Review: Magnum – The Monster Roars
Steamhammer / SPV (January 14th 2022)
Reviewer: David Pearce
Magnum are one of those groups that seem to have been around for ever … probably because they have! First put together as the house band for Birmingham’s Rum Rummer nightclub in 1972(!) this year marks 50 years as a band. As with all long running bands they have had periods of dormancy but bar a 6-year hiatus from 1995 they have been a thriving band throughout that time. Arguably, Magnum existed as Hard Rain in that time since the founder members and driving forces, Bob Catley, Magnum’s ever-present vocalist and Tony Clarkin, guitarist and songwriter, were the core of that group. The fact that they included Magnum songs in their live sets indicated that they were a continuation albeit under a different name. Since 2001, though, Magnum have once more been a force to be reckoned with, constantly coming up with music that has delighted long-term fans and hooked many new ones. To mark their 50th year, we have a new Magnum album called ‘The Monster Roars‘. Let’s see how loud that roar still is.
The title track starts off with an 80s style riff that moves into a very different opening verse which has an almost chanted vocal that works brilliantly. It is the base for a very effective chorus that shows Bob Catley’s are still in fine fettle. The guitar solo in this song is just fantastic, showing Tony Clarkin’s continuing excellence and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Lee Morris’ superb drumming. ‘Remember‘, the second track, is a stunning rock track that has echoes of their classic 80s tracks but which brings the sound bang up to date. Rick Benton adds real depth to the tune with his keyboard and the bass guitar of Dennis Ward really gives the rest of the band a firm base to work from. ‘All You Believe In‘, once again starts with a lovely keyboard solo before Clarkin comes in with a guitar that supports another excellent but subtly different vocal from Catley that sees him deliver a strong performance in his lower register giving the song real depth. ‘I Won’t Let You Down‘ is another excellent track in an incredibly strong start that shows a band who are still capable of going toe to toe with anyone in the rock firmament.
‘The Present Not The Past‘ sounds like a statement of intent both in terms of the title and in the heavy metal stylings of the track. It’s probably truer to say that they are taking the best of the past and tying it to the present to marvellous effect. Another excellent drumming performance from Morris and a thumping bassline courtesy of Ward give Catley great support as his vocals soar and show his enduring quality. ‘No Stepping Stones‘ starts with what sounds like the brass section from Huey Lewis circa mid-80s, and what an absolute blast it is! A track that would get the most reluctant dancer on their feet is allied to another example of Magnum’s consummate togetherness as a group with everyone at the top of their game producing my favourite track on the album. ‘That Freedom Word‘ is a state of humanity track that shows Clarkin’s ability to produce lyrics that are relevant and meaningful is all present and correct. ‘Your Blood is Violence‘ is a song that stretches to 7 minutes but never outstays its welcome. This song is another example of the musical virtuosity of the whole group with everyone contributing to a song which really hits the mark and which will be incredible live when touring the album becomes a realistic possibility.
The final quartet of songs begins with ‘Walk the Silent Hours‘, which is an immediate classic of the rock ballad genre. Catley’s vocals are mesmeric, and the verses bring to mind Foreigner turned up to 11! They confirm that not only do they know how to write atmospheric tracks with the best of them, but that experience can bring a greater depth that younger songwriters cannot match. ‘The Day After the Night Before‘ cranks up the sound once again with perhaps their most Maidenesque track on the album. It is one of my favourites because it is tackled with absolute confidence and sincerity, and it is a sure sign that they are not going anywhere yet. ‘Come Holy Men‘, the penultimate track, is another track with fantastic, biting, relevant lyrics that show what a brilliant songwriter Clarkin is, always has been and will continue to be. The final track, ‘Can’t Buy Yourself a Heaven‘ is a deeply satisfying end to a quite brilliant album. The whole quintet, Clarkin, Catley, Morris, Ward and Benton sign off with perhaps the most complete track, musically, where each of the five are playing at the top of their game.
Magnum are legends, that much is unarguable, but unlike some legends they are able to add to that legendary status 50 years on from their formation with an album that is pretty damn perfect and which will already take a lot of beating when I look back at my albums of the year. Magnum, I salute you!