In the mid-80’s, I was one of the cool kids. Not actually cool, but I listened to progressive rock, and I made sure to proselytize the value of bands like RUSH, YES, and PINK FLOYD to the unwashed and close-minded masses whenever I could. So, yeah – I was that annoying guy, the proto-prog snob. Oddly enough, though, I could never get into MAGNUM; I don’t know why to this day. I flirted with them often but never found enough to cement a relationship with the band, much to my regret. That may have finally changed.
I’ve been much more interested in them over their last several releases – Into the Valley of the Moonking, The Visitation, and Escape From the Shadow Garden (a personal favorite from 2014) have all been very solid albums that I’ve spent hours listening to with much enjoyment. However, their newest disc, Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies (out February 26 via Steamhammer/SPV Records) tops anything in their discography, at least from my viewpoint.
There’s a ton of the old MAGNUM in this one; many of the songs have some interesting time signatures while not being overly complicated, and Mark Stanway’s keyboards are full of the classic pomp sound that helped define the band during their first era, yet with a much more updated feel. Same for Tony Clarkin’s guitar work – it’s very refined and precise and easier for me to embrace and really get into.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me that Bob Catley’s worked with AVANTASIA over the last decade and a half; I can see a lot of similarities to some of Bob’s classic songs with Tobias Sammet’s all star project. This is a good thing – MAGNUM retains its own style and personality and the crossover in sound only serves to enhance this album. Bob’s voice remains amazing as always, and seems to only get better with age.
Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies is full of highlights with very little filler. My favorite song is “Twelve Men Wise And Just”, a track that builds from a simple piano line into a full epic rocker with a haunting chorus and subtle hooks all over the place. Other favorites are “Afraid Of The Night”, with a slick intro riff by Tony that gets worked into the song over and over in different ways.
“Crazy Old Mothers” is an interesting song that took a while to grow on me. It’s a simple track that never really builds past a slow rhythmic trot, but Bob’s voice and the old 70’s guitar riffs just refused to let me go until this became one of my favorites. “Your Dreams Won’t Die” is a great example of the influence of Bob’s project work – this track could appear on an AVANTASIA release without much alteration.
This release has made me reconsider going back and trying MAGNUM’S catalog one more time. The results may be the same, but even so, I’ve discovered an album that is going to be one of my favorites of 2016 by taking a chance on them again. This record is essential for MAGNUM fans, and anyone who enjoys progressive rock or any of Bob Catley’s projects needs to give it a try without fear of disappointment.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Twelve Men Wise and Just”, “Afraid of the Night”, “Crazy Old Mothers”, “Your Dreams Won’t Die”, “Quiet Rhapsody”