For a stretch all the way through the eighties, Magnum were untouchable when it came to pompous, at times emotional, hard rock. Led by the redoubtable duo of vocalist Bob Catley and guitarist/songwriter Tony Clarkin, the band released a run of albums – Chase the Dragon (1982), The Eleventh Hour (1983), 1985’s On a Storytellers Night, Vigilante (1986) and 1988’s Wings of Heaven – that represents one of the greatest unbroken runs of classic albums any band from the UK has put together. During that time the band went from sweaty club status to huge arena and festival staples, taking with them thousands of utterly devoted fans in the process. They were heady days indeed. Yet, as always happens, the empire crumbled to dust and by the time the eighties turned to the nineties the band’s star was on the wane.
They bowed out in 1994, vowing never to return, but of course they did, and since 2002 this ‘second incarnation’ of Magnum has released a series of albums, all with something to recommend them but none coming anywhere close to recreating the glory days of the eighties. Sacred Blood… is just such an album.
Early signs are good – The opening title track is a strident pomp rocker, whilst Crazy Old Mothers, despite its clunky title is rather a charming piece of heavy rock n’roll, with keyboardist Mark Stanway adding some nice touches, whilst Catley, who has sounded a little tired of late (and why shouldn’t he – the man is well into his sixties!) puts in a gritty performance that’s a delight to hear.
Gypsy Queen isn’t quite as exciting, sounding like something that just failed to make the cut for On a Storyteller’s Night. This is all relative of course – sub-par Magnum is still better than most of the hard rock out there at the moment – and Clarkin puts in a nice solo mid-song – but overall the weak chorus just leaves the listener feeling a bit short changed. Actually Clarkin really does deserve further commendation at this point. Usually a quite reticent soloist, he consistently impresses with his lead guitar playing on this record.
These highs and lows carry on throughout the album; Princes in Rags (The Cult) stands out as being something worthy of the mantle this band has created for itself, with the world-weary, cynical lyrics cast from the same cloth as The Eleventh Hour, with Clarkin again adding some biting lead guitar work, but the album falls away slightly after this, with the band happy just to tread water with balladic tracks like Your Dreams Won’t Die which dissipate the momentum the band builds up elsewhere, and tracks like Afraid of the Night and Twelve Men Wise and Just fail to pick up the slack.
Like I said, any Magnum is better than no Magnum at all, and it will be a sad day when this band finally calls it a day for good. But there are just too many average tracks here to make this any more than just ‘another’ Magnum record. If you’re thinking of getting into Magnum for the first time I’d suggest any of those eighties albums first, and then maybe come to this later.
Sacred Blood “Divine” is out now on SPV/Steamhammer Records