It feels as if Magenta have been on the back-burner, and the back foot, since 2013’s The Twenty Seven Club. Prolific main man Rob Reed has been busy with his Sanctuary project, channelling his all-time hero Mike Oldfield on two intricate, well-received records. Before that there was his all-star Kompendium project, and who could forget his supergroup, Kiama? (Well, most of us, probably.) In issue 75 of Prog, Reed revealed how he struggled with writer’s block when it came to material for Magenta, and of course Christina Booth’s treatment for her well-publicised health problems had to take priority over music.
But despite all these slings and arrows, Magenta’s eighth album sees them coming back strong, reinvigorated and in fan-thrilling form. Comprising just three tracks, We Are Legend takes its title from Richard Matheson’s sci-fi novel I Am Legend, with Reed specifically inspired by Charlton Heston’s movie version The Omega Man. The album cover casts Reed, Booth and guitarist Chris Fry as lone survivors in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and the song Legend explores this idea across a cinematic, 11-minute prog workout. It starts out with horn blasts reminiscent of The Matrix’s opening credits, then turns into almost a decent Bond theme in 7⁄8, with Fry’s guitar twanging accordingly.
Cinematic, layered and very literal, the song swaggers, with Booth’s ever-lovely vocals belying lyrics about the apocalypse, eternal night and death by zombie. There are hints of Marillion and It Bites, and in a wonderfully clever section midway through, the music seems almost to warp gradually in pitch, ever upwards, ever more uneasy.
Inspired by Van Gogh, Colours starts gently with a sweet, Genesis-like music box passage before giving way to grinding guitars. This time out Fry was clearly told to mug up on Wish You Were Here: some of his guitar parts are shards happily chipped off Gilmour’s crazy diamond. Reed interlaces a Yes/ELP-like Moog synth part here, a Hammond there, and the now-official rhythm section of Jon Griffiths (drums) and Dan Nelson (bass) strike that needed balance between ferocity and fragility, and bring to the record the new energy they’ve injected into the band’s all-too-rare gigs of late.
But the highlight is the 26-minute behemoth Trojan. Its intro is pure Vangelis circa Blade Runner, and elsewhere there are nods to (again) Floyd, even Pendragon, and some electronica in the mix too, Fry’s accomplished playing topping it all off. In one long piece the band encapsulate everything they’ve done so well over the past 16 years. When they do get around to it, nobody does it quite like Magenta.