Way back in the mists of time someone bought me the debut album from Birmingham’s Magnum. Introducing me to singer Bob Catley and guitarist Tony Clarkin, Kingdom Of Madness, launched me headlong into over thirty years of buying everything released by this band.
Since then I have seen them numerous times. They have always been on the button, delighting fans old and new, and I have never had a dud night in their company. Recently they released their fifteenth studio album, Into The Valley Of The Moonking.
As soon as you lay eyes on the cover, it can only be a Magnum album with its characteristic Rodney Matthews artwork. This is underlined when the windblown keyboard “Intro” sets the scene for a journey into the latest labyrinth world that Tony Clarkin’s lyrics create.
Arguably their career reached something of a zenith when 1985s On A Storytellers Night went gold. In truth there have been a lot of other highlights with albums such as Chase The Dragon, The Eleventh Hour, Wings Of Heaven, and the acoustic Keeping The Nite Light Burning. Another valuable addition arrived in 1979 with the live album Marauder, recorded at London’s Marquee Club.
In 1995 the band went their separate ways with Catley and Clarkin forming the Magnum-esque Hard Rain. However, in 2002 Magnum tentatively returned with Breath Of Life an album which saw them begin a successful partnership with the SPV label.
In 2004 they released the impressive Brand New Morning and followed that with Princess Alice And The Broken Arrow in 2007. Last year Bob Catley added to his solo catalogue by releasing the impressive Immortal album, which I reviewed on Blogcritics.
Magnum set the tone for dramatic, melodic, anthemic, sensitive power-ballads with On A Storytellers Night. Tony Clarkin’s imagination has produced track after track of inspiring and passionate visual imagery and, yes, storytelling. Meanwhile, Bob Catley’s instantly recognizable vocals have always managed to draw every dramatic emotion from them.
It’s a heady and highly successful combination that is further enhanced by the irrepressible Thunder drummer Gary ‘Harry’ James. They are also joined by ex-Hard Rain bass player Al Barrow, and the perfectly named keyboardist Mark Stanway who also played with Phil Lynott’s Grand Slam.
“My hope is to make it interesting for anyone who hears the album”, says Clarkin, on the back of my promotional copy, with a nice touch of understatement. He adds, “I think the common ground in all Magnum releases is that we take great pride in making a record and always do the best we can”.
Into The Valley Of The Moonking hits those targets several times over.
After "Intro", “Cry To Yourself” can only be Magnum with just the slightest air of “How Far Jerusalem” lurking below it’s surface. That’s it, fans of the band will be happily hooked from this point on.
As “All My Bridges” kicks in I can all but see the ever youthful Catley hands above head leading the audience into another anthemic Magnum moment. His voice remains as identifiable as ever and has lost little of its trademark power. It’s a sweepingly grandiose start to a characteristically dramatic and well constructed album.
“Take Me To The Edge” ups the tempo with a hook that’s hard to shift. The haunting title track triumphs with its shifting mood and bluesy undercurrent making it a contender for album highlight. If a band can, after all these years still write tracks of this quality then their continued existence is wholeheartedly justified.
An equally memorable “In My Mind’s Eye” chimes in with ringing guitar before teasing your emotions and holding you under its spell. When yet another hook reels you in, it makes seeing them again on the forthcoming tour unavoidable. After all, this is a band with more anthems than the Olympic Games and this is yet another fine example.
“Time To Cross That River” maintains the highest quality, before an emotionally charged “If I Ever Lose My Mind” has Catley at the peak of his powers pouring his heart and soul into every dramatic line. “A Face In The Crowd”, slows it all back down with a gentle song and yet another memorable chorus.
“Feels Like Treason” steps it back up again rocking out nicely towards the soaring finale of “Blood On Your Barbed Wire Thorns”.This is a track that showcases the band’s magical powers. Kicking off as a standard up tempo rocker it suddenly shifts into altogether unexpected territory.
It rounds off an impressively strong album that pays homage to Magnum’s history whilst underlining their continued contribution to exceptional song writing and characteristically passionate delivery
Grab yourself a Magnum ticket as they tour Europe this autumn. Check the dates by visiting the band’s official website.
Also there is an earlier review on Blogcritics by Stuart A. Hamilton to refer to.