Magnum have been rocking for more than 3 decades, and are still rocking now. Formed in 1972 in Birmingham, England, they are a fusion of progressive rock and hard rock, sometimes even heavy metal, or melodic rock. Their music is drenched in Fantasy and Sci-Fi themes; their songs often tell wild stories of mystic lands and friendly trolls. They started with Kingdom of Madness in 1978, and just released Into the Valley of the Moonking in 2009. Their albums are increasingly concept-oriented (à la Rush 2112, Jethro Tull Thick as a Brick, and Pink Floyd Animals)
More than 20 albums released in 30 years..... so much great music, so many great tales.
Magnum rarely broke the charts in the US or UK, but they have a strong following. This type of music often evades the pop charts, but stays longer with those of us who enjoy it. Roger Taylor of Queen produced some of their work, as did Jeff Glixman (who worked with Kansas). Chase the Dragon hit #17 in 1982, On a Storyteller's Night #24 in '85, and Wings of Heaven hit #5 in the UK in 1988. Otherwise, as with all prog/rock bands, its about the fans and the music, not the numbers. Also, as with many progressive rock bands (such as Yes and Jethro Tull), the band roster changed a few times over the years. One thing remained: the strong lyrics and bold music.
Magnum used flute and strings alongside guitars and drums. They've displayed some of the best fantasy album covers in rock, most by Rodney Matthews, and the music inside fits the images pretty well.
From a vast library, I've managed to choose 15 of the best songs by this highly talented band.
#1 Don't Wake the Lion (Too Old to Die Young) From the 1988 album Wings of Heaven, this 10 minute song woke all of us. It's an electrifying rocker, with a soft acoustic opening. A play told in four acts, about the horrors of war.
This song needs to be heard about a dozen times, before it really sinks in. I only liked it on first listen, but I loved it as time wore on. As with all good things, time brings change. This has been my favorite Magnum song for about a decade. It's a powerful ten minutes of music.
#2 Les Morts Dansants (On A Storyteller's Night, 1985) The Dancing Dead. A haunting and beautiful song about the execution of a soldier by firing squad. It's also about the garden wall where this takes place every night. Its soft tone gets harder as it progresses, and comes out just right. Very sad, and very nice at the same time.
#3 Holy Rider (Vigilante, 1986) Another great rock melody, Holy Rider continues the Vigilante story, and has some great guitar and drum work. A bold song, with a great feel. I think I enjoy most the switch to keyboards in the bridge to the chorus.
#4 Dragons Are Real (Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow, 2007) From a recent album, which is one of their best, this song is about reading to escape to another world. The music here is mesmerizing. It's one of my favorite songs on one my favorite albums. Any new fan should start here.
#5 On Christmas Day (Rock Art, 1994) a power ballad, which grow into a rocker! This complex rock track is brutally strong, with guitars in every corner, and yet some soft words to say. Hard not to love it! And yes, it's actually about the first Christmas Day. It can also be seen as an anti-war hymn, the futility of religious wars. A 7-minute song, it has many sides to it, and shifts to a faster tempo in act II.
#6 Kingdom of Madness (Kingdom of Madness, 1978) This was the first song I heard by Magnum, and it captured me pretty fast. I bought the album, and was hooked. This title track really tells a good tale in song, but its the fast guitars and sudden flute that got to me. A very appropriate musical bed for the cryptic words.
#7 Every Woman, Every Man (Sleepwalking, 1992) Here the sax, vocals and drums stand out for me. What a beautiful song! Maybe its not as profound as other Magnum ballads, but this song steps out from the crowd in many ways. Def Leppard style backing vocals, a rare saxophone appearance, and power drumming... mix together into a great tune.
#8 No one Knows His Name (Into the Valley of the Moonking, 2009) From their most recent album, which is loaded with great fantasy tunes, this song uses synth/strings and a strong beat to take us to another world. I loved it from the first listen.
#9 Vigilante (Vigilante, 1986) A track from the Roger Taylor produced LP, this song drives hard. The drums dominate, and yet the melody is sweet. The song's meaning isn't deep; it's a call for justice. But the tune rocks.
#10 Days of No Trust (Wings of Heaven, 1988) A force of nature, this song tears out of the gate and rocks the house. I have always enjoyed its enthusiasm. The lyrics are brilliant, and the message is very appropriate for these times.
#11 If I Could Live Forever (Magnum II, 1979)
#12 On a Storyteller's Night (On A Storyteller's Night, 1985)
#13 Vicious Companions (The Eleventh Hour, 1983)
#14 Soldier of the Line (Chase the Dragon, 1982)
#15 Lords of Chaos (Kingdom of Madness, 1978)
Recap note: It's interesting that Magnum's recent CDs were among their best. Into the Valley of the Moonking and Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow are masterpieces. Like a fine wine, is it possible to get better with age? Seems so. It's a good time now for Magnum fans.
Their new album: "Escape from the Shadow Garden" is already proving to be a new favorite.
Magnum's official site: www.magnumonline.co.uk Don't be shy, if you're a progressive rock fan, give Magnum a try. They're a great band to discover and enjoy. If you're new to the band, use these songs as a springboard to get to know them.