Ever since a friend at school played On A Storyteller’s Night (1985) for me, I have loved Magnum. I did not only buy that album right off the bat that same day, I also bought the rest of their discography as soon as I got any green at hand and since that day, I have bought every single Magnum album the day they came out. Until the reunion, that is. Those albums has been bought on different occasions. They lost a little momentum for me with Goodnight L.A. (1990), it was too slick and polished and too obviously produced for the American market – Magnum was always a very European sounding band – even though it do contains a bunch of damn good songs and the mundane follow-up Sleepwalking (1992) was a disappointment that almost made me do just that while listening – sleepwalking. Rock Art (1994) was a step up but it was also their last record before splitting up. Also their reunion-albums in 2002, Breath Of Life and Brand New Morning (2004), were ok but not so much more than that.
But the band got a new start with the fantastic Princess Alice And The Broken Arrow (2007) and after that, Magnum has released a whole bunch of damn good albums – and they keep doing so to this day. I think it’s awesome that they not only refuse to become a nostalgia act but also keep the musical quality so high. But changes has entered the Magnum camp. To me, Magnum has always been about Bob Catley (lead vocals) and Tony Clarkin (guitars), but even though keyboarder Mark Stanway joined in 1982 for Chase The Dragon, replacing Richard Bailey, I have always considered him a very important part of the band but when he left before the recording of the last album Long Lost Road To Eternity (2018), it became clear that he too was expendable, just like the other members that came and went. For their new album, long time bassist AL Barrow has left and been replaced by Dennis Ward (Pink Cream 69), but that will most likely not change one iota.
Magnum kicks off with a solid opener in “Where Are You Eden”, a stompy and uptempo, somewhat orchestrated rocker with a big orchestral keyboard arrangement that brings “Vigilante” and “When We Were Younger” together, having a love-child ready for the world. It’s a true Magnum rocker that hits right where it should and it sure brings on some major expectations for the rest of the record. “You Can’t Run Faster Than Bullets” comes in a slower pace and a heavier outlook with big riffs, a fat rhythm and slightly darkening mood. That said, we still get a dose of distinct and memorable melodies completed with lots of Magnum-hooks we all know and love. It’s not especially hitty but it still catches on without any hesitation – a damn good tune.
“Madman Or Messiah”, also in uptempo, brings on bigger pop-vibes with hooks everywhere. In many ways, this song follows the footsteps of tunes like “Just Like An Arrow”, “Sometimes Love” and “Start Talking Love” – big symphonic pop-rockers with catchy choruses and an upbeat, straight-forward rhythm. Very good. More of Magnum’s brand of uptempo pop-rock is brought to us in “The Archway Of Tears”. On a stompy ground and big on guitars, the tune also holds some classical and symphonic undertones, big melodies and a hooky chorus that goes right for the brain. A brilliant tune that sounds like Magnum all the way.
The single “Not Forgiven” is a more straight-forward pop-rocker where they give us AOR-laden verses that hold a Bruce Springsteen/early Bon Jovi inspired piano and a refrain that brings the tempo down to a mid tempo with a symphonic touch, the old Magnum way. A laid-back section turns the song into a musical-like piano and vocals only piece for a short while before the tune speeds up again. I think this is awesome. The title-track is of a more epic kind, grandiose and massive and atmospheric with a soothing sound-scape and a progressive outlook. The song is slower in pace, on the threshold of balladry and quite symphonic, orchestrated by a real orchestra. The more down-to-earth passage brings out a new dimension to the song – very dynamic. Another really good track.
One of my absolute favorites on the album, “House Of Kings”, is a big Classic Rock stomper, all done in classic Magnum style. With a huge groove, raunchy guitars, horns and a bluesy rhythm, the song feels fun-loving and unpredictable but when the mighty refrain’s vocal melody brings me back to the days of On A Storyteller’s Night, it feels like coming home – and the two styles marries brilliantly and feels only natural. With a softer, laid-back and almost jazzy breakdown that holds a ballroom-sounding piano, the atmosphere changes and the unexpected turn brings up the dynamics. To make a somewhat non-Magnum sounding song sound exactly like Magnum shows the skills of Tony Clarkin as a song-writer and producer.
“The Great Unknown” takes the tempo down to slow. It’s a progressive, symphonic track that dwells in a large symphonic and orchestrated sound-scape with a massive vocal arrangement. It opens on a gentle note, quite soft and atmospheric but heavies up as the song goes by and it’s on the border to progressive balladry. It’s not easy-listened as such but it grabbed me by hello – very good. “Man” comes in a mid-tempo and holds some beefy, crispy riffing and a chunky groove. It starts out earthy and somewhat stripped down but it grows thicker and bigger and adds an orchestrated string arrangement on top. The whole arrangement is darker and holds an underlying heaviness with a memorable refrain on top. Good one.
“The Last One On Earth” is a big symphonic ballad with a darker, sullen and saddening touch – in fact, it’s a real tear-jerker of a song, very emotional. It’s the shortest song on the album but still on the progressive side. That said, everything here is very memorable and the chorus sticks without being radio-friendly and sound-wise it’s a mixture of 80’s Magnum and the newer albums. A great tune. As a closer we get “Crimson On The White Sand”, a big, bombastic and orchestral symphonic rocker with its feet on a steady and solid rhythm. It’s slow in pace, heavy, slightly progressive with striking melodies and an in-your-face chorus that goes right for the throat. A great song and a perfect closer that made me wanna give the album another go right there and then.
If you have read this far, I guess you’ve figured out that I totally dig this record and will be giving it a high score. I know that Magnum’s records since the reunion has gotten some mixed reviews from both reviewers and fans, but I believe that they have released some brilliant records in the 2000’s. This album, however, is easily their best since Into The Valley Of The Moonking and it holds up perfectly next to their classic stuff. Sonically, this album is a bit heavier and edgier than most of their recent records but it suits them well and it sounds like true Magnum record in every aspect. Clarkin and Catley might be in their 70’s and sure, Catley’s voice might not hold the same range as it used to – it would be so weird if it did – but they know their craft and Clarkin still has his song writing skills intact so as long as they have their health, I don’t doubt for a moment that he has lots of more great music in him. Thumbs up!
More Magnum reviews:
1. Where Are You Eden
2. You Can’t Run Faster Than Bullets
3. Madman Or Messiah
4. The Archway Of Tears
5. Not Forgiven
6. The Serpent Rings
7. House Of Kings
8. The Great Unknown
10. The Last One On Earth
11. Crimson On The White Sand