MAGNUM – The Serpent Rings (2020)
To be released next Jan 17 under the title “The Serpent Rings“, MAGNUM have recorded eleven new songs which feature all the traditional strengths of the British act and also live up to the band’s ambition to explore a more rocking direction.
“Thanks to our current record company, we enjoy full artistic freedom”, guitarist Tony Clarkin enthuses. “SPV understand how important this is to us”.
Clarkin is a man who seems to never stop working. He is responsible for writing all the material released by the band, and on top of that he produces their albums from the very first demo to the final mix.
“As soon as the album is finished, I start to collect new ideas,” he explains. “That’s how I’ve worked since the early seventies, for me that’s the ideal method.” On their latest album, “The Serpent Rings”, Clarkin and MAGNUM’s other original member, vocalist Bob Catley, prove all over again just how perfectly this established system works.
From the opening bars of opener ‘Where Are You Eden?’ you can tell Clarkin is particularly inspired as Magnum -his baby since the early 70’s- see in the new decade. It’s a solid opener, lushly orchestrated and as well as sounding a little heavier than recent offerings, also has a lushness that glides over the refrain.
‘You Can’t Run Faster Than Bullets’ which follows retains that rocking delivery and takes the mood down with a hypnotic verse and soaring chorus
21 albums into their career, and certainly these first couple of tracks it’s my favourite opening-duo from Magnum this century.
‘Madman or Messiah’ is the perfect mid-tempo melodic rocker and cements the harder sound as it pushes melodically, driven by Catley’s inimitable vocals and Clarkin’s guitars, it’s perfect Magnum and the sort of sound that no one does as well as these guys over the years.
As well as songs like that, that talk about the cult of personality and self proclaimed messiahs, there are also contemplations on ecology like ‘Man’ which contemplates what we are doing to the planet in the name of short-term greed.
It wouldn’t be Magnum though without the fantasy element, as Clarkin states – “The Serpent Rings also presents Magnum from their dreamy, magical side, the title song being a perfect example – and a direct reflection of the amazing cover artwork courtesy of Rodney Matthews.
Clarkin: “‘The Serpent Rings’ started out as a science fiction story but continued to evolve over time and even features a slightly bizarre side today. I’d describe the song as an eerie and somewhat creepy fairy tale.”
The new album also features a line-up change with bassist Dennis Ward (Pink Cream 69, Place Vendome, Unisonic) joining Clarkin, Catley, keyboardist Rick Benton and drummer Lee Morris, to replace Al Barrow for the album and the extensive UK Tour and European dates with Gotthard that follow.
Getting back to the album ‘The Archway of Tears’ takes you right back to those sweeping epics that Magnum has excelled at over the years and has some simply wonderful guitar in Clarkin’s most inspired solo here; whilst ‘Not Forgiven’ is a nice stomping rocker with a great breakdown, before the epic title track sweeps in on the back of a gathering storm and some atmospheric keys and just underlines the unerring quality here.
‘House of Kings’ has a great swing that is inescapable and makes you wonder what Catley would sound like singing the Blues as he blusters through the verses and for all its simplicity its amongst my favorites here and I love that crescendo of horns at the close.
‘The Great Unknown’ is the closest we get to a ballad here and its the sort of song to get lost in. ‘Man’ as we mentioned is a contemplation of capitalist greed at the price of our future and whilst I know Tony never gets political its a subject we all should be concerned about, and eloquently explored here.
The album closes out on as much of a high as it started out: ‘The Last One on Earth’ is the shortest song here but is packed with melody and swelling with emotion.
The last word comes with ‘Crimson on the White Sand’, I’m always intrigued with how Tony closes and album and this time he chose to do so with what at first sounds like a contemplative ballad but the song quickly soars away in classic Magnum tradition.Magnum are at their very best striking out into the 2020’s – melodic, powerful, wonderfully embellished and all a little harder than in recent times which just gives the compositions all that crisper an edge.
This is Magnum at their finest and an absolute must. It might be far too soon to call contenders for album of the year, but I know this will be in that mix…
01 – Where Are You Eden
02 – You Can’t Run Faster Than Bulle
03 – Madman Or Messiah
04 – The Archway Of Tears
05 – Not Forgiven
06 – The Serpent Rings
07 – The Last One On Earth
08 – House Of Kings
09 – The Great Unknown
10 – Man
11 – Crimson On The White Sand
Bob Catley – vocals
Tony Clarkin – guitar
Rick Benton – keyboards
Dennis Ward – bass
Lee Morris – drums