I used to have a bit of obsession with the Magyars (the people, not the band). They settled what is now Hungary and have roots that trace back to my favorite figure in history: Attila the Hun. While I realize Attila did some pretty awful shit, he is also responsible for some pretty amazing things as well. The fact that he had Rome on its knees is impressive. Granted this wasn't Julius Caesar?s Rome, but that takes little away from what he did. When I think of the Huns and their conquests, I picture ragged and rolling green hills, sparsely populated with trees and rocks. There is a cinematic quality that suggests gnarly barbarians on horseback piercing the horizon in slow motion with spears in hand. Sounds dramatic, eh? One listen to "Kings of Time" by Finland's Magyar Posse and it makes perfect sense.
Rather than labeling this post rock, I prefer to think of it as past-post rock. What the hell am I talking about, you ask? While elements of big, orchestral post rock are the overriding theme in most of these songs, there's this aspect to them that harks back to hundreds of years ago. "Kings of Time" is filled with chant-like vocals that give these songs a classical feeling. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the 11-minute epic piece, "Single Sparks are Not Spectral Fires." Opening in Godspeed You! Black Emperor fashion with minimal amp hum and guitar feedback, it slowly builds into a dense, machine-pounding fever pitch. To say this track is intense is a huge understatement. Strings climb and fall while a piano punches out each chord, before descending into a chaotic mess at the end of each bar. It's unbelievably good. Once the walls of screaming feedback hit, it's like a bomb going off in the middle of a crowded street. This should be the anthem of Attila the Hun. It's all at once majestic and raucous. I love this. But just when it seems like too much, just when it feels like the piece is about to physically assault you, it comes to a complete stop. It's like being launched into a midnight blue sky full of stars. As you grab onto the wings of a low flying bird, you are whisked away to another world that is free of blood-soaked fields. Soothing vocals chant above music that is equal parts Tortoise and some kind of traditional Finnish folk music. It's like being lost in the Tampere forest 100 miles outside Helsinki.
This song is such an adventure that one can easily get lost; it's really like three connected pieces. Each is their own entity, but they can't survive on their own. What is most impressive is not how good each part is, but how they are connected. The transitions are abrupt but perfect. It's as if one movement is swallowed by the next. By devouring itself, the song stays together and keeps things firmly on track. When the second part slows down, the listener is fooled into thinking the song is over. But it's not even close to it. Whimpering guitars are paired with whistling (yes, whistling!) and now you're stuck in the middle of some Western desert. The only thing on the horizon is a ghost town, it?s getting dark, and wolves begin to howl. It's stark. Strings tease of the coming night. More chanting is eventually overtaken by loud, distorted guitars. This is the finale; this is the part where they set off all the fireworks. For one song, "Single Sparks are Not Spectral Fires" is an album's worth of experience. It's absolutely brilliant.
There's an overall dark tone on this album that plays perfectly into the Hunnic mindset I have when listening to this. Minor chords are the preferred form of attack here, and they waste no time in delivering the final blows. "Lufthan" closes the album with grandeur and poise. Synthesizers are the leader here and they pull the instruments into battle with each other. Like the rest of the album, this track has an epic feeling to it. Each instrument is constantly chasing the synth; it is as though by killing it, they'll win, and this whole mess will be over. Midway through, it seems as though they've succeeded as the song practically disintegrates. But just when it seems it's down for the kill, it rises from the ashes and wreaks more havoc. In the end, the synth wins out and this upbeat track is the perfect end to one hell of a listening experience. I was sad that it was over, since I wanted more.
If Magyar Posse were from Montreal, they'd be huge in indie circles. They take an already proven formula (apocalyptic post rock) and turn it on its ass. This is a sprawling album that takes everything Godspeed You! Black Emperor has done and gives it a decidedly European twist. It has old world trademarks all over it, and I couldn't be happier. In that distant world, this is the soundtrack to Attila the Hun's siege of Rome. If Attila was a king then "Kings of Time" definitely deserves some kind of crown. This album is a masterful achievement. 8/10 -- Brad Rose (25 May, 2005)