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Album Review: Merlin – The Wizard

The Wizard may be a rather plain album title, but it’s safe to say that the music within is anything but. Kansas City’s Merlin hasn’t strayed far from their jammed out yet somehow cinematic psychedelic roots, but they always find ways to tweak their formula. Their fourth full-length album sees the band expanding their instrumentation, as keyboards return and they bring a nice saxophone along with them.

What really makes this new element work is the fact that Merlin’s execution has otherwise remained the same. Such a statement would suggest that the horns are mere window dressing, but the approach allows them to be naturally integrated and make the music sound more colorful. The overall quality would probably be the same without them, but having them there does make the experience more pleasant. If anything, it’s a nice way to highlight the Hawkwind and King Crimson influence that Merlin has openly displayed since their debut.

It also helps that the other musicians aren’t overpowered and exert a variety of extended jams and flamboyant melodies. The guitar continues to go through a range of fuzzy riffs, wah heavy leads, and shredding solos while the bass is prominent throughout and the keyboards provide some solid textures. The vocals may be the most underplayed element if anything; they sound great but are somewhat sparse compared to previous efforts.

The songwriting is also rather esoteric. While The Wizard is another one of Merlin’s concept albums and shows off some storytelling vocals, much of the narrative is felt through the extensive instrumental segments and spiraling structures. Thankfully the jams on songs like the eleven-minute “The Wizard Suite” come out sounding more climactic than your typical wankery, and songs like the opening “Abyss” and “Golem” do put in some catchy riffs and vocal/guitar harmonizations.

Overall, The Wizard isn’t Merlin’s strongest album to date, but the expanded sonic palette does make it one of their most pleasant listens. The songwriting takes some time to absorb, but the saxophone’s smooth incorporation in combination with the jovial musicianship makes it enjoyable in the meantime. I think Christ Killer may still be their masterpiece, but now I really want to hear what it would’ve sounded like with horns…

Highlights:
“Abyss”
“Sage’s Crystal Staff”
“Golem”
“Iron Borne”

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