Album of the Week 10-2013: Morgana Lefay – Grand Materia

While things have been a bit too quiet around the Swedes for the last few years, Morgana Lefay’s ‘Grand Materia’ still receives many a spin in my household. Where many European Power Metal bands fail to actually deliver in terms of power, Morgana Lefay strays from the generic Iron Maiden and Judas Priest cloning, instead delivering a contemporary form of Heavy Metal without resorting to Hip Hop rhythms or Death Metal tendencies. And this concept album is their crowning achievement. A dynamic, passionate and exciting work of art.

‘Grand Materia’ was the first album Morgana Lefay released under their original name after legal trouble forced them to operate as Lefay for a couple of years. And it seems they felt they had to prove something as such. The album is simply the most dynamic and versatile album they have done so far and the concept lends the record a certain continuity. With riffing sometimes closer in spirit to the modern Metal of Machine Head – the C tuning may help – this stuff is heavy first and foremost. But contrasting these riffs with clean bits, semi-ballads and melodic leads gives them a lot more punch. Simply brilliant.

But the most amazing attraction for ‘Grand Materia’ is the same as all of the other Morgana Lefay albums: Charles Rytkönen. Not a typical Power Metal singer, Rytkönen’s raw, passionate howl always knows how to wring the exactly correct amount of emotion out of every note. Plus, the only other person who has come this close to portraying a descent into insanity this convincingly is Savatage’s Jon Oliva. Rytkönen’s range is impressive. In addition, when it blends with the backing vocals of guitarist Peter Grehn and bassist Fredrik Lundgren, a brutal choir is born.

All aspects of Morgana Lefay’s sound are covered quite impressively here. ‘The Operation Of The Sun’ is sure to please the Power Metal crowd with its upbeat guitar harmonies and brilliant chorus, ‘Angel’s Deceit’ falls somewhere nicely in between Thrash and Power Metal with the riffing of the former and the melodies of the latter, the title track sounds like a slightly more progressive take on what Nevermore did at the time, ‘Blind’ and ‘Emotional Sanctuary’ are fueled by modern Metal riffing and ‘Only Endless Time Remains’ is an epic ballad.

Two songs stand out. ‘Hollow’ quickly became one of the band’s most popular songs and it’s not hard to hear why; Rytkönen goes from super clean to insanely vicious, the punishing midtempo riffs of Tommy Eriksson and Peter Grehn provide an obligation to headbang and the desolate chorus hits very hard. ‘I Roam’ is a bit faster and has quite modern riffs in its verses, leading to one of the best choruses on the album. You try and not sing along to that one!

Icing on the cake is the record’s production. The guitar tone has all the body a guitar needs and Robin Engström’s drums sound like actual skins being hit by a human, contrary to the triggered samplse of many modern production. All of this creates the perfect contemporary Heavy Metal record. It’s hard to label this with a subgenre, since it’s too heavy for Power Metal, too melodic for Thrash Metal and too simple for Prog Metal, but that’s exactly where this album succeeds: a collection of strong songs without any care of what mold it fits or what crowd it pleases. That often leads to the best results. ‘Grand Materia’ is living proof of that.

Recommended tracks: ‘Hollow’, ‘I Roam’, ‘Grand Materia’, ‘Angel’s Deceit’, ‘The Operation of The Sun’

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