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Romanian power metal act, Magica, return to the fold for their sixth album, entitled “Center of the Great Unknown”. This band has a history of being hit or miss, as they've had some exceptionally catchy and enjoyable songs since their formation in 2002, but they've had more than their share of flops by producing a lot of mediocre and bland power metal songs. “Center of the Great Unknown” continues this tradition of subpar, mediocrity combined with some of the catchiest sections I've ever beheld.
Magica sticks with their tried and true formula of quite poppy and melodic power metal with female vocals. The instrumentation is professional, the production is crystal clear and the mix is superb, so what's the issue? The issue is, although Magica play their instruments well, they cannot pull themselves away from mediocre song writing (not to mention the vocals, but we'll get there). Every track on “Center of the Great Unknown” has catchy moments and interesting lead guitar work, but there is something lacking, be it enthusiasm, drive, power or whatever you want to call it.
The standard verse and chorus guitar lines, while well executed, are rather bland and dry. The rhythm lines plod along with little enthusiasm: some palm muting, some open chords ringing, slight chugging; you know, standard power metal stuff. The solos are of the neoclassical variety. Some of the solos are well played, yet still mediocre, while other solos, notably the Malmsteen inspired shred fest at the end of “Mark of Cain”, are engaging and breathe some life into an otherwise stale performance. The lead extrapolations played over top of the rhythm work adds some variety and spice, but the truth is so many other bands play this style, and play it very well, that Magica gets lost in the crowded mass.
The drums and bass, like the guitar lines, are rather standard and only stand out for short bursts before fading back into bland mediocrity. The drums keep a steady rock beat for most of the album, with some fast rolls and fills mixed in. Occasional sections see the drummer picking up the pace with a speedy double kick or the standard double bass power metal runs (which occur rarely). The band actually sounds strongest when the drums pick up speed, so it's odd that they do it so infrequently. The bass lines follow the guitar lines like a good puppy dog, not really standing out while not staying buried in the mix.
Female fronted power metal bands are not in short supply, so for a band to stand out the vocals have to be outstanding, especially when the band plays rather uninspired and bland music. Ana Mlodinovici's vocals fit right in with the band: a good performance, but really nothing special. The vocals are a higher register, semi-operatic style, similar to the vocals of early Visions of Atlantis or even a higher pitched Tarja. The pitches and keys seem to be on, but the performance lacks energy and enthusiasm. It's almost like Ana is singing because the band needed vocals, not because she enjoys it. The vocals sound great when coupled with the male backing vocals, sounding similar to Lacuna Coil’s male vocals, but they don’t happen very often. There are parts where the vocal lines are extraordinary, and this is usually when there are multiple vocal layers going at once. The majority of the vocal lines are uninspired and just sort of there.
Maica does have selective spurts of genius like the exceptional syncopated guitar work that builds into an awesome neoclassical solo on “Open”. Unfortunately, these spurts are few and far between. Yes, the music is catchy at times, but it feels very unfulfilling as a whole. A few catchy moments can't save Maica from an otherwise bland and uninspired performance. If you're into female fronted power metal, you may want to check this out, but there’s not much for anyone else here.