Magnum - Escape from the Shadow Garden

Magnum Escape from the Shadow Garden cover
Escape from the Shadow Garden
Seems that the involvement of Bob Catley with the Avantasia projects, has really rejuvenated him in a way and maybe the whole involvement has in a way rubbed off, on the entire band, in a positive way. That is not to say that Magnum needed crutches, to exist, as they had fabulously existed, since the reunion, churning out albums, of consistent merit at regular intervals, but it seems that as of late, the band has been on a positively ascending tendency, both in popularity as well as in inspiration.
Magnum, seems to be really, in indirect proportion to their advancing years, becoming more rejuvenated with each subsequent release, recapturing the pomp and grandeur of their heyday with relative ease. More rocking than – well not ever, but than in the relative past, “Escape from the Shadow Garden” really takes the best qualities of what made Magnum special and turns them all way up to eleven.
Right from the go, with “Live Till You Die” we’re treated to some really excellently crafted rock. Taking the best from “Vigilante” and “Kingdom of Madness”, (the songs) this rousing opener is probably the most impressive song to have opened a Magnum album in a long time and sets the tone for the rest of the album. Catley’s voice, may be sounding a little strained, but he’s always been one of the best voices of the genre and he’s still a master of the singing craft, so he manages to pass all the issues that age has caused, making his voice a little more rough, very smartly, passing the gruffness as a bit of natural effect.
“Unwritten Sacrifice” is a much slower tune, quite majestic, with a grand melody that could almost counter some of the bands older masterpieces, if it had a slightly better chorus. It really comes that close. Unfortunately, here, the diminished range doesn’t help. A Catley from a few years earlier, might have been able to really, go a little higher on the chorus, which I suppose must have been the original intention. Even with this slight issue, it’s a great song. And I’d say, with so many good friends he’s made in the various projects, it would not be a bad idea, to ask for a little help, or maybe add, a female vocalist, for the hard to reach, top notes, it could be an elegant enough solution to this issue, it’s not as if this will diminish the legend that this great man is. We all know who he is and what he was capable of in his heyday, so the guy will forever be in the pantheon of British Rock singers along with the likes of Mercury, Coverdale and countless other rock deities.
“Falling for the Big Plan” is a somewhat more prog tinged number, with a slightly more modern touch that brought to my mind a bit of these 80s melodic rock bands, a trend for which Magnum even went for in their 80s album... but with rather mixed results… here the accumulated experience of all those years, seems to work in their favor as the song, is far more interesting.
The dramatically titled “Crying in the Rain” that’s too “Whitesnake”-titled, indeed starts with some dramatic drumming, and with Catley, going for a rather brave – quite naked vocal, as the orchestration of this number is quite spartan. Things get more “interesting” during the chorus, with lush melodies and Bob, singing a really heart wrenching line…
“Too Many Clowns” is a bit of “Magnum going slightly “heavy metal rock ‘n roll” think of the thickness (= not stupidity, I mean strong production) of Edguy mixed with classic Magnum. You get a weird sounding Rock ‘n Metal, track, that’s a little unconventional sounding, I suppose. Not bad. Just a little too brassingly loud! It’s as if the entire band is like in one room and Bob is in another nearby connected with some tube!
“Midnight Angel” is a lot better, a classic sounding Magnum track, lush keyboards, as modernized as it should be, it ticks all the boxes and carries all the trademarks of the band’s sound. I suppose, a minute, could be trimmed off its end, (just useless nanananaas for the most part) but it’s still quite brilliant!
“The Art of Compromise” starts of slowly almost as a ballad, before it develops into an impressive, classic Magnum anthem. It’s one of the better songs on the album with it’s incredible melodies, really smart break midway and the whole bands performance on it.
“Don’t Fall Asleep” is the first “proper” ballad on the album, done in the same inimitable Magnum style, which obviously means that midway, it really gets big and it finishes in a big glorious crescendo!
“Wisdom’s Had Its Day” starts all slowly and mellow, but almost immediately, the second verse, is what Dr. Jeckyl is to Mr. Hyde, being all hard, stringed and dramatic. It goes on like that for a while with a couple of fake climaxes, before it reaches a rather peaceful conclusion. Nice one!
With a title like “Burning River” I was half expecting a really dynamic track, to leap out, of the speakers and when a vigilante-ish riff, came bursting out, I was well pleased... midway there’s a bit of a soft interlude and a nice solo, only for things to pick up once again after that… another great song, for a great album!
Last but certainly not least “The Valley of Tears”, Bob gives it all, sounding actually somewhat better than he does on most of the rest of the album, which begs the question “was he slightly sick while tracking the rest of the vocals or just holding a little back”?! It’s one of those really tearjerkers, that only bands like Magnum and bands of their ilk can/could write... it’s what dreams are made of... it’s as Ronnie James Dio would best describe it as in one simple word: “Magic”!
A very strong entry from Magnum and I’d hate to miss this album that does nothing but to really add another little jewel to their crown. Surely, Bob’s voice, ain’t what it used to be (ie a Diamond, it’s now a slightly flawed Ruby), but it still manages to chill you with its warmth and honesty and these guys are song-smiths of the highest order... so… just lose yourselves in this Shadow Garden... and if you’re vying too hard to escape, well at least make a stop through one of its tour dates before you do so…