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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Magnum

On the 13th Day

Review by Mike Korn

Since returning to action in 2002, venerable British rockers Magnum have been prolific and going from strength to strength. The newest effort On the 13th Day sees the band rocking harder than ever, to the point where their roots as an epic prog band are now barely seen. In many ways, the band sounds almost like a melodic AC/DC during the more stripped down and crunchy moments here. But if you listen closely, you can still hear the textures of Mark Stanway's keyboards and the emotion of Bob Catley's voice. These things have always been Magnum's trademarks and they haven't gone away.

I wouldn't argue with those who say On the 13th Day is more of a hard rock album than prog, but then again, their previous effort The Visitation was much quieter and more keyboard dominated, so perhaps this is a natural balancing out. My favorite Magnum effort remains the magnificent Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow, where everything came together perfectly, but if you're in the mood for classic British hard rock with a lot of class and thunder, you won't go far wrong with this stirring album.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
All the Dreamers

After a somewhat and ominous and quiet beginning colored by keyboards, Tony Clarkin's guitars kick in with a really powerful riff and you're immediately aware of a heavier sound for Magnum. I feel this song is not really the best opener, mostly because the tune wears out its welcome and that riff I spoke of earlier kind of gets beaten into the ground. But better is to come.
Blood Red Laughter
In many ways, I think this fierce and intense rocker would have made a better opening track. This is a great example of Clarkin's guitar crunch merging perfectly with Stanway's keyboard mastery.  The piano playing here is intense and the drumming hard-hitting but the prog roots of the band are still evident.
Didn't Like You Anyway
This song has a different feel from the first couple of heavy duty rockers. It has a kind of Queen touch in the lead guitar/piano interplay. There's also some Asia in there, but it's a classic Magnum song and the lyrics are pretty acerbic. The lyrical tone in general is pretty cynical on this album.
On The 13th Day
The title track comes across fast and punchy, with a dark tone to it. Bob Catley does a terrific job transmitting the emotion of the lyrics, especially on the chorus.  Tony Clarkin is such a classy and tasteful guitar player, always knowing when to hold back and when to cut loose.
So Let It Rain
The opening of this song for all the world sounds like it could be something from Jackson Browne or some other American roots-rocker. It turns into a wonderful upbeat and happy sounding rock song with an uplifting chorus. Clarkin's guitars take a back seat to Stanway's inspired piano playing here, but the song is full of energy and no mopey ballad. It might just be my favorite tune of the set because it's a nice break from the more intense, serious sounds of the rest of the album.
Dance of the Black Tattoo
You can't call this anything but a pure heavy metal track. The guitar sound is mean, mean, mean and heavier than lead. Even the piano sound is tough and muscular. This is simply the heaviest tune I've ever heard from Magnum and one of the darkest as well. Coming after the happy sounding "So Let It Rain,” it's almost shocking and demonstrates the fantastic musical range this band possesses.
Shadow Town
This is also a very powerful and crunchy rock song, but it has more of a soaring, uplifting feel to it. This cut really feels like the great material the band did on their classic Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow record. The balance between guitar, keyboards and vocals is absolutely perfect! It's one of the best numbers here and I think it would be a great single.
Putting Things In Place
Talk about changing gears, this sounds like it could be a completely different band from the one that did the last two tracks. It's a melancholy and downbeat tune dominated by Mark Stanway's synth and piano work.  Bob Catley puts in a very sensitive vocal performance here. Although the guitar appears here, it definitely takes a back seat. It's a moody, introspective tune that provides some relief and pacing between the album's harder numbers.
Broken Promises
This heavy, super-catchy riff-rocker reeks of anger and defiance. Clarkin's guitar is thick and mean sounding again, with a couple of amazing catchy hooks that will stick in your brain like glue. The song could be about personal betrayal, but also the rotten politics and liars who control our lives...it's up to you to interpret it the way you like. Either way, this is a real killer.
See How They Fall
Starting with shuffling, echoey guitar, this turns into another excursion into power prog and sounds like the tougher Asia material.  The Magnum rhythm section really delivers a strong performance here. It's a pretty punchy cut, but similar enough to other songs here and on other Magnum albums that it loses its identity somewhat.
From Within
This rocker has a relaxed pace to it and again shows how the band is writing with a more stripped down sound than in the past. The chorus has a more poppy feel here that's accentuated by the "whoah-oh" background vocals. It’s not a bad song but I would have flipped this and "Broken Promises", which would have been a better closer.
 
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