Review: Magnum – ‘The Serpent Rings’

MagnumBack in 1979 there were a number of rock bands that released their debut albums: Van Halen, Toto, Dire Straits, Whitesnake and of course Magnum. While some of the previously mentioned bands are still going, in one form or another, none of them have matched Magnum for their sheer musical output. Scheduled for release on Steamhammer/SPV on 17 January 2018, and after more than 40 years, the guys will be introducing to the world their 21st (if you don’t count ‘The Valley of Tears’) studio album “The Serpent Rings”.

While the core of the band has always been vocalist Bob Catley and guitarist/songwriter Tony Clarkin the band have unfortunately lost two long term members recently in the form of keyboard player Mark Stanway and bass player Al Barrow. This will be the first album without Al and I’m sure he’s very much missed by the fans as not only was he a great bass player but he also spent quite a bit of time answering fans questions and commenting on the official Facebook page. On 25 June 2019 his replacement was announced in the form of American bass player Dennis Ward. Dennis has quite the musical pedigree and has been associated with such bands as Unisonic, Pink Cream 69, Place Vendome, and Sunstorm among others. Probably most Magnum fans however will recognise him as the bassist on Bob Catley’s 2008 solo album “Immortal”.

Many associate Magnum with the art of the immensely talented Rodney Matthews. Their collaboration goes right back to the beginning of the band. It’s great to see that he has returned again with another of his fantasy styled artworks for the album sleeve. I’ll not go into too much detail on the cover itself as Rodney explains the story and meaning behind it on his own page here. Needless to say, he’s done a great job as usual.

The album kicks off with opening track “Where Are You Eden”. It’s very much typical Magnum fare and in the same vein as recent output from the band. A mid-paced melody laden rocker with a huge memorable chorus. This is the kind of song that the band excels at and is every bit as good as anything that they’ve done in recent years. Musicianship is beyond reproach, as usual, on this track and the rest of the album. Everything gels together very well from the short keyboard stabs, and interesting drum patterns, to Tony’s driving rock guitar.  The guitar itself sounds a bit heavier and more prominent in the mix than on previous releases which may please fans looking for a rockier Magnum sound. While Bob may not have quite the range that he used to his voice still sounds great. Within his vocals he manages to combine melody, grit, and a forcefulness that pushes the songs forward. For me this is one of the best tracks on the album. 

Another highlight is “Not Forgiven” which I’m sure will become a live favourite. I can imagine Bob punching the air in his own particular manner along to this one. It has quite a radio friendly feel to it and if UK radio stations would stop playing the latest boy/girl band drivel for a minute I’m sure this would do quite well.

The album is full of great individual tracks but as a whole album I’d liked to have heard a bit more variety in the song-writing. I found myself longing for an epic “Don’t Wake the Lion” type song or even a ballad to break up the number of mid-paced straight-ahead rock songs. The problem that Magnum face is that they have an immense back catalogue containing many well-loved and classic tracks. It’s difficult to live up to those past glories. While there’s nothing that quite matches up to the likes of “Just Like An Arrow”, “On a Storyteller’s Night”, or “How Far Jerusalem” the band however have created another quality release that I’m sure will please fans of their recent albums. I found that I wasn’t blown away on the first listen but it’s definitely a grower and requires several listens to really appreciate. This isn’t the best album that they’ve ever done, or even the best of the recent batch of albums, but it’s a good strong outing nevertheless.

Available now on Steamhammer/SPV

Review – Martin Patterson

Band image on header © 2019 Rob Barrow Photography Ltd

Tour Dates 2020:

19.03. UK-Glasgow – Garage
20.03. UK-Belfast – Limelight 1
21.03. IRL-Dublin – Voodoo Lounge
22.03. UK-Cardiff – Tramshed
24.03. UK-Sheffield – Leadmill
25.03. UK-Hull – Welly
03/26 UK Manchester – Academy 2
28/03 UK-Holmfirth – Picturedrome
29.03. UK-Cambridge Junction
3/30 UK-Birmingham – Town Hall
3/31 UK-Norwich – Waterfront
04/02 UK-Exeter – Lemon Grove
03/04 UK-Southampton – Engine Rooms
04/04 UK London – Islington Assembly

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