If there were any justice, Magnum would still be a name on the tip of people’s tongues, but sadly, the moniker of the long running British rockers isn’t commonly found in the modern music lexicon. The Midlanders have barely put a foot wrong in their career, particularly since their return from a six year hiatus that commenced in the mid ’90s. That said, 2016’s Sacred Blood “Divine Lies” was something of a let down, with the song writing not up to the high standard they’re capable of. I was confident that this would be an anomaly, and I was optimistic as ever going into Lost on the Road to Eternity, their 20th studio record.
If I had to use one word to describe Magnum, it would be underrated. It’s a word that gets excessively thrown around, but I feel that it’s wholly appropriate in the case of Magnum, whose magnificence is missed by far too many music fans. The chemistry between founding members Tony Clarkin and Bob Catley, who have been the driving force behind the band since their inception, is still strongly in tact, although the duo have to do without Mark Stanway for the first time since 1979’s Magnum II; the long time keyboard player stepping aside in late 2016. His playing has been a distinctive feature of Magnum’s sound over the years, and it is safe to say that his absence is noticeable due to this, but replacement Rick Benton offers an approach that is different, yet still in keeping with Magnum’s trademarks. Anyone in doubt should listen to the way his keys delicately dance over the buoyant, bouncy rhythms of “Show Me Your Hands”; a modern Magnum classic in the making, or the tranquil melodies that are as unsettling as they are ethereal in the sublime “Welcome to the Cosmic Cabaret”. This track shows that Clarkin and Benton have already struck up quite a rapport, with the former’s cutting riffs playing off flawlessly with Benton’s calmer approach; all tied together by the superb vocal lines; Clarkin’s hooks as effortless as the grace with which the timeless Catley delivers them. Long time Magnum fan and Avantasia mastermind Tobias Sammet (for whom Catley is a frequent collaborator) duets on the title track, a sweeping venture that invokes a great sense of drama. Sammet should be right at home given the cinematic scope and pomp of the song, but he does sound uneasy in his delivery (and not for the first time in a guest spot, as H.e.a.t.’s “Black Night” shows), only really finding comfort when singing in unison with Catley.
A great number of Magnum albums tend to have three or four incredibly strong songs, with the rest of the record rounded out by a lesser (comparatively speaking) supporting set. I’d probably say that only the sensational duo of On a Storyteller’s Night (1985) and Vigilante (1986) escape this pitfall; a hole in which Lost on the Road to Eternity also stumbles in to. This is something that can be overcome by strategic track placement, something Magnum have excelled at, but they unfortunately miss the mark a little here. Most of the best tracks are placed at the start of the album, leaving the latter half a little stagnant. I can’t label anything outright bad or average though. Even saying any of the songs are merely decent would be doing them a disservice. The band are simply victims of their own success, such is the quality of the offerings early on on the album. The towering closer “King of the World” is an exception however, rallying round and stirring up a rousing sense of occasion, with some breath taking instrumental work that again illustrates Clarkin’s undeniable compositional skills.
Magnum’s remarkable consistency since reuniting is something to be celebrated, with Lost on the Road to Eternity a return to form after the uncharacteristically bland Sacred Blood “Divine Lies”. Some may be shocked that a band this far into their career are capable of producing music this good, but Magnum fans will know this is simply par for the course. This record will be a terrific way for fans to start the year, whilst also laying down an early bench mark in 2018.
Highlights: “Show Me Your Hands”, “Welcome to the Cosmic Cabaret”, “King of the World”
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