Magnum - The Serpent Rings

Magnum The Serpent Rings cover
The Serpent Rings
It’s just lovely to see Magnum going on and on, refusing to give up, even this long into the second part of their long and illustrious career, which is a couple of years shy from being fifty years long (with one six year hiatus).
No matter if Catley’s voice is beginning to betray his advancing years and is not as agile as it once were, his awesome timbre and resonance are still there; this time probably coupled with some of the more straight forward and heavy melodies from the band in recent memory. Which is only half of the story, as there’s still a lot of melody and flair, a lot of shade, but at the same time, a lot of really heaviness that I don’t mind at all… I actually think it’s pretty cool.
Opener “Where Are You Eden?” is typical Magnum fare, with its pompous flairs and Catley’s passionate delivery backed by some soft strings. The tried and true combination carries the song along till it comes to a graciously melodic close, making way for the powerful chords of “You Can’t Run Faster Than Bullets” to cut through. More dramatic and immediate, it’s sweeping heavy, fuzzy riffs make it a pretty worthy follow up that is anything but predictable. It’s also fun to see how dynamic the band can sound at such a slow tempo and how inventive.
“Madman or Messiah” is a weird number that goes through highly contrasting verses, which are immensely heavy and then angelic, but balances them out, with an awesome chorus that’s almost as worthy as that of any “vintage Magnum” song. Great stuff.
“The Archway of Tears” is a lot more theatrical and softer at first, but after a while, percussion picks up and the song becomes heavier at least for a while, as it cycles through its verses and chorus, with incredible grace but never afraid of getting more substantial and heavy.
“Not Forgiven” is more 80s inspired, more rock n roll, but soft piano tones and a chorus that sounds like a proud and sad elegy, pull it back into pomp-rock territory. Oh and that simple enough but oh-so 70s polyphony.
Title track, “The Serpent Rings”, is great in its own way… a lot more piano based, but with very poignant guitar parts and a great symphonic air that makes it worthy and equal of some of the best 70s examples of pomp/symphonic rock of which obviously Magnum, were important proponents and champions. In a word? Majestic!
“The Last One on Earth” is a softer, but still quite epic number, which is largely based on the atmosphere and Catley’s unique ability to emote so gloriously, even at this day and age. Obviously all the years that have passed have allowed the band to accumulate a lot of experience, which allows them to come up with incredibly smart orchestrations (the last couple of minutes in particular display a great ability of variating melodies).
“House of Kings” is a little more straightforward and goes off the deep end a little, with its vintage big band groove (complete with horns) etc… it’s not bad, rather... unexpected I’d say.
And the next thing I’d say is that up to this point, no ballads were aired, which made me wonder if the previous sort was trying to set up the album for one. “The Great Unknown” partly fits to that category, as it’s a quite laid back track for the most part, with ballad like verses, but during the chorus it gets heavier and separates the vocals and instrumentation a bit, creating a bizarrely appropriate ambiance. It comes around to a pretty epic conclusion.
While the soft keys of “Man” had me swept, the uncharacteristically heavy riffing made quite the contrast... but in a way that quickly through that dissonance comes up with something that sits very comfortably among the rest of Magnum canon of pomp and circumstance.
Last but not least, the piano intro of “Crimson on the White Sand” had me expecting something as great as “The Spirit” etc., which unfortunately never materializes, but that doesn’t mean that the song it leads into is a dud. To the contrary, it’s quite an atmospheric composition, with some of Catley’s best vocals on the entire album that has all the hallmarks of the band’s rather unique sound.
Continuing the steady streak of quality albums that the band has been delivering in recent years, “The Serpent Rings” is maybe a little less impressive than its predecessor in terms of splendor, but it wins points for sounding heavier, without losing its character.