Magnum – Escape From The Shadow Garden
Magnum – Escape From The Shadow Garden (2014)
Reviewed by Daniel Millard
For anyone who pays any kind of attention to goings-on at this site, it should be immediately apparent that I’m a little out of my element reviewing a Magnum album. Honestly, I am, but I’ve enjoyed Magnum enough over the past few years that I’m going to take a quick crack at this one. Especially considering Magnum’s recently-increasing overlap with the field of power metal (Bob Catley’s prominent feature on the latest Avantasia album, and the band touring with power metal support), I think a review on this site is due, as the band is one of the most accessible for power-crazed maniacs looking to unwind in U.K. hard rock territory.
Not only has Magnum’s choice of cover artwork been getting better and better with age (I love this one, thanks again Rodney Matthews), but the band itself has been aging most gracefully. The group’s seventeenth (!!) studio album Escape From The Shadow Garden is one that I consider to be a recent high point, though Magnum has never lacked for strong choruses, pertinent guitar lines, and strong re-listening value.
Opener “Live ‘Til You Die” is the symphonic-frontloaded sort of song, including a distinctly Magnum drum and guitar progression, that I’ve come to expect from some of the band’s strongest work. With a subtle chorus that floats across as one of the most memorable and distinctive in recent years, I felt immediately that this album, while still adhering to everything that Magnum has established its sound around over the years, is something of a modern rejuvenation of sound. “Unwritten Sacrifice” and “Falling For The Big Plan” keep standards very high, and even the much more straightforward rock track “Too Many Clowns” is a personal highlight of the album, with a rollicking chorus and the subtle-yet absolutely essential guitar work of Tony Clarkin.
Truth be told, there is a whole lot of hard rock balladry filling the middle and end of this album (also something I’ve come to expect), but the ease and grace of the band’s approach prevents anything from falling into dull territory, and elevates songs like “The Art Of Compromise” and “The Valley Of Tears” to just the sort of dreamy, feel-good soft tunes that fans expect and deserve.
The large number of slower, calm tracks will be a turn off for certain speed fiends like myself, but Escape From The Shadow Garden boasts a number of peaks that absolutely make it an essential part of the band’s modern discography, if not one of its best. Anyone with any kind of taste for AOR (especially of the 80’s U.K. persuasion) is probably already aware of and enjoying this album, but I recommend it wholeheartedly to power fans who occasionally enjoy a dose of softer material. I find this much stronger than the latest Asia release, and as always, a bit more instrumentally engaging (something that always helps metalheads). Watching Catley, Clarkin, and company pound out another strong album after all these years is encouraging and re-affirming of the hard rock scene. Here’s hoping they still have another one or two in them!
3.5 // 5