By Mike Flavin
One of the unusual characteristics of the progressive music scene is the almost complete dichotomy between commercial recognition and fan loyalty. Every music listener likes to have their own secret musical pleasure, but it’s sometimes a shame that the most talented musicians making the most beautiful and challenging music go almost unheard of outside the progosphere (at least in the US). Magic Pie is no exception in either category, having already produced two terrific albums (Motions of Desire in 2005 and Circus of Life in 2007), and performed concerts in Europe and America. Those of us who were there will always remember the unknown band from Norway waking up a Sunday morning Rites of Spring Festival audience with a memorable performance that made Magic Pie a ‘Band to Watch’. We have indeed been watching, and waiting, and with The Suffering Joy they have once again delivered on their promise.
The Suffering Joy has a lot of what we’ve become familiar with in the Magic Pie sound, and also provides some new twists. The biggest change in sound comes with new lead vocalist Eirikur Hauksson, who replaced Allan Olsen around the end of 2007. Hauksson is a very experienced musician, and his range and delivery makes him a fine fit for the band. Perhaps due to the change of vocalist, the album has considerably less of the gospel influence that was so prevalent on their two previous releases. Where Motions of Desire was full of happy major-key chord progressions and harmonies, The Suffering Joy is much darker, with many of the compositions based on minor-key and almost sinister sounding modal riffs. Lyrically the band moves from the happy spirituality of the first two albums to take on what many would consider the most serious topic of all – the meaning of life itself! The material moves from creation (the four-part “Suffering Joy” epic) to demise (“In Memoriam”), and covers the trials and tribulations of existence in between on tracks such as “Headlines”, “Slightly Mad”, and “Tired.” The titles are self-explanatory.
Musically, the band takes solid steps forward without abandoning their trademarks. The delicate acoustic guitar and vocal sections building to almost frantic crescendos are still there, with the addition of some serious crunching power chords. Hauksson has found a comfortable place in the Magic Pie vocal harmony sound, and the Hammond organ of Gilbert Marshall keeps the sound organic. Guitarist Kim Stenberg adds a few new tricks to his considerable arsenal, with some unique layered sounds sprinkled around his precise rhythm playing & blinding solo work.
The Suffering Joy was a long time coming, but is every bit worth the wait. With this album Magic Pie could (and should!) move beyond being the band to watch to being the band that sets the standard. The holidays are over, the diet can wait, we should have another piece of The Pie!