History & BiographyMagnum is a British pomp rock band from Birmingham, England. The group was formed in 1972 and has since undergone many line-up changes. The duo of singer Bob Catley and guitarist Tony Clarkin is the band’s mainstays however. They both came from bands playing cover versions. The band’s most commercial days were the mid-'80s, however, Magnum has seen many peaks and valleys in its history. The band called it a day in 1995 with the main duo forming Hard Rain and Catley going solo, but the duo came together again in 2002 since Hard Rain was having little success.
The group toured the UK from 1972 to 1977 and along the way added keyboardist Richard Bailey. A one-off single was 1975’s Sweets For My Sweet, which was a cover version of The Drifters’ 1961 song. This single was issued by CBS. Bassist Dave Morgan (ex-The Uglys) sang on side A, while Bob Catley is heard on side B. Morgan would depart to Hooker and subsequent join ELO. The band toured with Judas Priest in 1977. A serious record contract was still not in hand, however, until Jet Records issued the band’s 1978 debut Kingdom Of Madness, which charted in the UK. Having already supported Judas Priest the group soon hit the road with Whitesnake. Magnum II brought live work with Krokus, Tygers Of Pan Tang and Blue Oyster Cult. Marauder was a live record taped at London’s Marquee Club, which charted higher than its predecessors. Strangely, there was also a Marauder EP containing exclusive songs. Keyboardist Richard Bailey departed amidst intra-band tension and was replaced by Grenville Harding. Bailey joined Trapeze and Alaska. The latter band was helmed by Bernie Marsden who had been the guitarist for the aforementioned Whitesnake. Magnum toured with Def Leppard and replaced Harding with Mark Stanway. The Chase The Dragon album made its mark and had the band grow its popularity. The group opened for label-mates Ozzy Osbourne. The Eleventh Hour was followed with the addition of second guitarist Robin George. The band played Reading Festival in 1983 after having played the festival in 1980 for the first time. Long-time drummer Kex Gorin departed in 1984. With Jet Records’ increasing inability to support the group and lack of further sales, Magnum issued an album called On A Storyteller's Night through FM in 1985. This was a hit and is considered a band classic. Ironically, for FM, Polygram signed the band following the album’s success and Magnum was offered a slot on the Monsters Of Rock Festival at Castle Donington. Vigilante, the major label debut, was produced by Queen drummer Roger Taylor. Wings Of Heaven was a mainstream success and had the band appear regularly as a pop band on TV and radio. Kingdom Come opened for Magnum on tour. Magnum performed at the Wembley Arena's Great British Music Weekend in 1991. Also appearing were Ozzy Osbourne, The Quireboys and Thunder. The band moved to EMI. Results were not great, the musical environment had changed and the band came to a halt. C&C formed Hard Rain. Catley also recorded a solo album. The turn of the century marked the return of Magnum.
Magnum and Catley have gained a new lease on life this side of the century with many tours and releases. Increasing European musicians cite the group as an influence. Catley has also appeared on the Avantasia albums. Magnum’s Escape From The Shadow Garden album was out in the spring of 2014 through SPV. The album featured artwork by Rodney Matthews. It reached number 14 in the German charts. Magnum would release a new live album, called Escape From The Shadow Garden - Live 2014, through SPV on May 6th of 2015. Having joined the band in 1980, keyboardist Mark Stanway quit Magnum due to differences with the rest of the pomp band. Rick Benton took over from Mark Stanway, who walked out in the middle of a short winter tour in December 2016, so Rick only had a couple of days to learn the setlist and joined the band mid-tour in order to finish the last few dates on the trek. Lee Morris joined the band as drummer in 2017 taking over from Harry James who was getting too busy with his band Thunder to keep on drumming for both bands.
The band had a compilation of its slow songs in January of 2017. It was called The Valley Of Tears – The Ballads. The UK-based pomp rock band released a new album, called Lost On The Road To Eternity, on January 19th 2018 through Steamhammer/SPV. The group released another live album, Live At The Symphony Hall, through SPV/Steamhammer on January 18th 2019. The band and bassist Al Barrow, who had joined in 2001 from Hard Rain, parted ways in 2019 as the man was living in the USA then and replaced him with Dennis Ward (Pink Cream 69, Unisonic, etc.). The group had an album called The Serpent Rings through SPV in January 2020. The Serpent Rings' tour was cancelled due to the pandemic. Magnum would issue an album replete with rare tracks and special cuts called Dance Of The Black Tattoo in January 2021. The Pomp rockers released a new album, called The Monster Roars, through SPV/Steamhammer in January 2022. A single called I Won't Let You Down was out first.
Magnum announced a 50th Anniversary Christmas show at KK’s Steel Mill for December 2022. The band had Irish, UK and German shows in 2022, but the British ones were postponed once a member contracted COVID-19. The pandemic had already postponed continental European shows in 2021. Magnum released a new album, entitled Here Comes The Rain, through Steamhammer/SPV in January 2024. The band was planning to tour in April. Instead, Tony Clarkin, guitarist and main songwriter, was diagnosed with a rare and incurable spinal condition, forcing the band to cancel its spring 2024 tour. He was to undergo treatment, but the disease was degenerative. Instead, he very soon died. In lieu of flowers and cards, his family invited fans to donate to The Tony Clarkin Animal Trust.
MAGNUM – THE MONSTER ROARS – SPV
Let us be straightforward and address the elephant in the room. Magnum is a hard pill to swallow for a heavy metal fan. The band’s grand and pompous musical style is not exactly Iron Maiden or Judas Priest or even Deep Purple. The melodies hint at ELO or The Beatles occasionally. The keyboards, and on one track on this record the brass section, are omnipresent and the consequent melodies dominate. With that said, Magnum has a hard rock history and background. Take in a track like All You Believe In and it has shades of one of those softer post 1991 Savatage tracks. Then again, Savatage post 1991 has as much to do with heavy metal as donuts do with health.
The Monster Roars, the 2022 album of Magnum, once again benefits from Bob Catley’s distinctive vocals. He does not have a range, but he does have a distinctive tone and one that grunges things up often. This time it comes with particularly pessimistic lyrics.
The title track kicks us off and listen to this, “Small children sing/The monster roars” the band juxtaposes. The melody at the start sounds like an early Pretty Maids one. Remember has the better riffs and simultaneously rocks and features Classical piano. Similarly, All You Believe In has the impressive melody and the heavy guitars mixed in. No Steppin’ Stones is euphoric and for some reason makes one imagine a grand show. I Won’t Let You Down has this sweeping melody for which Magnum is known, but should one not be familiar with Magnum then imagine ELO at its more flamboyant. Indeed, the song is poppy and hardly of interest to rock let alone heavy metal fans. It is a deceptively simple song though. Your Blood Is Violence is worth mentioning because it changes gears and the gear takes one to a vibe that could belong to The Doors or the era of Iron Butterfly. Of course, the track would be seven minutes long too. Walk The Silent Hours is a soft rock song that would not have been out of place as a tender Pink Floyd moment. All the while the band mixes in some serious doom and gloom lyricism and the hefty guitar chords.
The Monster Roars has some chops, but will it be heard by enough people to expand the band’s fan base? Probably not. The band has been around long enough that most people have made up their minds whether they have heard the group or not. Still, and as much as it is not a Metallian kind of a record, it is a serious and accomplished album and shows the band as valid and vital. The one area of criticism one could easily level, however, is the weak and almost absent drum sound. What happened? Give the CD a shot and then come back and tell me. – Ali “The Metallian”