Magnum are one of my favourite bands of all time. I’ve been a lot harder on their post-reformation releases as I felt they just didn’t stack up against the classic era albums. I struggle to listen to Breath of Life or Brand New Morning at all these days, but Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow was more impressive. Since then it’s been a general progression up the scale. On The 13th Day I gave a 95 and Escape From The Shadow Garden a 96. I even gave The Visitation a 93, showing that in my mind, the band has been getting better with each release. But that march stops here.
I’ve had this album 3 months now. It’s been played over and over and over again and my emotions have changed several times throughout that time.
I’m only now comfortable to review the new album in detail. I’ve struggled with it and I’ve played it so much I began to like some elements I didn’t previously. But now the dust has settled and I can look at this objectively – as someone who grew up on Storytellers, Vigilante, Wings Of Heaven and on…
On its own, there’s a lot to like. But the reality is that I’ve heard it all before. And I think I’ve come to the decision I’ve had enough of this style.
The beauty of classic Magnum was that you never really knew what Tony Clarkin would serve up next. Every album had its own sound, its own feel and its own tempo.
That changed when the band reformed. On each album since, it has been a pretty consistent and continual hard edged delivery each time.
Each album has offered hints of the past as Tony delved into some classic sounds or Mark Stanway had greater influence over the song structure, but still nothing has come close to the perfection that is 85-92 Magnum.
The other problem with the band’s current day albums is that all too familiar slow plodding pace that the guys rarely break out of. That's the biggest issue I have and am totally over.
Of the 10 main tracks on Sacred Blood Divine Lies, there are only 2 that go beyond second gear and the sequence of tracks is again done in a way to prevent the album from getting rolling.
There are some definite positives here – Bob is singing better than on the last couple and the production quality is probably the best of the recent albums.
The near 7 minute opener Sacred Blood "Divine" Lies has that same crunchy guitar riff magnum fans know and some impressive Bob Catley vocals and a chorus that appeals pretty quickly. I like that Mark Stanway stamps his authority on this track with some classic keyboards.
Unfortunately Crazy Old Mothers heads straight into the plods. I really don’t like slow moving tracks so quickly after a momentum building opening.
But if we do have to have a slow, heavy plodder here, this track is one of the better ones of its style. It has a gritty, guitar heavy chorus that’s short but effective.
The opening minute to Gypsy Queen would suggest we might be heading back to classic 80s Magnum. It’s slow but I’m anticipating something big. Unfortunately no, it doesn’t head that way at all. I’m still not sold on this track as the structure is all too familiar – slow verse, heavier mid-tempo chorus and repeat.
Princess in Rags (The Cult) is thankfully a big lift in tempo as the band gets out of second gear to deliver another familiar sounding tune (slow verse again, but the mood suits the song) that rocks along at a good pace and a chorus that stands out as one of the better ones on offer.
Your Dreams Won't Die is a long pleasant sentimental ballad, but steers the album straight back into ‘go slow’ and I’m not really connecting with this song over some of the band’s better ballads. And let’s face it – Magnum has some of the most epic and brilliant ballads of any band, any time.
I’m beginning to get really frustrated about now. I really don’t like the ultra-slow plod of the go nowhere track Afraid of the Night. I just want the band to speed up a little and deliver some huge choruses like the old days. This track is really pedestrian and sounds way too similar to I Didn’t Like You Anyway.
A Forgotten Conversation is once again slow of course, but I do like Catley’s vocal intro and the orchestration adds a bit of texture. The pace doubles for the chorus, but that still puts it at mind-tempo at best and the chorus isn’t that memorable.
Quiet Rhapsody gives the illusion of rocking harder and faster only because the rest of the album is so slow. I do like the riff on offer and the chorus is marginally more effective than some others.
Twelve Men Wise and Just features another slow start, but picks up pace as it goes and evolves into one of the faster and better tracks and should in my opinion been moved up to second place in the sequence. A fine Catley vocal impresses.
The semi-acoustic driven Don't Cry Baby uses the same formula as half the album before it – slow intro, faster chorus. It swaps back and forth a few times. There’s no real chorus again, but the mood of the song and Bob’s vocals make it worthwhile.
The Digipak edition offers three additional tracks. But each of the 3 is embedded within the second DVD disc. I don’t get that at all. That’s making it hard for fans to appreciate the tunes in places only digital or CDs go.
Phantom Of Paradise Circus is more varied than anything Magnum have delivered in a while. The tempo moves along too, making you wonder why it isn’t part of the main album. No stand out chorus as such, but a decent track.
Don’t Give Up is yet another pretty fast moving rocker, which is a blessing to hear. This is more Rock Art styled Magnum, with fast riff and a good beat and a solid chorus.
No God Or Saviour is a moody rocker that starts slow (again), but the change of pace with the chorus and the accompanying guitar riff again offers more diversity and originality than the album’s main block of tracks. Puzzling as to why it’s not part of the official album.
Don’t Give Up and No God Or Saviour should have made the full album and I would have dropped Afraid Of The Night and maybe even Forgotten Conversation, not to mention shuffling the sequencing around once again.
My love of Magnum remains and always will, but I think this album is a step backwards after the best album post-reformation – Escape From The Shadow Garden. Make that three steps back, as I rate this behind Thirteenth Day and Visitation too.
On its own, Sacred Blood is probably better than I’ve marked, but I’m feeling it is just too similar to what has come before it. It’s the same Magnum mid-to-slow-tempo pace, it’s the same restrained choruses that lack the intensity, the passion and the pomp glory of tracks like Days Of No Trust, Maybe Tonight, On A Storytellers Night, When The World Comes Down, Heartbroke And Busted et all.
I just want my old Magnum back. Or at least I want the new Magnum to pick up the damn pace already and deliver some of those anthemic singalong choruses we know and love. I reallt think the guys could use an outside producer to help - I know they have a true masterpiece left in them.