It sometimes seems that Magnum are older than Methusula having been releasing albums and touring from the 70s, with debut ‘Kingdom of Madness’ out in 1978. Yet in 2020 they appear fresher than ever as they prepare to release their 21st album ‘The Serpent Rings’ and embark on another gruelling tour.
And, yes it does sound fresh. It also sounds gratifyingly familiar in a good way. It is distinctively a Magnum release, with tweaks to the sweep of ‘Lost On The Road to Eternity’. Those tweaks appear to give a wee bit more edge but do not throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.
The Serpent Rings is a little more accessible than its predecessor but still requires several listens to get its golden core, testament to Tony Clarkin’s ethos of developing new ideas as soon as an album is complete.
As you would expect Bob Catley is on top form delivering melodic lines and impassioned calls with Clarkin providing guitar lines that tease and delight, such as on ‘House of Kings’. (We can even forgive the atonal sax at the end…)
It is an album packed with the sort of songs that harken back to ‘Chase The Dragon’ yet are firmly rooted in the modern era, and as well as the fantasy tracks that deal with modern issues. The insistent guitar on ‘Man’ is an onampatpoeic backing to an impassioned critique of the greed that has lain waste to the world.
Of the 12 tracks that make up an hour’s worth of music there are no weak tunes, no songs that you want to skip past. And, around every corner you stumble along a new favourite. It does take several listens to realise that they all are. The riff and chorus of ‘Not Forgiven’ gives way to the penutimate track ‘The Last One On Earth’, or to ‘You Can’t Run Faster Than Bullets’ or any track on The Serpent Rings.
The addition of new bassist Dennis Ward came out of necessity but does not see Magnum miss a beat. That may be because Clarkin and Catley remain the core, the heartbeat that retains consistency, yet make sure the band never stays still or rests on its laurels.
The ever-changing favourites contained within does not diminish the stand-out song ‘Madman or Messiah’, a cautionary tale of the nature of gurus and self-appointed leaders.
This needs to be on the live set – as do most of the songs – even if there are some who only want to hear the ‘hits’ of the ’80s. That aside rest assured come the March 20th show in Belfast the ‘real’ fans will be baying for these new songs.
‘The Serpent Rings’ is released as a Digipak CD, double gatefold 140 gram purple-violet vinyl LP (with printed inner sleeves) download and stream on January 17th 2020 on Steamhammer / SPV Records. ‘The Serpent Rings’ will also be released as a limited edition (1,000) deluxe box-set, containing Digipak CD, 2LP gatefold, sticker, photocard, A1 poster, pin button, woven patch and manuscript music sheet.
Review by Jonny Traynor
And, yes Rodney Matthews does the cover art.
Magnum play Belfast’s Limelight on March 20th.