Short Cuts: Dream Theater, Magnum, Steven Wilson

CD Review: Magnum – Sacred Blood "Divine" Lies
All Access Rating: A-

Magnum - Sacred Blood
"Divine" Lies 2016
Forever inhabiting and exploring the more progressive terrain of hard rock and heavy metal, the good ship Magnum forges ahead, its old parts still in good working order. Dependent on the prolific songwriting of Tony Clarkin, brilliant instrumental chops and the emotional, expressive delivery of singer Bob Catley, Magnum's dramatic power reaches critical mass on the worldly, dynamic and engaging – if at times overly sentimental – Sacred Blood "Divine" Lies. Here's where an uplifting, heavenly ballad such as "Your Dreams Won't Die" can soothe nerves put on edge by the menacing undercurrents and tightly drawn guitar figures of a title track destined to become a Magnum classic. Where the bracing stomp and racing heartbeat of "Princess In Rags (The Cult)" propels a grandiose scheme, the rousing anthem "Crazy Old Mothers" seeks adventure and renewed vitality and finds both in spades. The divine and the sacred are found here.

CD Review: Steven Wilson – 4 1/2
All Access Rating: A
Steven Wilson - 41/2 2016

Most of 4 1/2 comprises disparate scraps left over from the critically acclaimed Hand. Cannot. Erase., as progressive-rock auteur Steven Wilson seamlessly pieces together a lush, celestial quilt of a six-song EP that holds together remarkably well. Moments of blossoming transcendence emerge from immersive instrumentals like "Year of the Plague," but it's the well-crafted, flowing melodies of "My Book Of Regrets," interrupted by a jazzy eruption and dissolving into a spacious, dreamy interlude, and "Happiness III" that worm their way into listeners' memories and set up permanent residences. A live recording of the Porcupine Tree favorite "Don't Hate Me," further manicured in the studio, closes this brief chapter in Wilson's creative arc with its haunting grace and sense of desperation, as Wilson and Ninet Tayeb exchange lovely male-female vocal retorts in a duet full of world-weary, heartfelt yearning. Mini-LPs like this are rarely essential. This one is an exception.

CD Review: Dream Theater – The Astonishing
Roadrunner Records
All Access Rating: B+

Dream Theater - The Astonishing 2016
Even those with voracious appetites for all things Dream Theater might find The Astonishing to be a lot to digest. Bulging at the seams with 34 tracks spread across two CDs, interspersed with quite a bit of filler, it might be the progressive-metal institution's most theatrical and ambitious undertaking, its grand compositions artfully emboldened and fleshed out by an orchestra and choir conducted by David Campbell. A cinematic concept album touching on themes similar to Rush's magnum opus 2112, The Astonishing imagines a future where the oppressed revolt against a totalitarian regime going to extremes to control the masses, but there is also a refreshing romantic element to the story. The sweeping majesty of "2285 Entr'acte" opens Disc 2 with dramatic force, whereas the passionate urgency and motoring drive of both "Moment of Betrayal" and "My Last Farewell" seem engulfed in a violent energy and "Dystopian Overture" blackens into an ominous storm cloud gathering strength, just before the innocent longing and immaculately conceived songcraft of "The Gift Of Music" let in the light. Settle in, because it's going to take some time to fully appreciate and comprehend what Dream Theater has accomplished here.

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