|Bob Catley When Empires Burn||Frontiers Records|
Without a doubt this is Bob Catley's strongest solo outing to date and also ranks as the best collection of songs he has performed since Magnum's heyday. It not only beats Bob's 3 other excellent solo albums, but also betters the last couple of Magnum and Hard Rain records.|
This is going to be an essential purchase of any Catley/Magnum fan and in the long run, a bloody hard album to top.
After serving him well, a rest was needed from the songs and production style of Ten's Gary Hughes. He was responsible for the material and sound of Bob's first three studio albums. Time for a change. But who would replace the very big shoes of Mr. Hughes? In steps Paul Hodson, familiar to Bob in Hard Rain and connected also to Gary Hughes from his new role as keyboardist in Ten.
Paul's got his own style and vision and from hearing this, I must deduct that it is perfectly suited to Bob's talents.
In fact, the material here only serves to further increase Bob's stature and make both of them look good - or even better than they already are. It will certainly do a lot for Paul's stature.
The union that has been formed here will be one that fans will appreciate and is more likely than ever to recruit new fans into the Bob Catley fan club.
The style of When Empires Burn is more traditional British melodic hard rock. Yes, it's heavy in places, but not too far removed from what the previous solo albums have offered.
It's not one thing that makes this album so good, but a combination of the vital factors needed to come together to make a classic album.
The dark and heavy rockers are complimented by breezy mid-tempo AOR anthems and those are complimented with some slower moody ballads. It's just a very cohesive collection of songs.
Gone are any signs of a concept record (thank God), plus there are no references to dragons or castles and there is a true sense of freshness to the record.
The production and mix are fabulous. Everything is easily audible, even on the heavier, more complex numbers. The songs are varied in style, yet all are filled with glorious vocals and harmonies, not to mention hooks that are easier to come by than a brand new tackle box.
The album importantly features a full cast including Al Barrow, Vince O'Regan and Jamie Little, not to mention Paul and of course Bob.
This helps the sonics of the album, which is clearly major label quality. The band deserve a lot of credit for making the material sound so good.
Track By Track:
The Torment is a tasteful 90 second itro that sets up the album. Builds the tension nicely!
The intro flows into the opening track Children Of The Circle, which is equally dominated by keyboard swirls and guitar riffs, but above all, features a dramatic chorus featuring Bob in full flight, surrounded by lush harmony vocals. The song is a dark and heavy track, made lighter by keyboard fills and Bob's always melodic-friendly tones.
Gonna Live Forever lifts the tempo further. A simple delicious intro just gets better as the song runs from one sweet vocal hook to the next. This is a great rocker and the chorus is Bob at his anthem best.
The Prophecy changes the pace of the album without interrupting the flow. This is a dark and heavy and somewhat dramatic track, with a very strong Catley vocal - pushing his voice harder than I have heard in some time. Once again the chorus is strong, although remaining fairly embedded within the song itself.
I'll Be Your Fool changes the pace again - this time it's a lighter and a seemingly more breezy feel good uptempo rocker, with more vocal hook magic from Bob in the strong verses and a big fists-in-the-air bridge-to-chorus refrain. Add layers of keyboards and harmony vocals and you get something reminiscent of Magnum at their best.
Every Beat Of My Heart is the album's big power ballad. The song is moodier and heavier than it's predecessor, but in a traditional rock ballad pace. Another strong lead vocal performance in the songs verse is only bettered by another great (big) chorus.
When Empires Burn signals a return to the heavier and more dramatic style of the album's opening tracks. Yet another strong chorus and another song that like the rest of the album, stands on it's own merits.
Things slow down again for the ballad Meaning Of Love. Once again, the song is perfectly placed, as the album's slow continues perfectly. The song starts slow and pretty laid back, but builds to the feel good sing-along chorus.
This Is The Day turns the album on it's head again, with the heaviest track of the album, filled with dramatic keyboard flurries and some heavy guitar riffs. Bob's really pushing his voice to great effect and the song works well without any big chorus.
Someday Utopia continues the heavy path of the last song, but picks the tempo up another notch! Now Bob's really going for it and doesn't hold back on the excellent chorus. Possibly one of the fastest tempo'd track of Bob's career?
What better to follow that double headed riff fest than a slower paced and Celtic inspired track in My America. This is familiar to some elements of Bob's previous solo records, but once again features a tighter production quality, stronger hook value and overall sense of majesty.
And so ends the album - regular format. The first pressing will be a digi-pack limited edition with two bonus tracks.
Those are - Heaven Can Wait*, a feel good, mid-tempo pop rocker similar to I'll Be Your Fool. And When The Earth Lies Still (demo)* - a soft piano ballad that has a haunting vocal and strong sentimental streak.
Magnum and Catley fans will be in hog heaven without doubt and I dare say that the soundbytes should encourage new fans into the fold. Dramatic, heavy and also melodic, full of hooks and harmonies that do the melodic rock scene proud.
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