Nick Magnus – Children of Another God – CD
Magick Nuns Records – MNCD 1002: http://www.magnus-music.com/coag.htm
1) Children of Another God, 2) Doctor Prometheus, 3) Twenty Summers, 4) Identity Theft, 5) The Colony is King, 6) Crimewave Monkeys, 7) The Others, 8) Babel Tower, 9) Howl the Stars Down
Short version: Buy this CD; it’s one of the best progressive rock albums, front to back that you will ever hear. It’s beautifully produced, packaged and recorded and the videos at Nick’s website work very well with the story of the album.
Long version: Nick was first a student steeped in analog synthesizers and keyboard works with progressive bands such as The Enid and Autumn. The latter band made a recording in 1977 when Nick was a mere 22 and it was released privately as a CD entitled “Oceanworld” in 1999 on Autumn Records. Before his solo career started Nick was best known as a long time collaborator with Steve Hackett until the late 1980s. There’s a very good history of Nick’s career at his website. He has also recorded as a guest musician with Renaissance, China Crisis and many others.
Nick is also a pioneer in the transition from an analog to digital recording studio and keyboards. He was also largely responsible for what’s probably the first recording of the Linn Drum on Steve Hackett’s LP “Cured” in 1981. For some, this was Steve’s most pop LP, but it established Steve as more of a songwriter, in addition to his well known instrumental works. Nick’s playing, engineering and production work had a great influence of Hackett’s sound during that period. Nick over time has also created an almost flawless analog “sound” to digital recording and sampled instruments. Since the early 1990s he has been sought out as a consultant on digital recording techniques and electronic percussion. And although in the earlier days he worked with one of my favorite keyboard instruments, the Mellotron (and successor Novatron), his work continues to feature this instrument in a sampled digital form. He was also a large force behind the now out-of-print and much sought-after 1993 CD on the Voiceprint label, “Rime of the Ancient Sampler”, which features the Mellotron and Chamberlin recorded in many forms in original works by a well-known cast of progressive artists from Wooly Wolstenholme (Barclay James Harvest) to Michael Pinder (Moody Blues). Nick’s recording on this CD is an alternate mix of his piece “Night of the Condor” from his 1993 solo Voiceprint CD (VP142CD) “Straight On Till Morning” (“SOTM”).
“Children of Another God” (“COAG”) is the follow-up to Nick’s previous solo works “SOTM”, “Inhaling Green”, “Hexameron” and collaborations with Pete Hicks (former Steve Hackett vocalist) “Flat Pack” and John Hackett’s (Steve’s brother) marvelous CD “Checking Out of London”. “COAG” has some familiar guest artists: Steve Hackett, John Hackett, Tony Patterson (Re-Genesis and solo works), Pete Hicks, Linda John-Pierre, Andy Neve and Glenn Tollett.
“COAG” is (as many progressive works are) a concept album; it tells a story, but it is subject to the interpretation of the listener. Nick’s other collaborator is lyricist Dick Foster, who has contributed lyrics and the back-story to some of Nick’s other solo works. Briefly, the story is contemporary and plausible; ten cloned brothers are violently separated at birth and are drawn together later in adult life. The album has a motto, “Conformity is Power, Diversity is Progress”. I’ll let the listener draw their own conclusions on the outcome of the story and the social commentary, but these are certainly issues that we face as a society as science races ahead of public policy.
The CD starts with the anthem and story “COAG” (video at Nick’s website and youtube along with two other videos). Tony Patterson is the vocalist and everything that a solid progressive album should have is present: guitars, keyboards, Mellotron strings and choir and bass pedals—the song and story builds and then will fill your listening room. “Doctor Prometheus” with Pete Hicks providing vocals, follows with an instantly memorable rhythm and Greek story line that parallels the concept and adds wit (for those not familiar with the myth of Prometheus, search the web or reach for your Greek mythology books!). As is the case with many of Nick’s works, he often pays an homage to other progressive artists and “Twenty Summers”, which serves as an instrumental link to the fourth track “Identity Theft” includes rhythms and sounds that will be familiar to many from Yes to an instantly recognizable homage to the short-lived band UK (“In The Dead of Night”) from their 1977 eponymous LP. “Identity Theft” is, I think, Nick’s solo vocal debut (video also at Nick’s website) and once the song begins he is joined by ex-Enid bassist Glenn Tollett who provides a sensual jazz-like acoustic bass line that intertwines with sonorous wine-glass sampling and vibraphone throughout the song—the story of the clones continues. “The Colony is King” includes chilling vocals by Andy Neve and features sweeping flute from John Hackett and screaming riffs from Steve Hackett’s Fernandes guitar, paralleled with haunting Mellotron—this is a beautiful recording and pulls one into the emotion of the story; a nightmare soundtrack of sorts.
Pete Hicks returns for “Crimewave Monkeys” with a musical introduction that will challenge the sonic and dynamic capabilities of any audio system—a broad and sweeping recording that quickly transitions into a tight rhythmic riff and the vocals depicting a fast-paced hyped twenty-four hour news cycle reporting violence; strong social commentary here. Next is Linda John-Pierre’s emotional vocal presenting a mother’s story of receiving a son and then how the boy is taken by “The Others”, the song’s title. The sentimental power of this piece is very evident and some may criticize it for not being truly a “progressive” work, but the lyrics provide the guidance for the treatment of the music and for me it works very well with the whole.
More history books required along with contemporary parallels in the next track “Babel Tower” sung by Tony Patterson (with his Peter Gabriel-esque vocal treatment); this is where the story, like the tower, falls and we are returned to a reprise of the opening theme of “COAG”, more stirring and sonically broader than the first, but this is not the end. There is a postscript: “Howl the Stars Down” is a somber conclusion to the story, brilliantly sung by Tony Patterson; the song, the vocals and the lyrics are raw, tragic and have the feeling of being in slow motion. This is Tony’s own vocal sound, no imitation here. Nick’s piano and strings paint a stark reality and the vocals are nothing but beautiful.
This work is the complete package; in music and story, from beginning to end, beautifully recorded, played and told. Listen to it over and over; it will be well worth your time.
More on Nick Magnus: Although not well known for this, Nick and Dick Foster recently (and quietly) released an album of “pop” songs in 2009, available only as a download from his website, under the moniker “Magnus & Foster – Don’t Look Back”. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like beautifully crafted songs, catchy tunes and thoughtful lyrics, it’s well worth it!
This review was first published at Audiokarma.org in 2010