In case all you think of when you hear the word Magnum is a provocatively eaten ice cream or a two-bottle bottle, I will add just 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. The last couple of albums, including the 2020s The Serpent Rings, is also here on Bluesdoodles.
The latest release is compilation album called Dance of the Black Tattoo but it isn’t the normal ‘repackaging job’: it does pull from their classic, extensive back catalogue but assembles them using ‘rare’ versions ranging from vinyl or digital only releases to radio edits and live bonuses from the Escape From The Shadow Garden DVD…and it is once again graced by the superb artwork of Rodney Matthews.
It starts with five live cuts: Black Skies brings the familiar cabal bell and synth intro before the seriously heavy and rather good riff…ponderous for a reason. The whole thing follows the studio model but injects the odd difference to keep us fans happy and Bob’s vocals and Tony’s solo are class, as always.
Freedom Day has the lovely guitar intro before the band join and nail a great version of what is, to me, one of the definitive melodic rock songs…full of tenderness, power and passion that isn’t lost on stage. All My Bridges has a piano intro that also works and the riff matches it ready to deliver an 80s style rock song of quality.
Next up is the classic of classics – On A Storyteller’s Night is acknowledged by virtually everyone as such and the band do it full justice on this version. It also has the warmth of a vocalist and band in harmony (in every sense) with their audience.
Dance of the Black Tattoo is full of rocky tropes, but in Magnum’s hands they still sound fresh and they deliver another great live take on a great song. The next song is a radio edit of their “seasonal anti-war” song, On Christmas Day…now I am known for my dislike of Christmas songs but at least this one eschews the sleigh bells and cloying lyrics and instead preaches quite effectively the message over a solid melodic rock ballad; after all, who could disagree with this sentiment:
“for just a moment they’re men, not soldiers, and on Christmas day, there’ll be no killing or fighting”?
Born To Be King is back in the 80s in a good way with the irresistible riff and, after the clever bridge, the pace picks up and has a tasty guitar in the background too. Phantom Of Paradise Circus and No God Or Saviour are next, both bonus tracks from the album Sacred Blood-Divine Lies. The first is a lesson in taking a heavy as hell structure, toning it down and producing a classy melodic rock song. The second is a slow balladic rock with a hint of blues and added weight when needed.
Back to live shows next with two bonuses from the Lost Road To Eternity album: Your Dreams Won’t Die is another light/heavy ballad with electric piano echoing nicely throughout. Twelve Men Wise And Just will leave the jury in no doubt (see what I did then?!) that Magnum are masters of dramatic, passionate and brilliantly executed melodic rock…the only thing I would have added was an extended Clarkin solo.
The album closes with three of those foreshortened things called radio edits; they can ruin a song when you know the full version…ah well, here we get Show Me Your Hands, Not Forgiven and the (slightly) Supertramp flavoured Madman or Messiah. They aren’t butchered here and do work quite well, but I will still favour the longer ones.
Compilations always throw up the ‘it should have had…on it!’ but this collection was assembled by Tony, so who am I to argue?
It’s one of those that established fans will want because of the different versions of much-loved songs and it also provides a good starting point if you want to hear their quality work as well as cementing their live reputation…speaking of which, if the damnable pandemic has retreated sufficiently, you can experience this as they are scheduled to tour throughout September…fingers crossed.
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – A Wonderful album showcasing an excellent band with the added benefit of some rarities.
1 Black Skies (live)
2 Freedom Day (live)
3 All My Bridges (live)
4 On A Storyteller’s Night (live)
5 Dance Of The Black Tattoo (live)
6 On Christmas Day (radio edit)
7 Born To Be King
8 Phantom Of Paradise Circus
9 No God Or Saviour
10 Your Dreams Won’t Die (live)
11 Twelve Men Wise And Just (live)
12 Show Me Your Hands (radio edit)
13 Not Forgiven (radio edit)
14 Madman or Messiah (radio edit)
Tony Clarkin – Guitar
Bob Catley – Vocals
Rick Benton – Keyboards
Dennis Ward – Bass
Lee Morris – Drums
And, if restrictions are lifted, there is a tour on the way too!
05.09. NL-Uden – De Pul
07.09. SE-Stockholm – Fryshuset Klubben
08.09. NO-Oslo – Vulkan
09.09. SE-Huskvarna – Folkets Park
10.09. SE-Gothenburg – Pustervik
11.09. SE.Karlstad – Nojesfabriken
13.09. SE-Malmö – Babel
16.09. UK-Nottingham – Rock City
17.09. UK-Sheffield – Leadmill
19.09. UK-Norwich – Waterfront
20.09. UK-Islington – Assembly Hall
21.09. UK-Southampton – Engine Rooms
22.09. UK-Cardiff – Tramshed
24.09. UK-Manchester – Academy 2
25.09. UK-Holmfirth – Picturedome
27.09. UK-Birmingham – Symphony Hall
29.09. UK-Cambridge – Junction
30.09. UK-Glasgow – Garage
02.10. IE-Dublin – Voodoo Lounge
03.10. UK-Belfast – Limelight 1
(The iTunes run on track should be more Magnum but, in the interests of diversity, next up was Yngwe ‘widdly-diddly’ Malmsteen with Joe Lynn Turner on vocals and the surprisingly un-shreddy album, Odyssey.)