A year since the release of their most recent studio album, The Serpent Rings, Magnum return with a compilation of bonus tracks and radio edits which are debuting on the CD format. Recent efforts like Escape From the Shadow Garden and Sacred Blood – Divine Lies had limited edition versions which were accompanied with bonus DVDs featuring tracks which are now getting an airing here. Guitarist and tunesmith Tony Clarkin explains that this latest release should be seen as a companion to 2017’s ballad collection, The Valley of Tears. With that in mind, the listener will be keen to know if this album constitutes a ‘completists-only’ release, or if it’s a worthy addition to any prog-fan’s library.
The first three tracks are all live versions of songs from the more recent period of Magnum’s illustrious history; the first two originally featuring on The Visitation and the latter from Return to the Valley of the Moonking. They are all decent live recordings of their respective tracks with Freedom Day’s balance between soft and heavy perhaps coming across best of all of them. The live version of On A Storyteller’s Night has a different pace to the studio track and, as fans who’ve seen them play it live will know, gets the audience enthusiastically singing along. This is followed by the collection’s title track, a live version of Dance of the Black Tattoo from On the 13th Day. There’s a delightful menace to this song which makes it the pick of the release up to this point.
The radio edit of On Christmas Day is likely to be the big draw for fans purchasing this album on a physical format. It’s a great track, with a feel of their late Eighties outings. Rather like its slightly longer WWI cousin, Don’t Wake the Lion, this has two well-paced counterpointed sections with strong melodies throughout. I’m scratching my head a little, though, as to why the full seven-minute version isn’t on here and, indeed, why Magnum didn’t see this as an opportunity to release this collection in December.
Following this, Born to Be King, from Goodnight L.A., leads into a couple of bonus studio tracks from Sacred Blood…, Phantom of Paradise Circus and No God or Saviour. Clarkin speaks of the former with fondness and rightly so. There’s a lively guitar riff at the end of each phrase in the verse and the chorus is both energetic and powerful. As Clarkin says, ‘it has a lot of substance and class’. No God or Saviour lacks the punchiness of the previous track, but still oozes the quality one comes to expect from Magnum.
Two further live recordings follow, both of tracks from Sacred Blood…, the better of which is Twelve Men Wise and Just, featuring some nice piano fills from Mark Stanway. The album is then rounded out with three radio edits of tracks from the two most recent albums, Lost on the Road to Eternity and The Serpent Rings. I’m a big fan of both of these albums which, I believe, have breathed new life into the Magnum sound. It’s a pleasure to have these edits here. Show Me Your Hands has a jauntiness in the rhythm, some great piano work and an anthemic chorus which fits the criteria Clarkin was looking for in this companion to the ballads. Not Forgiven was a straight-ahead rocker from The Serpent Rings and is followed by Madman or Messiah which contrasts a Supertramp-like verse, a mellow bridge and a pacey chorus. This was one of the best tracks from a consistently great album.
For the completist, there’s no doubt that this is worth picking up. As someone who still clings to collecting on physical formats, it’s a pleasure to have some of these tracks now available on CD. The Dance of the Black Tattoo is also good value for money, coming in at the 72-minute mark. I’m not sure how much there is to tempt the casual listener, though. On Christmas Day and Phantom of Paradise Circus are undoubtedly the picks here, but whether or not live tracks and radio edits, which make up the bulk of this release make it worth picking up will be down to personal preference.
01. Black Skies (Live) (6:06)
02. Freedom Day (Live) (6:20)
03. All My Bridges (Live) (4:55)
04. On A Storyteller’s Night (Live) (5:09)
05. Dance of the Black Tattoo (Live) (5:53)
06. On Christmas Day (Radio Edit) (4:21)
07. Born to Be King (5:31)
08. Phantom of Paradise Circus (5:58)
09. No God or Saviour (5:24)
10. Your Dreams Won’t Die (Live) (5:44)
11. Twelve Men Wise and Just (Live) (6:22)
12. Show Me Your Hands (Radio Edit) (3:48)
13. Not Forgiven (Radio Edit) (3:38)
14. Madman or Messiah (Radio Edit) (3:41)
Total Time – 73:04
Tony Clarkin – Guitar
Bob Catley – Vocals
Rick Benton – Keyboards
Dennis Ward – Bass
Lee Morris – Drums
Record Label: Steamhammer Records/SPV
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 8th January 2020