Oh how I love old bands that don’t have the Gene Simmons approach on music. By that I mean bands that still are creative and has a need to put out new music and doesn’t bitch-whine about the current state of the music industry. “People don’t buy records anymore so I won’t make new music – boo hoo”. That proves that the important thing is the music and not the sales. So thanks a lot for bands like Europe, Stryper, Deep Purple, Winger, Night Ranger etc. And of course, Magnum. Ever since they reunited back in 2002 they have kept on releasing new music on a permanent base. And even though the first two records was only good, the quality has been really high since Princess Alice And The Broken Arrow (2007) and Into The Valley Of The Moonking (2009), two albums I consider just as good as the stuff they released in their 80’s heyday. This album is their 9th since the reunion and their 19th studio record all in all. Since the quality has been really high on all their releases after the reunion, I don’t expect anything less from this one.
But there has been some changes in the Magnum camp lately. Right before the recording of this album, long time keyboard player Mark Stanway decided to leave – for reasons unknown. Mark has been in Magnum since 1982 so it was quite a shock that he all of a sudden wanted out. His replacement is Rick Benton, an unknown name to me. Also, drummer Harry James (Thunder, Snakecharmer) decided to bid his farewell – on friendly terms – because he couldn’t commit fully to Magnum because of his other commitments. His replacement is one Lee Morris (Paradise Lost, Marshall Law). Harry had been in the band since 2002 except for a hiatus between 2005-2007 when Jimmy Copley replaced him. So it’s a Magnum with a new look we get this time. But my guess is that the sound will be the same as it is guitarist Tony Clarkin who handles all the song writing.
Opener “Peaches And Cream” is a typical Magnum opener. Big riffs in uptempo, a stomping rhythm, a Hammond organ and a very noticeable refrain that makes you sing along after the first spin. It has a somewhat “Rockin’ Chair” (Goodnight L.A. (1990)) like vibe and I really like the heavy rock sound here. My guess is that it will be a live opener as well – and I’m sure it’ll work as such. I can already see the audience clapping along. A very good tune. The uptempo continues even more so with “Show Me Your Hands”. This one sports a swinging groove and on top of that a ballroom-like piano. It also has some progressive arrangements but also a slight pop-feel. The refrain isn’t hit-friendly but still very memorable – very good. Then it gets a bit mellower with “Storm Baby”. This ballad starts out soft with a piano but heavies up with some muscular guitar riffs which toughens the song. It’s both dark and heavy but by any means it’s a classic Magnum ballad – a very dynamic piece with a stellar main melody and an amazing refrain. Brilliant.
Next up is the epic, 8-minute long “Welcome To The Cosmic Cabaret”. Needless to say, Magnum hits prog-rock here. It starts out soft and in mid-pace before it speeds up and hits a really heavy rock groove. It comes with a somewhat symphonic rock vibe as well but with the typical magnum arrangements. A long song that doesn’t even feel half its length – very, very good. The title track is up next and this number is a big, uptempo, pompous, bombastic and musical-like stomper that’s very much a classic Magnum rocker albeit with some different orchestrated arrangements, complete with strings and big keyboards, kind of like a more progressive take on On A Storyteller’s Night, if you will. Tobias Sammet (Avantasia, Edguy) duets with Bob Catley here and even though I’m not that big on Sammet’s voice, I think it’s a really cool move. I knew that Catley and Sammet had become good friends through Catley’s involvement, but that Sammet would be the first singer ever to duet on a Magnum album, i couldn’t have guessed. It’s a fantastic song and maybe the album’s magnum opus.
First single “Without Love” hits a big groove where the drums and percussion brings up a really cool swing, a real live bouncer. The guitars take over here, fat and ballsy and high in the mix they brings heaviness to the tune. Style wise it goes in classic Magnum style and the catchy as hell chorus makes this a clear single choice. Awesome! “Tell Me What You’ve Got To Say” sounds a lot like latter-day Magnum. It’s a bit proggy and it starts out laid-back and dark but speeds up after a while. The verses are slower and pretty earthy but with a big arrangement while they turn into a faster pace in the chorus. It’s a good song but it’s not one of the album’s stronger moments. “Ya Wanna Be Someone” comes in a faster pace with a floating sound where Benton’s piano arr and the big backing vocals are pivotal to the masterful catchiness of the song. It’s a pop song that in the hands of Magnum never comes close to being the least mawkish. A very straight-forward tune with a brilliant chorus that really sticks. Should be a future single if you ask me.
“Forbidden Masquerade” takes us back to the very early Magnum days of their first couple of albums, progressive and quite symphonic rock, but it also contains the modern-day Magnum sound and the two mixes marries fine. A laid-back yet powerful mid-break brings out the dynamics – very cool. And probably the closest to Kingdom Of Madness, II or Chase The Dragon Magnum will ever provide us with. With a slower pace and a serious topic, “Glory To Ashes” takes us on a darker journey. Slightly on the pop balladry side, the tune still comes across as very powerful with its laid-back yet heavy arrangements. The chorus is very memorable but I guess we’re not talking single material here. Great tune. With the heavy ballad “King Of The World”, Magnum says goodbye for this time. It’s a long, epic track complete with big guitars, orchestration and a catchy refrain but not in a hit-laden way. It speeds up towards the end but it’s still very symphonic, orchestrated and bombastic. An awesome track and it ends the album in the best of ways.
What to say more than that Magnum delivers yet once again – and this time with their best album since Into The valley Of The Moonking. Also, the production is bigger, fatter and better than in many a year. It’s easy to spot Magnum’s classic sound but on this album, the guitars are much more in your face and they have also looked back to their earlier, progressive and more symphonic days even though the progressive side never takes over, it’s more a thing to spice their melodic hard rock with. But what’s more astounding is that the album doesn’t contain any songs that feels like a radio-friendly hit, each Magnum album usually has one of those. For me, this album is a grower even though I liked it from go and the catchy pop-ish tunes really grows into “hits”. Maybe it’s because of the new blood in the band or maybe things just fell into place this time. No matter what, there’s a new spark here from a band that’s far from finished.
More Magnum reviews:
1. Peaches And Cream
2. Show Me Your Hands
3. Storm Baby
4. Welcome To The Cosmic Cabaret
5. Lost On The Road To Eternity
6. Without Love
7. Tell Me What You’ve Got To Say
8. Ya Wanna Be Someone
9. Forbidden Masquerade
10. Glory To Ashes
11. King Of The World