Usually, as soon as ones hears that any band have made a concept album, the expectation is for something esoteric. However, what Magenta have done is a little different from the norm.
Masters Of Illusion highlights six actors who helped to shape the way we view the history of horror movies. These are Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Ingrid Pitt – people who triggered a passion for the genre in keyboard player Robert Reed and his brother/lyricist Steve. But the album isn’t about the characters which made them famous, it explores what they were like behind the masks.
It’s certainly a challenge to capture the essence of six strong personalities. The bon viveur Price, the aristocratic Lee, the cultured Cushing, Lugosi’s drug addiction, Pitt’s haughty sexuality and Chaney Jr’s alcoholism. But the Reed brothers have the devotion towards their subject and the knowledge to make it work musically and lyrically. The rest of the band rise to the occasion.
In a musical sense, Magenta return to a style that mirrors what they did at the start of their career. Inspiration comes from the 70s, as evidenced on Bela, which veers from initial jauntiness to a darker hue. Singer Christina Booth’s vocals capture the way in which Lugosi’s career disintegrated. ‘I had it all’, she sings at the start, before sighing later, ‘No one to catch me as I fall’.
A Gift From God has a genuinely affecting pathos, while Reach For The Moon portrays what it must have been like for Chaney Jr, forever compared unfavourably to his incomparable actor father Lon Chaney. ‘It was cold in your shadow every day’ mourns Booth, as Peter Jones delivers a pained saxophone solo. Elsewhere, Snow has a jazz rock charm, and Nightwish’s Troy Donockley adds effective uilleann pipes to the haunting majesty of The Rose, with Chris Fry providing elegant lead guitar passages. Finally, the title track is a love letter to the six legends and the joy they gave the world, whatever the sacrifices. Nearly 17 minutes long, it moves brilliantly through an entire spectrum of sound, from quietude to rousing splendour; Reed’s keyboards act as the fulcrum as they do throughout.
A beautiful piece of work that gets better with each listen, there’s also a DVD, featuring a 5.1 surround sound mix, plus videos and interviews. A limited VIP edition is available which includes a bonus CD, The Lost Reel, with alternate mixes of tracks from Masters Of Illusion and remixes from the band’s catalogue.