Review: Magnum – Escape from the Shadow Garden Live
Reviewer: Peter Scallan
Magnum should be a band that needs no introduction in the UK and Europe. My first encounter with this band was buying the live EP which consisted of two seven inch vinyl discs which preceded their first live album Marauder in 1980. I followed them avidly until the early 90s when my interests in music waned a little and like many bands I liked they dropped off my radar – until about three years ago. Since then I have started back filling my collection and it is amazing just how consistent they have been over the years. And this collection just reinforces that.
Opening with the excellent ‘Live Til You Die’ from the Shadow Garden album, the band set the standard high from the off, closely followed by the powerful ‘Dark Skies’. Drawn from The Visitation album, it is driven by a huge guitar riff and is as dark brooding as it name suggests. Continuing with another song from The Visitation, the mood is changed for the next song with ‘Freedom Day’ with its atmospheric piano and keyboard parts with a drum-driven breakdown for the chorus. ‘Dance of the Black Tattoo’ returns to a heavier and darker side and sounds huge with this live version. It really drives along on the throbbing bass line. ‘Blood Red Laughter’ reminds me of 80s Magnum even though it is from On The 13th Day album, like its predecessor. A melodic mid-paced rocker it could easily be from an earlier album. The band return to the Shadow Garden album for ‘Unwritten Sacrifice’. Opening with Stanway’s atmospheric keyboards and Sir Bob of Catley’s inimitable voice, it bursts into life with the chugging guitars. It also breaks down nicely into the chorus and the intro repeating.
The second half of the set draws heavily on earlier material especially On a Storyteller’s Night. ‘How Far Jerusalem’ is the first from this album and for me this live version is absolutely stonking. Capturing the intent of the song but giving it a refresh that reinforces that this song (and indeed the band) are as relevant now as they were in 1986. It also includes a breakdown for Tony Clarkin to provide an extended solo and demonstrates what a tasteful guitarist he is. This is followed by album-mate ‘Les Morts Dansant’, quite possibly one of my favourite Magnum songs and still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. When the guitar and drums kick in, they really do kick. The band makes a brief return to the Shadow Garden album for ‘Falling for the Big Plan’. For me this another song that is classic Magnum in terms of the piano intro and then melodic guitar riffing and the excellent chorus. The overall structure of the song reminds me of very early Magnum which is no bad thing. We jump back to the Storyteller album for ‘All England’s Eyes’ which really rocks, the difference being for me the driving drums of Harry James and the bass of Al Barrow. Another great version of a classic close to my heart. ‘Vigilante’ from the album of the same name is next up and I can actually rushing out to buy this on vinyl and being blown away by it. This version sounds great especially on the sections where the guitar and key play the post chorus riff – awesome stuff! The album closes with an all-time Magnum classic in ‘Kingdom of Madness’. Again, another Magnum song close to my heart as my first Magnum purchase was the Marauder live records. This version has all the feel of that version but gets a refresh like some of the other earlier songs. It is a superb set closer if ever there was one!
Having only fairly recently picked up the Magnum trail after many years and seen them live a few times too recently (bearing in mind the first time I saw the band was 1983 on the Eleventh Hour tour), I can’t believe how much good music I have missed. It is a mystery to me how these guys are not huge. This live album just highlights how good they are live and the huge back catalogue of immense material they have. And long they may continue!