenberg´s guitar, very fluid and melodic, the man knows how to dose the necessary amount of virtuosity. His playing is beautiful and very soulful. The same can be said of Gilbert Marchall: great use fo the Hammond organ, mini moog and, sometimes, the mellotron. The rest of the band is equally skilled, but the vocals are really stunning: they seem simple most of the time, but they are actually very well crafted. This is a rare case of a band who cares to give the vocals the same precision and intricated arrangments given to the instrumental parts.

Conclusion: 4,5 stars. to me not really a classic, but comes very close to that. And a must have for any symphonic prog lover. Highlight:Trick Of The Mind suite (over 20 minutes of pure joy). Magic Pie is one of the most interesting and beautiful prog bands of the new millenium. Highly recommended.

Report this review (#137608)
Posted Monday, September 10, 2007 | Review Permalink
2 stars Perhaps it's me, but I feel this offering falls short of their debut, the eklectic mix of styles is still there as is the musicianship, but this album feels faintly forced, as though it is trying emulate their first; not build upon it.

Too often the vocal parts sound 'safe', though melodic, it is too remeniscent of perhaps THE EAGLES, Trick of the mind certainly reminds me of 'Horse with no name' (AMERICA). With the technical skills displayed in between vocal passages the overall effect sounds quite disjointed, too many styles appear to be incorporated - easy listening through to prog metal.

Some nice guitar solos are splashed throughout, very safe drumming (almost by numbers) and very average vocals.

Not the album I was hoping for, quite a disappointment in fact, especially after their debut... 2 stars (just).

Report this review (#146727)
Posted Wednesday, October 24, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars After I got to know their debut only recently I was already looking forward to their successor. I couldn't believe it was going to be even better but decided to settle for just a little bit less. And in fact that's what we are talking about here. The second album of Magic Pie is a conformation of their incredible talent mainly where the songwriting is concerned and they are proving that they are no flash in the pan. Unfortunately there is not such a great track on this one as "Change" of their first but they come quite close with Trick of the mind I have to say. Another great epic with lots of variety, this is really symphonic. On the other hand it's the clear highlight of the album, there are some good tracks on it (Pointless Masquerade f.i.) but I want to make a comment on another song. What if .... is a special one because here Magic Pie proves they can also write and play a ballad. There's a really nice guitar passage in the middle of the song, a kind of special effect that works really nice.

So a versatile band this Magic Pie, hopefully for a long time to come. This album is not quite the masterpiece Motions of Desire was but is still very good. A deserved 4 stars, or actually 4.25.

Report this review (#149502)
Posted Thursday, November 8, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars A good example of "less is more theory".

I like the music to be a "here and now" experience. I've got used to albums that are solid, a [b]Gesamtkunstwerk[/b] in its own right. These albums are usually well-thought, good-structured and rarely need anything to be added. That's why I dislike all these re-issues with bonus tracks, it's like adding salt to a pie. BTW, a few words about pies...

I listened to "Circus of Life" several times in different moods, and my opinion ranged from "awesome!" to "horribly unoriginal". Finally I loved it, and could happily give it 4 stars. The problem is that when this 'classical LP' ends (somewhere around 45 minutes), we have two tracks "to enjoy". But no, thanks, I just had a great time enjoying a fine album, I don't need more bonus tracks! Sounds stupid but I'd rather pay more for good 45-min long album than for average 78-min long one. "Magic Pie" lasts more than 1 hour, and these two closing tracks are no way a filler, but I DON'T NEED THEM HERE!!! I hope someone will get my point there and why I've lowered my rating to 3.5 stars.

Need few words about music there? Take URIAH HEEP and force them to play GENESIS, this is it! Highly recommended!

Report this review (#154456)
Posted Thursday, December 6, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars Magic Pie represent a good example of what I feel should be at the core of the best of progressive music - a group of talented musicians able to take a mixture of styles and influences an create something unique to themsleves. That I find Magic Pie almost impossible to pigeon-hole is testament to their worth in these days of the fine-categorizing of all sorts of music. A great musical experiencing, full of ideas energy and inspired playing. One of the best of 2007.
Report this review (#161461)
Posted Sunday, February 10, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars I like a bit of Magic Pie. The 'meat' in this pie are tracks 3, 4 and 5. Excellent in melody, guitarwork, keyboards, vocals, depth and full of class. The dynamics are much like Transatlantic, later day Kaipa. Melody, some heavy rock guitars, keyboard atmospheres and perfect performances. After the intro, we're treated to a good instrumental, followed by the 'meat' and then another track which is almost instrumental due to the acapella vox. But it's really the mature lyrics and the combined vocal melodies that lift this stuff.

There are four vocalists, two of them seem to take most of the leads. One is more your David Gilmour restrained and melodic the other is your rock voice, which gives the music good variety and dynamics.

The lyrics show a weary wisdom, almost like father to son advice, mixed with hope and a positive outlook.

This is what can happen if a bunch of (older) musicians get together and bring their varying influences to the table. All of them do an excellent job, there's some tasty bass playing, great drums and diverse keyboards. The lead guitarist throws in some very tasty solos if you don't mind the occasional shred mixed in with your SteveHackett and David Gilmour.

The only thing that lets this album down is the closing track, which is a bit lack-lustre compared to the rest. Thing is, it's still an enjoyable song!

An excellent additon to any prog rock collection.

Report this review (#284092)
Posted Sunday, May 30, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars There is little time I have been listening to this Norwegian band .. these last few days have been difficult for me so thanks to magic pie to make it more easy to me. I mean the lyrics of the songs are really deep and positive, I would say very spiritual.

The circus of life. An album of 2007, where unlike the energy transmitted by their debut album "Motions of desire" the circus of life is an album by decile and a with a touch of more "identity" "personality" is what I meeting to listen to this album, a solid job with a wind direction posed by the sight of the musicians. has been a delight to listen to this album every day. I do not really tired.

songs that contain this album are like a hymn to human freedom, which has been repressed for years by social programming where we have lived since we were small. all the songs for me are like a message of inner peace, and above all learn to live in happiness in this circus of life. can hear many influences from Pink Floyd, dream theater, kansas in this album ..

Another great appreciation for the virtuosity of all the members that make up Magic Pie, especially the guitarist and band leader, I'm really happy that all band members can sing and bring a personal touch to each song. this album is truly a jewel in the field of music in general. 4.6 stars.

the best ones in my opinion:

1. What if...

2. trick of the mind.

3. Welcome.

Report this review (#400228)
Posted Monday, February 14, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars I seem to attract to releases which have really long pieces of music. Magic Pie, with Circus of Life, obviously do in the five piece suite. 45 minutes of prog! Can it get any better? Well, unfortunately, it really ends up being a case of less is more. I don't mind excess, in moderation. It's a personal choice, and I guess personal taste. Some kinds of music does well with excess, and that includes a lot of prog, but some prog just doesn't really have any need to be as huge and massive as it is without appearing to just end up being noodling.

That isn't to say it's bad noodling, of course not. You can see from the other reviews that there's a bit of a divide in this albums reputation. Sure, I disregard the songs that follow the suite as unnessersary additions, but the suite itself is where I find the real problems. There doesn't seem to be enough to push it to the miracle mile, or indeed distingush it from many other suites of its symphonic ilk.

It's all competent musically, lyrically, it doesn't seem to be of the same standard (but is still decent). There's some to recommend, some to disregard. I was impressed on the first spin of this CD, but the next times I found it to be grating and overlong. Maybe you'll love it? Well, you'll have to see for yourself, no?


Report this review (#572696)
Posted Tuesday, November 22, 2011 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
3 stars 'Circus Of Life' - Magic Pie (6/10)

Due in large part to personal experience, I have considered Magic Pie to be the band that represents modern artists playing 'prog', without being actually progressive. As one would expect, their debut 'Motions Of Desire' sported some great musicianship and virtually every cliche of prog rock music, and as such, there were quite a few enthusiastic fans. In any case, I never found myself really drawn to the sounds of Magic Pie, finding them derivative and sterile; two traits that I don't care to have in my prog listening. 'Circus Of Life' is arguably the strongest work in Magic Pie's catalogue, but it is bogged down by many of the same issues that hurt the debut.

Lovers of vintage prog should be happy that there is still music of the style being made, but- as I've stated many times before- there is not much that I find exciting about recycling the ideas of older bands. Regardless, Magic Pie start off their 'Circus Of Life' on a very strong note. They have a strong keyboard presence and instrumental sections that sometimes flirt with prog metal, but stay firmly rooted in a familiar Scandinavian prog style. As could be considered as typical for prog as a walk in the park, Magic Pie sports a forty-plus minute epic title track, split into five of the album's seven tracks. Throughout this behemoth, Magic Pie dabbles with a somewhat flimsy metaphor that life is a circus, but the instrumentation far outweighs the lyrics in this case. The first three parts of 'Circus Of Life' play through in a predictable, yet powerful fashion. The instrumental 'overture' track 'Freakshow' is particularly impressive, with Gilbert Marshall's warm organ tone blazing. By the midpoint point of the album however, it seems as if Magic Pie falls off the wagon a bit.

Specifically in regards to the twenty minute slice of the suite, Magic Pie seems to lose their interest in keeping things volatile and exciting. I enjoyed the first two or three tracks so much because the music didn't take too long to evolve into something new. 'Pt. IV: Trick Of The Mind' derails this by offering a twenty minute monster that should have alot more to say than it does, in terms of songwriting. Throughout this entire album, Magic Pie perform very well, weaving their way through techy instrumental sections with impressive tightness. The production crosses me as being cold and somewhat dispassionate, however. The two songs after the main dish feel more like afterthoughts to the 'Circus Of Life', but if you don't pay attention to track numbers, the division is not really noticeable. At an hour's length, the album feels like it could have used with at least ten or fifteen minutes shaved off of it. Magic Pie are excellent musicians and they even prove to me here what great music they can make, but in this case, the excesses of prog appear to get to them a little too much.

Report this review (#586763)
Posted Sunday, December 11, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Out of the three albums from these Norwegian bombastic retro-proggers, this one has a slightly lower average rating. But it's my favorite. It has both the rockiest and most soothing melodies of their repertoire.

The bulk of the record is a title 45-minute epic, in 5 parts. It has a nice enough flow, intensifying and slowing down in appropriate moments. Unfortunately, the band has a tendency to over repeat melodic lines in the more faster sections and slow things down to a creeping halt in the calmer ones. So it's hard to hold attention for all 45 minutes. Fortunately, one of the parts is a 20-minute epic all in itself, containing a furious 5-minute instrumental jam. After the epic, the remaining two songs may seem like an afterthought. But they are good. Pointless Masquerade, after the slightly annoying bum-bum-bum segment, progresses to showcase all the band's influence, from Gentle Giant to Deep Purple, managing the transitions smoothly. The closer, Watching the waters, is a happy sing-along and jam fest with a folkish feel.

Say some Magic Pie are derivative, but the band's compositional and instrumental talents make it up to my melody-loving ears.

Report this review (#1042832)
Posted Monday, September 23, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Circus if life is the 2nd studio album by #progmasters Norweian band Magic Pie, and I say prog masters because they just do it all and they do it masterfully! Every sub genre is present in their music somehow, sometimes even in the same song without you even noticing it, incredible. Heavily influenced by the 70's usual suspects and the early #progressivemetal scene they know how to flawlessly combine all those elements and produce a unique sound that will get your attention forever, guaranteed!

The album opens with the 45min title track that is divided in 5 parts being the 4th also sub divided in another 4 acts, quite an statement for a sophomore album. An immense track that portrays everything this incredible band is capable of doing. Heavy and very metallic moments elegantly shuffled with melodic memorable hooks, the type you always end craving for more. Superb!

Welcome, Freakshow, What If?, Trick of the Mind (the epic within the epic) and The Clown, what a journey people!

Then there are two more tracks, both again magnificent and non less memorable than the title track, at times sounding out of concept but unquestionably belonging to the whole creation, rounding up the corners and giving a sense of a full circle for the Circus. Pointless Masquerade and my favorite of the two the fun and catchy Watcher of the Waters.

I will insist like every time I talk about this band, how aren't the immense worldwide? Like why don't they have their own plane!? Jejejejeje? I got carried on sorry but seriously, what a great bunch of serious musicians. Hope they release new material soon, I bet it will be their 6th gem! Enjoy!

Report this review (#2739111)
Posted Sunday, April 24, 2022 | Review Permalink

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