Few bands manage to sustain their passion and efforts as they mature; Satan is one of those few. Although the Ophidians are shedding off their bland metallic skin on this album to add a more progressive element that nurtures the double guitars and the vocals, their evolution is logical and enjoyable and programmatic romanticism vindicates itself.
The basic element here is a change in attitude. While there was an edge on the previous albums and perhaps a simplicity, now there is an early heavy metal approach on the melodies. The vocals pay tribute to the 70s and it is clear that the band has opted for a more mellow path. In addition, the chords that they use are slightly unusual for NWOBHM bands, since they are fuller and not mere fifths. Those chords enrich their musical vocabulary so much, that naturally the compositions expand slightly beyond the boundaries of the genre.
Hard work was put into the compositions. The double guitars have evolved into something that most modern imitators of the traditional heavy metal scene would never dream of making. An example is the fantastic leads on Ophidian that manage to save the day. While the song itself appears slow in the beginning, it makes up for the beautiful melodies that crown its ending.
Openings sound like grand overtures. An example is the impressive opening of Mortality. In this introduction, a disintegrating metal acoustic guitar meets an oriental jazzy lead that through a classical trope culminates into the main riff after appropriating the Flight of the Bubblebee. What is impressive is that they make it sound technical, while in reality they play something quite simple. Therein lies the difference between simple and simplistic, and the difference between pretentious technicality and experienced musicianship that sees beyond notation and symmetric tablatures.
Evil Danzig-style slow pentatonic passages assimilate rock elements perfectly into the metal frame. Normally, they would verge on hard rock, yet the ominous bass makes them sound wicked by overshadowing the guitars with its own melodies.
Vocals even remind one of Joey Belladona on Persistence of Time. The use of the vocals is indeed ingenious and philosophizes, cringes at injustice, paints the essence of time and pushes the song onwards, through a beautiful synergy with the instruments. This is a band that does not show off, they give their best on working as a team in order to build great songs, without their egos protruding.
However, let us not forget that progressive rock imposes its grip on this album so tightly that a lot of musical elements that make metal music great are viewed from another standpoint. And perhaps this is the biggest drawback of this opus: it doesn’t make you punch someone in the face or carve the name of the band into a desk, into an arm or even buy a T-shirt. This is because the application of classical theory creates pristine and perfect compositions, yet, in metal the transgression of these rules of harmony fosters abrasiveness on the sound, making the final result dark and malevolent. Most importantly, although there are a lot of moments that would commend shouts of exclamation from a drunk and passionate listener, those moments do not flow continuously on the record and they are interrupted by other moments, which portray an interesting array of human emotions, from harboring a patient vengeance on Ophidian to expressing regret for the burning of an innocent scientist at the stake as a sorcerer. Those instances are not pointing directly to violence, and this is reflected in the music. Juxtapose this with Court in the Act or Life Sentence. The music is so direct and violent. This is what someone would expect from metal.
Finally, this band offers great lessons on technique and songwriting. It is quite a feat that they still continue with such great passion that obliterates their modern peers and wannabe offspring. This record can keep the listener’s attention throughout and is indeed enjoyable, yet the previous albums will be more preferable on the menu since they embody the spirit of metal better.
The crowning achievement of the band is their hard-working ethos. When young, those two guitarists have learned the entire Unleashed in the East album note by note in order to play along with their heroes. Modern bands should ask themselves what is their excuse. In the end, there is one certain way to greatness: studying the greats.
Programmatic music in rock never reached the extremities it did on the Magician’s Birthday.
One of the few modern “traditional” bands that delivered exceptional music. A pity they sacrificed their potential for sonic melodrama.