Please Note: This is republished from 27th January 2020
If all you think of when you hear the word Magnum is a provocatively eaten ice cream or a two-bottle bottle, then you are in for a treat of an auditory nature…this Magnum are the stalwarts and, some would say, one of the seminal melodic rock bands. Led by guitarist, composer and producer Tony Clarkin, the band has been producing quality rock since their debut, the masterful Kingdom of Madness back in 1978. Apart from a six-year period where Tony and vocalist Bob Catley released a couple of albums under the Hard Rain moniker, they have been a constant in the melodic rock world. Now we have their twenty-first studio release called The Serpent Rings, which is once again graced by the superb artwork of Rodney Matthews and builds on the high standards of the last release, Lost On The Road To Eternity.
Before we start on the review proper, let me just say that the knockers of Bob’s voice in the press are wrong…like all great frontmen, time does catch up and necessitates adapting the voice to suit…I could name a lot of vocalists who have successfully done the same thing and a few who haven’t! Bob’s use of his lower register on this album proves that he is still one of rock’s great vocalists.
So onto the opening track and Where Are You Eden harks back slightly to Live ‘Til You Die but still has a freshness and the keyboard/guitar interplay as the riff develops defines this genre beautifully. Bob is on fine form and helps build the song to the gentler bridge and then the heavy riff gives way to an orchestral/piano piece that fits so well. The outro guitar is well worth the wait too. You Can’t Run Faster Than Bullets has a message carried on another inventive riff for the multi-tracked guitar: the keys are in a more supportive roll as the melody kicks in and, again, Magnum define the genre with this sweeping song with a great guitar solo (too short!) to add even more polish. Madman Or Messiah is aimed squarely and justly and those self-proclaimed saviours. The words are backed up initially by a (horror) Supertramp sounding electric piano, but is soon rescued by yet more clever riffing and melodies. A synth bridge leads to a Tony solo that combines sustain and runs to provide a too short interlude and an outro with a riff variation and loads of ‘Woahs” to prove that Bob is still up there. The Archway Of Tears is piano-led but with an orchestral backing before the guitar melody joins in and the song evolves into an archetypal Magnum song of power and passion replete with another inventive guitar solo.
Not Forgiven is a straightforward melodic rock which, I guess, is the only slight disappointment as it sounds like many of their contemporaries…if that’s not a contradiction. The title track, however, brings us the epic we were all expecting and wanting. This is the best track here and deserves the ‘epic’ name even if it is ‘only’ just shy of seven minutes long. Every element is present and correct: orchestral sounding backing, a monster riff, soaring vocals, great guitar solo, glistening keys and rock-solid bass and drums…what’s not to like? House of Kings is a rocker by any measure with menacing vocals over a complex backing then a surprising and delightful jazzy piano section and a neat guitar solo before closing with a horn section…yes, horns. The Great Unknown has a key led start before the subtle vocal joins and the closest song to a ballad is unleashed. Man is another keyed start with synth and piano building atmosphere before a trademark chugging riff takes over and then changes again with the vocal melody…an irresistible guitar riff that keeps growing.
The multi-tracked guitar solo is slow, subtle and…too short! The Last One On Earth is another slow burner as it builds on piano and vocal melodies before taking off thus providing an object lesson in how to write melodic rock. The rocking closer, Crimson On The White, may start quietly but soon delivers Magnum’s trademark melodies and build to majestic proportions.
It is always difficult, to sum up, an album of such sweeping soundscapes. The gainsayers may claim formulaic and a cursory listen may certainly prompt that comment but a close listen will reveal greater depth and scope that matches their finest albums. It also repays with so many shades of tone and colour that make it a very worthwhile entry into the Magnum/Clarkin cannon. Existing fans will be delighted and, if you aren’t familiar with Magnum, this will be the first step to buying up their entire catalogue.
(A thought does occur…when The Serpent Rings, does he use an Apple…I’ll get my coat!)
Bluesdoodles rating: Wonderful album full of sweeping rock soundscapes
- Where Are You Eden?
- You Can’t Run Faster Than Bullets
- Madman or Messiah
- The Archway of Tears
- Not Forgiven
- The Serpent Rings
- House of Kings The Great Unknown
- The Last One on Earth
- Crimson on the White
Tony Clarkin – Guitar
Bob Catley – Vocals
Rick Benton – Keyboards
Dennis Ward – Bass
Lee Morris – Drums
(The iTunes (or rather Apple Music now I’ve upgraded) run on track this time was Cut Me Loose; a nice bluesy slice of guitar and harp by the ‘new’ artist Magnus Berg from 2015)