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on 17 January 2011
`The Visitation' is Magnum's 16th studio album. Since the release of their debut album `Kingdom Of Madness' in 1978 the band have built on their reputation as Melodic Rock champions, and have steadily perfected the ability to create musical tapestries that often take us on travels to faraway lands. Tony Clarkin has always had a way with the written word and through his mentor's lyrics, vocalist Bob Catley acts as chief storyteller. Be it stories of war or slightly tongue in cheek dragons, Magnum have kept their fans entertained for nearly four decades.

Despite a pause in their career to take stock, Magnum have consistently delivered fine albums and since their return have hit a fine run of form - culminating in `Princess Alice And The Broken Arrow' and `Into The Valley Of The Moonking`. So as a fan myself, I was excited at the prospect of another fine offering from Tony and the boys. Have they embraced recent acclaim and continued this rich vein of form?

Well, the simple answer is a resounding yes. With opening track `Black Skies', the suspense is immediately built up with an eerie opening that sees a simple tinkling of Harry James' drum coupled with an epic pulsing Al Barrow bass line. Mark Stanway's presence is felt with his trademark keyboard washes and a hefty Tony Clarkin riff punches through the surface.

Bob Catley's vocals are simply majestic sitting atop this brooding, yet ever melodic masterpiece. If there is a word I can use to sum proceedings up its `soaring'. Each band member delivering the goods like the true masters they are. It's a majestic opening gambit with Clarkin continuing his bluesy and soulful vibe with a brief but impressive guitar solo. And Barrow and James once again proving an impressive rhythm section.

Magnum tackle the subject of childhood with following track `Doors To Nowhere'. It opens with a melody not dissimilar to their own `Dragons Are Real'. It also carries on in the vein of the last 2 studio albums, infectious, gritty and impossibly catchy. Clarkin often touches on the subject of the past and here his imagery is vivid and his lyrics take us to places in our own childhood. "...hot summer nights burnt the stars in our eyes..." and "...ran down the hillside like we were insane." It is that innocence of youth that Clarkin captures so well. Musically it is a mid-paced romp with a nailed down tight rhythm section and a breathless guitar solo from Clarkin. Catley delivers the lyrics like he's living them and we can feel every tumble and fall.

The album's title track `The Visitation' is every bit as grandiose as one would expect, crashing waves and wind blowing sit atop Stanway's keyboard swathes only to be punctuated by a stabbing, machine-gun drum beat from James. Al Barrow has improved his output with each album, slowly adding more authority to the melting pot - here he adds a bass line that borders on funk, it's clever and adds to the progressive feel of the song, full of neat time changes and atmospheric flourishes. Each band member adds an ingredient but without the overall sound suffering. Once again the band sound majestic and full of life. In short only Magnum can deliver melodic progressive rock to this standard.

Not wanting to rest on their laurels Magnum deliver, to my mind, what is their best song in a while. `Wild Angels' is quite simply melodic rock perfection. Built on a simple galloping James drum beat, it runs quickly through the gears to a hairs-on-end sing-along chorus that will soon be a fan favourite. This song could quite happily sit in the band's glory days of the mid to late 80s, such is its infectiousness. Clarkin's eye for a melody is seemingly never ending. Its feel good rock music to get excited about.

The song's outro cleverly fades to a sparse demo sounding drum beat. The sound of a band happy in each other's company. Simply what Magnum do best.

`Spin Like A Wheel' is based on Stanway's keyboards and a pulsing bass line from Barrow; it cleverly builds in momentum and is sprinkled with spine tingling melodies and atmosphere. Catley's vocals are simply immense. It's a cliché but he really is like a fine wine that gets better with age.

The song, like the album on a whole, is like a jigsaw revealing its final image. The more you listen, the more layers are revealed musically. It is at this point that I must mention the production - to my ears this is stepped up a level and every instrument sits perfectly in the mix. Al's bass for example is subtle yet prominent, pushing Clarkin's guitar further to the limit. His backing vocals are also a joy to hear - adding weight to Catley's already impressive tone.

Quintessentially English is how I would describe `The Last Frontier'; this slower paced, atmospheric song sits atop a stark military drumbeat and Stanway's washes of orchestral colour. Catley sings of village greens, giant horse led caravans and market halls. It is an image of our country relayed in an almost `Greensleeves' manner. Yes it's slightly over-blown and grandiose but it's heart-warming and paints vivid pictures in our collective heads.

Clarkin returns to a favourite subject matter of his freedom, it is something he has visited a few times over the years. With the self explanatory `Freedom Day' he asks us not to take for granted the freedom we enjoy in Europe, as there are many round the world that still endure dictatorships and communism.

A beautiful guitar melody opens what is a beautifully crafted and powerful song. Barrow's pulsing bass adds to what is an austere and chilling opening. The song quickly picks up pace and appears like a rally call for freedom. Full of hope and anger Catley adds passion to what is a well trodden path lyrically. A bombastic chorus rings out "Sing for the human race out of an ocean's roar... Sing till your voices break - till you can sing no more..." it's simplistic but powerful and all builds to an impressive crescendo.

The subject of the environment is tackled with `Mother Nature's Last Dance'. "Oh why do we act like this?" asks Catley. Clarkin's lyrics are wonderfully poignant - "Mothers were crying in dark smokey skies" expressing the futility felt by many at mankind's destruction of our planet. Musically it pumps along at a breathless pace, Catley barely stopping for breath, throwing out the images of horror as if relaying them to a disbelieving public. It is to the band's collective credit that they can mix serious subject matter with musical nous - the ability to get a message across without dwelling, sounding pompous or preaching from a pulpit.

A ferocious guitar onslaught from Clarkin opens `Midnight Kings', settling beautifully atop orchestral cello flourishes. The mix of sombre and majestic is perfectly balanced. This is a mid tempo rocker that sees Clarkin really open up his guitar. He has never been a flashy player, so it's great to see him obviously enjoying himself and showing his musical pedigree. The drums of James are impressively meaty and push the whole song along wonderfully.

If Magnum are about one thing it's melody and some would say pomp. There is no better example of this than the album's closing track `Tonight's The Night'.

The track opens with echoes of George Harrison's mournful slide guitar. The intro as a whole brought to mind the band Wings or indeed The Beatles. It is a slightly different direction for Magnum but when the chorus hits - everything the band are about hits home. It is a brave approach but within the context of the song, it works and shows a band happy to mature and re-invent themselves but retain what makes them so impressive. Put simply - it's a euphoric ending.

I can't express enough how impressive the album really is. Clarkin has always had a keen eye for a melody and has lyrically touched on things that mean something to us all. Here he has continued with the musical momentum but has cranked everything up a notch - the quality, the music, the production is all of the highest level. And more importantly the consistency is evident. Magnum have always delivered fine music but `The Visitation' is the band's most consistent album since `Wings Of Heaven'.

In Al Barrow and Harry James the band have a formidable rhythm section that is now established and it is this foundation that I believe has pushed Messers Clarkin and Catley to the limit. In particular Barrow's backing vocals and ever evolving bass playing has added further depth to Magnum's sound. Coupled with a very impressive production the band really have an album to be proud of.

Prepare to be Visited !!!

Dave Evans [...]
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on 17 January 2011
The long-awaited new Magnum album "The Visitation" (and bonus dvd) plopped on my doormat this morning. I have to say, as a Magnum fan of some 33 years(yes they've been going that long!)this album was not as easy a listen as the last two, both classics of the genre. Then the subtlety of Tony Clarkin's genius kicks in and I'm smiling broadly. 'Wild Angels' and 'Tonight's the Night' stand out immediately as tour 'crowd-pleasers', whilst the intricate work on 'Mother Nature's Final Dance' and 'Midnight Kings' see my jaw hit the floor. The DVD brought back happy memories of the band's set at Victoria Park, London last July as part of the awesome two-day 'Hi-Voltage' concert. Only four tracks are included here, sadly not the classy 'Kingdom of Madness' which closed the set. Clarkin wielded his new 'Blackbird' lead guitar for the intro riff to that juggernaut of a track (which harps back to their first album). I was introducing a friend to the band that day and when Tony played the opening bars, he purred in amazement at the depth of sound which roared out of the sleek, black axe! Also on the DVD is 'Eyes Like Fire' which missed the final cut. Why??? It's the best of the lot! I hope they play it on the forthcoming tour!
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on 9 February 2011
With a sound that does not deviate from their previous 3 albums (all excellent in their own right - however some more excellent than others), The Visitation is the 21st Century Magnum at their best. In tone it is very similar to Brand New Morning and they are on a par quality-wise, which is to say that it is very good indeed. It is also refreshing to see an album with only 10 tracks. More and more, in these times of instant gratification and media overload, bands (and record companies) feel the need to release albums with so many songs it is impossible to differentiate between each one, reducing the quality of the output. What Magnum did with Brand New Morning was perfect; 9 tracks, each one either perfect or near to it. They have almost achieved this again with The Visitation.

'Black Skies' begins quietly and ominously with mere cymbal taps. It then erupts into one of the crunchiest and invigorating riffs they have produced since Chase The Dragon. But it's newer and louder and crisper and very different from their usual high bass guitar sound. In a nutshell it's a fantastic opener. 'Doors To Nowhere' is the one track that could have been shaved in order to produce a flawless collection. It is not at all a bad song, just not half as good as the others. It has a very Princess Alice sound. The chorus is good but it takes a few listens to season. The title track, however, is classic material. In the tradition of 'Vigilante', 'Sleep Walking', 'On A Storytellers Night' and even to a lesser extent 'The MoonKing', 'The Visitation' is a truly remarkable track. It all revolves around the chorus and another crushing riff that batters and destroys. 'Wild Angels' is back to Magnum proper with a great chorus that's very uplifting and catchy as heck. Another winner, albeit not a classic as such. 'Spin Like A Wheel' is an understated classic in my opinion. It's 7 or 8 minutes long but does not feel so. It has a great verse, a fantastic bridge and a sublime chorus that all seem to run into one another. So far, so pretty darn excellent.

'The Last Frontier' is yet another classic in the making. A paean to England with great lyrics, excellent melody and an uplifting string section, this is Magnum at their cheesiest and best. Truly stunning stuff. 'Freedom Day' is another excellent track with a typically catchy Magnum chorus that will live inside your head for days; a bit like 'We All Run' from Brand New Morning. 'Mother Nature's Final Dance' has a great, running chorus. It's another very well structured and catchy tune. 'Midnight Kings' is a hard rocker with another winning riff and fantastic chorus. And 'Tonight's the Night' finishes it all off with anthemic ease. It's another minor classic in my eyes and is similar to 'The Last Frontier' in tone.

As long as you're not expecting Chase the Dragon 2 and enjoy what Magnum have become in the 00s you should love this. They lost their way a bit with Into the Valley of the Moonking (some great tracks, some good ones and a lot of mediocre ones) but this is a storming return to form. It won't win any awards and it is the usual middle of the road hard/classic rock that they have made of late but tracks like 'The Last Frontier' and 'Tonight's The Night' do deserve higher praise from the mainstream as far worse ballads are played to death on the radio. It's even a pretty good place to start if you are new to the band. It really is that good.
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on 25 January 2011
On my first listen, I would have given this album no more than three stars for the songs. For some reason they didn't grab me. What I did notice was the great sound which has alluded Magnum since they reformed in my opinion.

However! After a second and third listen the material really got me. The poor sound quality that ruined Princess Alice for me (great songs, dreadful muddy sound - had to make my own 'remaster' so I could listen to it) wasn't a barrier so the quality of the performance shone through.

I don't know why it took me a few listens but I really love this album now. The songs are great, and the arrangements are outstanding. The keyboards are used to great effect, and while Tony Clarkin's perfunctory power-chord-driven rhythm guitar of recent albums was still there, I felt his lead work was outstanding. I don't know yet if it's the arrangements of these songs that makes the lead guitar stand out of whether Tony Clarkin's let himself off the proverbial leash but it's solo city! Perhaps it's his new guitar, I don't know but his playing is outstanding on this album.

Bob is spot-on as usual. I must admit, I prefer the 80s production styles where the vocals are allowed more space to shine (and I think this style suits Bob's voice better) but still, at least you can hear the vocals clearly (unlike Princess Alice) even if they've been somewhat wedged (EQ'd) in between TC's meaty power-chords and the rhythm section.

Overall, for a modern-sounding guitar-heavy production, I think they've done a great job. Dynamics are back too, maybe not quite as dramatically as showcased on the fabulous One Sacred Hour but it's not as flat (compressed to death) as many modern recordings. I still think Magnum would benefit from a more ambient approach (like Storyteller, etc.) but this was a function of the time and the use of a great producer. Still, there are a few current bands still doing it (that 80s sound), and while it might not be that PC (I don't care, ;o) to promote other bands on such a review, Swedish Europe-styled rockers Heat (awesome sound on their debut 'Heat') and new Brit melodic rockers Vega both sport production style that took the best from the 80s and the best of the modern. I'd love to hear today's Magnum talking that approach....still, if they keep the current style as on The Visitation then I won't complain.

Let's hope Magnum makes a new live DVD to showcase some of these songs in the near future.
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on 15 February 2011
Don't have much to say except that Magnum are simply magnificent. Bob Catley's vocals are like molten gold, liquid silk...pure class. Tony Clarkin is, as ever, an incredibly gifted songwriter and his use of melody and harmony are unsurpassed. All the band have done a splendid job, right down to Al Barrow's fabulous artwork. It's so special to have a band of this calibre still able to make brilliant, relevant, complex and hugely enjoyable albums after nearly 40 years in the business. Thank god for Magnum, and let's hope they keep playing and making records. Gives us all something to look forward to.
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on 17 January 2011
Like most Magnum albums (and Tony said this in a recent interview) , the new album will reward those who listen to it multiple times. I regularly have that "slightly let down" feeling when listening to new Magnum albums, but 2/3 months on, it is the only thing that can get close to my CD player !! There are a couple of tracks I already really like on this album after just 2 listen throughs. I am sure the rest will grow on me and will be a car CD player favourite for many months and years to come. Keep the night light burning.
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on 4 March 2011
I've followed Magnum since the days of Storyteller's Night and seen them a few times since. Been a bit disappointed in recent cd's but this one is back to the classic sound of 80's Magnum. Every track tells it's own story and each one delivers. From the drums to the keyboards to the bass to the guitar and then to the vocals - every single member of this band contributes to the highest level to give you one of the best melodic rock cd's I've heard in a long time. BRILLIANT! Can't wait to see them in Glasgow in April! It's hard to believe that after all these years they can still produce music of this magnitude of brilliance. And if you have never seen this band live I suggest you get a ticket for one of the best live rock bands around.....enjoy!!
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on 23 January 2011
Yet again another fantastic album from the uks most underrated band.This album is a welcome addition to any rock fans collection.Tony Clarkin has once again written an excellent collection of songs which are complimented by the soaring vocals of Bob Catley and the superb musicianship of the band.Magnum are the only band i know who come up with the goods time after time.A fine and varied set of songs with the highlights for me being-Black Skies,Wild Angels,Spin Like a Wheel,The Last Frontier,Freedom Day,Midnight Kings and the majestic Tonights The Night.the bonus dvd has the band performing Eyes Like Fire which is a storming song but only available on the dvd.shame there wasnt room on the album for it but thats me being greedy!Buy and enjoy!!
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on 21 January 2011
Though being a rock fan for years and years, I am a newcomer to Magnum. And, I tell you, I'm HOOKED!! By coincidence I stumbled by "Dragons Are Real" on YouTube and that was it! New album "The Visitation" is just such a pleasure to listen to again and again. Just buy it and experience it by yourself. Enjoy!!
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on 18 February 2011
This album had me worried at first because,in my opinion,the first two songs are the worst on the album.They are not bad by any means,just distinctly average.
The title track then steps things up slightly.It's no classic but its a solid number with an unusual middle section.
After that the rest of the songs are fantastic,right through to the end of the album.
Wild angels is a stomping,upbeat number but the rest of the songs have a really atmospheric,autumnal feel; which is appropriate and digified for a band of this vintage.
Bob's vocals are maybe better than ever,especially on the highly emotional Last Frontier,which is my highlight of the album and is up there with When We Were Younger as a modern Magnum classic.
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