Their best in a decade...
Magnum are, without doubt, one of the finest heavy rock bands to have ever emerged from the British Isles. For a period in the nineteen eighties, from the release of Chase the Dragon in 1982 to 1988’s Wings of Heaven, they were arguably the finest pomp rock band in the World, bar none.
The more solid rock stylings of 1990’s Goodnight L.A. saw Magnum start a slow decline that ended with the demise of the band in it’s initial iteration after 1994’s disappointing Rock Art.
Inevitably they reformed for a second tilt at the crown in the twenty first century, and it’s now been sixteen years since the band reappeared with Breath of Life. This second age of Magnum has often been difficult for long term fans, with the band often threatening to regain their glory days (especially on 2007’s quite superb Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow), but equally often settling for pleasantly appealing mediocrity.
Lost on the Road to Eternity, their twentieth studio outing, is comfortably their best since Princess Alice, as the band, replete with two news members in Keyboarder Rick Benton and former Marshall Law/Paradise Lost man Lee Morris on drums, come up with their most satisfyingly consistent album in aeons.
Peaches and Cream makes for a solid opener – although at least a minute could have been shaved off it’s running time with no obvious drop in quality- and Show Me Your Hands carries on the attack in similarly sturdy fashion. The album really kicks into gear with the fabulous Storm Baby; built on a classic riff from guitarist Tony Clarkin, the song hits cruising speed early and if it doesn’t quite ignite the senses in the way the band used to it will certainly have old fans grinning like foolish children at the pompous grandeur of it all. This is genuinely exciting stuff to hear.
Welcome to the Cosmic Quest is another slow burner, building steadily and featuring one of Clarkin’s best solos in years. It has a bit of a feel of Two Hearts to it from 1985’s On a Storyteller’s Night, although Cosmic… never develops the taut intensity of …Hearts. The title track is another song fit to rub shoulders with the best of the Magnum canon and features a guest vocal from Avantasia/Edguy man Tobi Sammet; Talking of vocalists, a shout really must go out to Bob Catley, who, despite nudging seventy delivers one of his most convincing latterday performances throughout Lost on the Road to Eternity. His performance in tandem with Sammet on this track is truly gratifying to hear if you remember the man in his pomp; age has not wearied him as it once seemingly threatened to, and if this turns out to be his last recorded vocal performance then he leaves the stage with head held high.
Already-released single Without Love is more solid, impressive Clarkin fayre, blessed with an ear-bothering chorus refrain that again will have long-term fans brushing away a nostalgic tear as it rolls back the years. Clarkin once more offers up some nice, simple, beefy riffage and Morris adds a racy, swinging rhythm to spice things up as Catley ramps up the quality with a quite superb vocal. If, like me, you feared this sort of stuff was beyond this band at this point in the game, Without Love is perhaps the most welcome track on the album.
The band reins things back on the pomposity front on Tell Me What You’ve Got to Say, preferring to deliver a pulsing, dramatic semi-epic that leaves the bombast alone but still manages to snare the listener with some nice keyboard embellishment and an urgent, yet restrained rhythm guitar gallop from Clarkin.
Next up is Ya Wanna Be Someone, and it’s the first track that doesn’t quite live up to the quality that’s gone before. A straightforward, uptempo rocker, it’s not a stinker by any means but it just falls short a little in relation to the sheer class of tracks like Without Love. Catley does, however, put in another fine shift on this track, especially in the verses.
At six minutes in length …Someone is another song that’s slightly overlong – and the weird, abrupt ending suggest someone in the studio might have felt that too – but Forbidden Masquerade is not as wasteful. Benton constructs a sparse landscape over which Catley gives a characteristically careworn performance before the guitars come in and propel the song forwards. The track has a jazzy, Steely Dan feel to it, especially when Clarkin adds a fluid solo to proceedings; It’s not exactly a departure in Magnum terms, but it sees the band stretching out and exploring new avenues of sound, which is surely as gratifying for fans to hear as it is for the band to experiment with this far down the track.
Penultimate offering Glory to Ashes is another sombre track, Clarkin and Benton combining in the song’s opening bars to create a classic Magnum sound, with Benton also adding some nice solo piano towards the end of the song; Again, the bombast is missing, the band preferring to let the sheer quality of the songwriting carry the song where once a big production might have taken away from the basic brilliance on display.
Closing track King of the World runs to seven minutes, and again, if truth be told, feels a little overlong. The song does have a feel of ebb and flow but never really follows through on the promise of the title refrain, and withers on the vine a little. This is a shame, as an album as good as this really cries out for something a little more remarkable with which to bring down the closing curtain.
That said, I really don’t think many people will have been ready for this album after the false starts and disappointments of Magnum’s last few releases. This really is a return to form, and a very welcome one at that. Essential listening.
Lost on the Road to Eternity will be released through SPV/Steamhammer on January 19th.