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Magnum: The Serpent Rings

Is there a band more underrated over the last 40 years, and UNKNOWN here in North America for that matter, than the UK's Magnum? Now with over 20 studio releases to their credit since their debut way back in 1978, Magnum have long been a notable act on the international rock scene, yet have never sniffed much of any success here on these shores, which, after all these years, remains a mystery. With the release of their brand new album for SPV, The Serpent Rings, the lads from Birmingham once again have crafted a highly listenable platter of melodic, majestic, and artful hard rock (classified as AOR to some), chocked to the gills with ultra-memorable hooks, big, symphonic prog keyboards, tasty guitars, and the always impressive vocals of the ever-dependable Bob Catley.

As in the past, all songs here are written by guitarist Tony Clarkin, who just has a knack for accessible, melodic hard rock with the right amount of grandeur & pomp, the album blasting off with the driving rhythms & hooks of "Where Are You Eden?", a killer anthem to jump start this impressive album. "You Can't Run Faster Than Bullets" is another uptempo rocker, Clarkin's riffs featuring plenty of crunch and Catley singing his heart out. Next up is "Madman or Messiah", pop hooks blending with Rick Benton's majestic keyboards and Clarkin's guitar thunder, the chorus instantly memorable and helping to make this one of the albums highlights. "The Archway of Tears" soars, and soars higher and higher with repeated listens, Catley delivering an incredible vocal, the keys gorgeous, the rhythms tight, and that chorus...oh my, so memorable! Just exquisite, and another album highlight. The band crank out the heavy rock for the guitar attack of "Not Forgiven", thumping bass & pounding drums drive this fist-pumping track, a song that also delivers a stunning chorus (as they all do!), followed by the proggy title track, Benton laying down plenty of piano & synths while Catley's vocals just hit some peak emotional levels. Classic stuff here. Some fine guitar & synth solos are also featured on this stellar piece. Catley takes on a gruffer, more aggressive tone on the hard rocking "House of Kings", a song also notable for some symphonic keyboards and horns (!), which might seem odd for Magnum, but they actually work quite well here. The slow, melodic, almost ballad style number on The Serpent Rings is "The Great Unknown", but it's a great one, complete with a can't miss chorus and majestic arrangements, while "Man" sees the guys entering almost prog-metal territory, with chugging guitars, intricate rhythms, and layers of synths. And, does it get any more majestic than "The Last One on Earth" and "Crimson on the White Sand", the two soaring, regal tracks that close the album? I think not!

I've been listening to Magnum for many years now, and they have plenty of winners throughout their catalog, but I'm starting to think that The Serpent Rings, when it's all said and done, is going to rank as one of their best. This one just grabs you from start to finish and never lets go, the melodies so irresistible, the musicianship superb. The fact that Magnum aren't superstars the world over is just criminal, so I urge you, if you've never heard this band before, give a listen to The Serpent Rings and be prepared to be amazed...then get set to dive into their extensive catalog for more gems. Outstanding!

Oh yeah, and how about that Rodney Matthews artwork!!!

Track Listing
01. Where Are You Eden? 5:37
02. You Can’t Run Faster Than Bullets 5:40
03. Madman or Messiah 5:18
04. The Archway of Tears 6:21
05. Not Forgiven 5:48
06. The Serpent Rings 6:47
07. House of Kings 4:47
08. The Great Unknown 5:27
09. Man 5:31
10. The Last One on Earth 3:43
11. Crimson on the White Sand 4:53

Added: February 25th 2020
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Band Facebook Page
Hits: 2194
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Magnum: The Serpent Rings
Posted by Steven Reid, SoT Staff Writer on 2020-02-25 00:12:07
My Score:

I’ve had an unusual relationship with Magnum since the band’s 2002 comeback Breath Of Life, with each of their subsequent eight releases all hugely impressing me straight out of the blocks, without ever really hitting hard enough to make them new staples in my listening routines. The Serpent Rings, however, has had very much the opposite effect, with my first few encounters not really eliciting much more than a few nods of the head and the occasional chorus hum-along. Since then however, and in truth, at first because I knew I had a review to write, as I’ve continued the journey into guitarist Tony Clarkin’s latest collection of cuts, I must admit that I’ve simply not been able to get enough of this album. So much so that I’ve actually held up my entire review schedule to spend more time with it.

Yes, all of the Magnum traits are in the correct places, with pompous set-plays bursting with melodic riffs and grand intentions. And yet, there are a few differences - at least from recent times - as singer Bob Catley’s voice whisks us back to the band’s classic On A Storyteller’s Night/Vigilante era in a way that it hasn’t for quite some time. The keyboard incursions from Rick Benton also have the gleeful temerity to add a few new sounds and flavours to what might just have been seen previously as an overly tested and tried formula. As if that wasn’t enough, “House Of Kings” introduces a brass blast in a first for the band since, by my count, 1986! In many ways we shouldn’t be surprised by this slight evolution from an act who’ve had and still possess an unmistakably individual identity, what with three of their number - Benton, drummer Paul Morris (Paradise Lost/Ten/Vaughn) and bassist extraordinaire, Dennis Ward, all either on their first, or second album with the band, meaning only Clarkin and Catley have been within the Magnum ranks prior to 2016.

The results are a collection that immediately feels recognisable and welcoming, while further down the line revealing a vibrancy and excitement that allows “Madness Or Messiah” to brim with real atmospheric intent. It isn’t alone in that trait, the album’s title cut an enigmatic pulsation that shifts up and down through the emotions with real grace. Add in “The Great Unknown”, which provides a keyboard-commercialism that hasn’t been evident since the Goodnight LA album, and the confident build of “Crimson On The White Sands”, and every box you could hope for from a Magnum release, and a few we might not have expected, are indelibly ticked off.

Impressively, in a catalogue positively brimming with highlight albums, Magnum have with The Serpent Rings created something that might just be seen as one of their very best.

» Reader Comments:

Magnum: The Serpent Rings
Posted by Pete Richards on 2020-02-06 15:46:34
My Score:

Great review Pete. Marvellous album from a consistently great band. I often wonder why Magnum were never big in the US, perhaps Bob Catley's voice? He's a brilliant singer but sometimes his voice betrays his Birmingham origins. Still that never did Ozzy any harm. Anyway a superb album from a band who simply do not have a bad release. Bob Catley's solo albums worth checking out too

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